At most community colleges, student diversity is a visible fact of life. (Brookdale is in an affluent area, but its student body is more diverse than the population of its county.) So are part-time or even full-time jobs off campus. We don’t have dorms. A slim majority of the student body is part-time. Many have children, and/or extended family obligations. More than I’d like to believe are only precariously housed. Steady and sufficient food can’t be assumed.That's life around the Mid-American, too. "Many of their students are striving in difficult conditions, and ought not be left with high debts and little new human capital."
For many students, college is the relatively safe space in their lives. It functions the way that Arlie Hochschild described work functioning for adults in The Time Bind: it’s the island of relative stability and sanity in otherwise chaotic lives. It’s where they can find some peace, and raise their sights above the day-to-day.
At Holyoke, I had the library establish a quiet study room for students who needed one. It quickly became both popular and self-enforcing. We couldn’t assume that students have a quiet place at home to study. Libraries as social centers may make sense elsewhere, and group study rooms serve a purpose, but sometimes you just need some quiet, a chair, a table, and a lamp. For students at elite places, that may be redundant; here, not so much.
Students’ home environments are entirely out of our control. This is not a “total institution” in the same sense that a residential college or university can be. And some students come to us as fully formed adults, well into their thirties or beyond; at that point, talk of ‘character formation’ comes off even more arrogant than it usually does. We have students who already have degrees from elsewhere, and plenty of students with previous college experience. The “tabula rasa” assumption simply doesn’t hold here.
It's up to the faculty at the community colleges and the regional comprehensives and the mid-majors to understand that they are in the same business as the hothouses for virtue-signallers and encourage their students to learn accordingly.
The problem that elite places are trying to solve with “safe spaces” -- a shelter from politics -- is the wrong issue here. My great fear for our students isn’t that they’ll take political positions different from my own. It’s that they won’t take any positions at all. They’ll ignore the larger questions altogether, in favor of the immediate demands of the present. Given the intensity of those demands, it’s an understandable response. But it cedes power to those who already have it, and whose agendas may be very different.Perhaps it's too much to expect that the networks and the journals of opinion draw their
Here, the need is for enough felt daily safety that students feel capable of venturing into slightly unfamiliar ground. Students here aren’t shrinking violets, and they aren’t dorm-room socialists. They’re struggling with the demands of daily life. If we could find ways to give them time, and reasonable security, we could probably nudge more of them towards the bigger questions. How they answer those bigger questions is entirely up to them.
Unfortunately, the evidence and the polemics suggest that there's more to the ceding of power to the snowflakes in their safe spaces than simply the connections among the gentry and the thick envelopes from the Ivies.