It’s not easy to come back to Carleton after spring break; the prospect of starting another term so soon after the frigid and stressful conclusion of winter term is invariably less appealing than lying in the sun somewhere warmer, and a two week break is as likely to have made you sick of the friends you spent it with as it is to make you want to reunite with your Carleton crew. Furthermore, given the bleak scene of campus as last term drew to a close: a school fraught with vandalism, violence, harassment, and irresponsibility, Carleton hardly seemed like an inviting place to which to return.
Spring, with its promise of fledgling warmth and a brighter social scene to match the brighter sun, can quickly erase these misgivings, however. No sooner does the first Frisbee fly across the Bald Spot than the memories of a Carleton filled with the pent-up rage of winter disappear. Now, I’m all about Frisbee, and I can’t wait for IM softball and barbecues, but, if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to hang onto that last moment of winter for a little while.
The Carleton I saw last term included incidents of vandalism, sexual violence, physical assault, racial threats, lewd campus mail, and a general sense of hostility and divisiveness that I had never felt before. The idea that any student would be made to feel unsafe on Carleton’s campus is deeply disturbing, and it should have left students outraged rather than passing with minimal notice. The anxiety of feeling threatened or unwelcome at Carleton cannot be made to disappear simply by two weeks of good weather.
Carleton’s unique spirit is predicated on the idea that Carleton is a community fostering positive interaction between its students. As a small, largely residential campus, it places a strong emphasis on the value of relationships in the learning and maturation processes. This is a community that benefits from its unity and the support of its members for each other, and this process is compromised by the fractiousness that is created when students close themselves off to their peers. For Carleton to function as a community, its members must be willing to engage each other and Carleton as a whole.
Fortunately for us, spring does have us all feeling more gracious. Something about being able to see peoples’ faces when you pass each other outside has that effect. Ultimately, the liberation that spring provides engenders a more social atmosphere, which encourages a greater sense of community. However, we cannot ignore the problems we’ve had to face just because it’s easier to play Frisbee. The antisocial tendencies will emerge again unless we confront them. The good news is that we can still do this while playing Frisbee, as long as we do that more thoughtfully.
The first thing Carleton students need to do in order to make the campus a more open place is care about their school and their experience. Follow the news on campus (and read this column), form an opinion, talk about what’s happening on campus with your friends, realize that the college’s decisions affect your life, and be willing to criticize institutions that aren’t working. This is a campus of supposedly bright, engaged individuals, but the way we engage our surroundings is often anything but.
If caring about Carleton is too difficult, though, the good news is that one way to deal with antisocial behavior is to be better at being social. The divisiveness and feeling of closed communities at Carleton will not make anyone feel as though they belong, but a spirit of openness and camaraderie will help build relationships that bring campus together and make it impossible not to care what happens here.
Spring is the season of socializing at Carleton, and, this spring, it can be a chance to overturn the selfish, consumptive culture that has insidiously threatened Carleton this year. There will be times when there is a party every night of the week, or a party on Mai Fete, and students need to remember that these events are chances to come together as a more interactive community rather than chances to engage in territorial displays of strength or insular experiments of liver functionality.
If Carleton is to fully enjoy spring term, it must do so by embracing the spirit spring embodies: one of truly open, welcoming social interaction that leads towards a positive atmosphere rather than one of disengagement.
-Kyle Kramer is a Carletonian columnist
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