Magazine article Liberal Education

A Campus, Not a Sanctuary

Magazine article Liberal Education

A Campus, Not a Sanctuary

Article excerpt

THE HORROR OF THE SHOOTINGS at Virginia Tech has created an opportunity for us to think about the kinds of places we want our college and university campuses to be. The common view of higher education as a commodity leads many to think of faculty and staff as highly trained "service providers" and to expect campuses to be "sanctuaries."

I think this common view of higher education is deeply mistaken. If a crisis occurs, a truly aberrant event, it encourages the rush to ask why a campus didn't have more precautions in place, or why any violation of the sanctuary wasn't immediately communicated. If we want our college and university campuses to be sanctuaries, then those are reasonable and expected questions. But I don't believe that is what we should want our campuses to be.

Yes, colleges and universities must be places apart; but they also must be places connected to the community. They must be safe havens for the exploration of ideas; but they also must be places where ideas are connected to the realities of the world and to practices and actions in the world. Campuses should be reassuring and familiar, and they certainly should be expected to maintain at least reasonable standards of safety. But campuses are not bastions or armed camps. They are not, and they should not become, gated communities.

Whereas decisions about who can be let into a sanctuary are made before development, change, or transformation occurs, campuses are the very places where these processes are meant to occur. A sanctuary serves to gather homogeneity within a security barrier; a college campus emphasizes difference as a necessary condition for trust and makes community and commitment beyond self-interest possible. When a horrific, aberrant event violates this community and this trust on one campus, all of our campuses are affected.

To prohibit students diagnosed with depression from attending our colleges and universities - as some have suggested in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy - would be not only illegal but also just wrong. To create a profile of those who should be removed from campus based upon symptoms of depression would be to exclude nearly half of our students. (National studies show that over 40 percent of current undergraduates self-report having experienced an episode of depression sufficient to interrupt their studies or campus life.)

We must resist calls to make our campuses into even "tighter" sanctuaries. To do otherwise would be to concede that college and university campuses should be sanctuaries at all, and it would be to concede that, in light of recent events, they should become less penetrable, more homogenous, and more concerned about "protecting from" than "being open to. …

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