You can’t manufacture community spirit

The University should focus on improving Wentworth’s community spirit rather than sending postgraduates to other colleges

If there’s one thing that every children’s TV show has taught us, it’s that community spirit is a good thing. The Smurfs all live happily together in one little village whereas Gargamel lives alone with his cat, and is angry all the time. Top Cat and his gang live together in their alley and seem to be having a whale of a time, but Officer Dibble is always alone and seems kind of down.

So maybe this is what Kallum Taylor and the University were thinking about when deciding that spreading postgraduates across all the colleges, making them part of their respective communities, might be the way to go. YUSU’s line on this was that it would “help to ease any feelings of seclusion felt by postgrad students who currently are attached to Wentworth”.

The aim here is definitely a good one: if postgraduates feel as though they are currently lacking a community, then anything that can be done to remedy that should be considered. The University and YUSU should both be committed to helping the postgraduates feel like they are part of this community and they’re making a real effort to act upon that obligation. So, bravo Kallum Taylor, bravo University of York, and bravo Smurfs. And Top Cat. Bravo Top Cat.

Except, postgraduates are already in a community. Wentworth College is a community of postgraduates. That, as far as I’m aware, is kind of the point of having a postgraduate college: just as I currently live in a block of Derwent freshers, who are almost all my own age and therefore live a similar lifestyle to me, postgraduates get the same kind of deal in Wentworth. Admittedly, they vary in age much more than freshers, so they don’t have so close a connection there, but I’d wager they’re closer to each other in lifestyles than they are to 18-year-old freshers.

By the third week of university, freshers are practically nocturnal. With no feeling of urgency about their lectures or studies in general, they see no reason to be awake before late afternoon. And this inevitably leads to them being awake until about 4am every night. A 26-year-old postgraduate is not going to be living this lifestyle. So the noise late at night might be a bit of an issue if they were living with freshers. And being 26, our postgraduate is probably no longer living exclusively off pot noodles, Efe’s pizza, and free prawn crackers, they’d want to use the kitchen in their accommodation quite a lot. So they might also take issue when, like all freshers’ kitchens, it looks and smells like a pigsty.

Presumably, to solve these problems before they arise, the University has said that postgraduates would be “housed in dedicated flats, blocks or corridors”. Having a block to themselves would definitely solve the problems I have mentioned. Excellent. But then, why are they not just housed in a postgraduate college? Taylor says it would “further enrich” college communities if postgrads were spread among them, but what does that actually mean? If there was a block of postgrads in Derwent, I doubt I’d ever end up in there to meet them, so I don’t think either of us would benefit from being members of the same college.

What I can’t deny is that this move would mean postgraduates were attached to a community which is more vibrant and active than Wentworth’s, but what I’m cautious about concluding is that this is necessarily a good thing. Just as I can’t see Gargamel ever enjoying using the word “Smurf” as a verb, I can’t see 26-year-olds enjoying Slag and Drag, or even an evening in a college bar, when it’s full of freshers drinking a ridiculous number of Jägerbombs before heading out into town.

Currently, our college events don’t feel at all grown-up. And that’s fine for the vast majority of us freshers. But I just can’t see it being the same for our hypothetical 26-year-old. And if new, grown-up events were created as they were integrated, postgraduates would probably be the only ones to attend, because 18-year-olds are perfectly happy not being grown-up. So the postgraduates would in effect just be in a smaller Wentworth.

So maybe a real drive from YUSU to support the Graduate Student Association (GSA) in the creation of events that will both be enjoyed by postgraduates and also make Wentworth a closer community is what Papa Smurf would really want.

One comment

  1. 4 Dec ’12 at 7:41 pm

    Anonymous Postgraduate

    You can’t manufacture community spirit but you can do your research. This author of this article and the editor himself in the lead comment made the mistake of assuming that Postgraduates currently only live in Wentworth College.

    There are currently Postgraduate students resident in all of the Colleges except James and Vanbrugh. After Wentworth, the largest is at Halifax College (approx. 180 students) and there is a similar size number of Postgraduates living on Heslington East. The author might be surprised to find that there are approximately 80 Postgraduate students living in Derwent, his own College! He obviously never made the effort to look beyond his own block and enjoy the diversity of his College.

    Postgraduate residents currently contribute to the spirit of all but two of our College communities and distributing them more evenly amongst the eight Colleges would only be to the benefit of all. Undergraduates will benefit from contact with a more diverse range of students and Postgraduates will benefit from greater access to College resources and activities.

    There is no question that our Colleges would be “further enriched” by an increase in Postgraduate residents. They are already enriched by the 460 Postgraduates who do not live in Wentworth College.

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