I can tell that I am going to have a lot of good stories about my first semester classes, which are examining the ideas and expressions of community in the coming weeks. My thoughts this week come from an assignment that I hope will help many of you who are on campus for the first time.
One of the assignments that I have been giving my first semester students for over a decade is a narrative about community. Narratives in past years reveal that the lives of the students in the Honors Program have been enriched by supportive parents, teachers, community leaders, peers and the physical places in which they have lived.
I am done reading almost 40 of these narratives that the students turned in a week and a half ago. For the first time in all of these years that I have assigned this paper, I am feeling that many students in my class do not feel like they have really belonged to a community during their lifetimes.
This is troubling to me. Humans are social animals, and besides the physical community every human needs to be brought into adulthood, we need to feel secure and loved and a sense that we belong where ever we are.
For the first time in all of these years, I wish I had not given this assignment to the students. I hate to hear about the hardship in people’s lives. These feelings make me realize that I am now a part of their community. If feel it is my turn to make them a part of the CSU community.
I am sure many people think that as an instructor, it is my job to teach the content of the course. Although that is true, I also think that it is my job to foster a sense of community not only in the classroom, but also in the to the greater Fort Collins community.
Nothing would make me happier for the students to leave for winter break feeling like they belong here. CSU and Fort Collins are each unique places. I hope these students understand the “UniverCity” for all that it is.
One of the lessons I teach in this class is to teach the students that positive communities, emotional or physical places of being, do not just happen but indeed they take a lot of work. I did not realize this on a personal level until I was 30 when I moved from Boston to Fort Collins, and, through teaching this course, and I have learned about the deliberate planning of cities and towns.
Many of my students this semester have had to contend with moves across the country, divorces, economic downturns and other personal events that have interrupted their ability to feel connected. These disruptions have left them unable or unwilling to reach out and ask for or accept others in their lives. This being said, these are the brightest and most personable group I have had since 2009. I can’t wait to see what this semester will bring.
I am sure that many of you have felt disenchanted with others in your lifetime, but we all have to remember that life here on Earth is all about positive connections with other people. If you are feeling left out, take a risk and seek out something that you are passionate about. This will lead you to people and activities that will draw you in.
If you have found people and activities that you feel at home with, invite others to join. Perhaps they feel left out, but have not been able to reach out for reasons that are not evident. Although we live our lives attached to each other in eight or more 16 week-long communities, make the most of it for yourself and for others. It will make a world of difference.
Anne Marie Merline is a faculty member in the University Honors Program. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org