“The beautiful and death-struck year”
17 May 2007 (collegiateway.org) — Inside Higher Education carries a report today on a set of recommendations designed to promote “best practices” in student psychological care, issued by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. Although the Bazelon recommendations had been in development for some time, they have received special attention in light of the murder of 32 students and faculty last month at Virginia Tech.
Some of the commentators on the report picked up on an important theme that is often noted here on the Collegiate Way: the loss of social cohesion on modern university campuses. I responded to those comments with some further thoughts which you will find at the bottom of the IHE story linked above.
Reflective writers of all kinds have long been aware of the psychological destructiveness of social isolation, and conversely, of the strengthening effects of stable, cohesive communities. A vital contributor to stability and cohesiveness in any society is the presence of a predictable rhythm of life, week after week, month after month, year after year. And one of the strongest beats in that rhythm is the annual cycle of nature, from the blooming of spring flowers to the departures of migrating birds. These reliable natural events anchor people in their surroundings, encourage them to look outside of themselves, and provide a sense of temporal perspective. For this reason, every residential college should build an annual natural history calendar into its regular rhythm of life, a calendar rooted in the college’s own grounds and gardens.
A.E. Housman in A Shropshire Lad (1896) offers us a contrast between Shropshire and London that might serve as a good metaphor for life in a stable residential college versus life in a massive industrial university. Which do you provide for your students, Shropshire or London?
In my own shire, if I was sad,
Homely comforters I had:
The earth, because my heart was sore,
Sorrowed for the son she bore;
And standing hills, long to remain,
Shared their short-lived comrade’s pain
And bound for the same bourn as I,
On every road I wandered by,
Trod beside me, close and dear,
The beautiful and death-struck year:
Whether in the woodland brown
I heard the beechnut rustle down,
And saw the purple crocus pale
Flower about the autumn dale;
Or littering far the fields of May
Lady-smocks a-bleaching lay,
And like a skylit water stood
The bluebells in the azured wood.
Yonder, lightening other loads,
The seasons range the country roads,
But here in London streets I ken
No such helpmates, only men;
And these are not in plight to bear,
If they would, another’s care.
They have enough as ’tis: I see
In many an eye that measures me
The mortal sickness of a mind
Too unhappy to be kind.
Undone with misery, all they can
Is to hate their fellow man;
And till they drop they needs must still
Look at you and wish you ill.