How is it that this school takes such a diverse student body and creates many similar people? I'll be asking this question during the coming weeks in an attempt to analyze the enigma that is the University of Richmond and the limitations of the student experience.
First, there is the issue of buildings on this campus geared toward late-night student activities. This school really only has one institutional response to students' desire for social activities. You may have been there last weekend. They're crazy, sweaty and often referred to as the "lodges." Most fraternities pay the school loads of cash every year in order to have large on-campus parties that aren't in apartments (the school's more unofficial drinking haven). These buildings were likely built in order to satisfy the fraternities' desire for party space and also to fulfill the school's desire to control the late-night habits of its students who like to drink. Keep them on campus, and keep them inside.
While the concept of the lodges has proven successful in entertaining students, they target a specific demographic on this campus and ignore the students who either don't want to party in the lodges or don't drink at all. For these students I give them the skill of being "incogcicated." Incogcicated is my new portmanteau word made up of incognito and intoxicated. This is the word for students who have learned to act drunk out of necessity because this school, in general, is not interested in their abstinence.
Not to worry, if you just cock your hat sideways, pull your tie down or twist your dress, without difficulty you too can enter the bliss of incogcication among all your friends who can't tell the difference. If you aren't up for the challenge, I think you might soon contribute to the less than stellar freshmen retention rate (currently 91 percent). The more I talk to first-years the more I realize the reason students leave this school is not that there is no space for binge drinking, it's because for whatever reason (religion, personal preference, or a medical condition) many students at this school just choose not to drink on a regular basis or at all.
For those students, a comparable alternative to the university-owned lodges simply doesn't exist. Instead of transferring, stay around and start making some noise on this tranquil campus so that people will start to remember that outside is the new inside. Incogcicated is the new drunk.
If you can't imagine why any student would feel as if they didn't belong on this campus think about this:
When was the last time you saw drivers in X-lot pick up students going to a bowling alley, or when was the last time the whole freshman class wandered in groups over to the Commons on a Friday night looking for an international movie? Not likely. There may be many reasons for these trends we see at Richmond but the situation boils down to the fact that, on a macro level, the social scene at Richmond is controlled by the Greek system. The fraternities in specific hold an impressive amount of social clout on this campus.
For only about 30 percent of the male students (so that would be about 15 percent overall), this visible minority manages 100 percent of the designated party space on campus. Six fraternity houses on Frat Row are the only place on campus owned (for the most part) by the school and built to entertain. Whether or not negative stereotypes of men are accurate, on this campus there is the undeniable fact that the buildings on frat row are controlled by Richmond College and made attractive to students as soon as they open. Why would the school think it wise to not only create such a monopoly but to place it in the hands of such a small demographic?
Consider this: The largest groups of students at Richmond are fraternities, sororities, men's rugby, the ultimate Frisbee teams, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and international students living in Keller or elsewhere. Each of these groups or organizations offers a different lifestyle to the student body and a different list of activities.
Despite so many students devoted to different types of activities, only the fraternities have found favor in the eyes of the administration and are given the ability to entertain in their own house. I need to make it clear that it's not that I don't want the fraternities to have houses; I just want the school to share the love around to everyone else. Sure, many organizations can use the space in the Commons for a dance party, but where is everyone supposed to go afterwards? I wonder if this lack of designated social space has led to the lodge phenomenon and almost created a funnel into which students are led whether or not they desire to be.
Here's the breakdown I've created for a sober evening on this campus based on available facilities: On Friday and Saturday night until midnight you can exercise in the rec center, until the butt-crack of dawn you can study in the library, but at no point on campus can you hang out with your friends and enjoy live outdoor music. I mean, maybe it would be good if every once in a while we slowed down and enjoyed our coffee as more than just a study aid. Maybe I'm wrong, but think it's worth a shot ... of espresso (sorry that was pretty bad).
If there is really a commitment to improving the state of housing on campus, the school administration should begin to use the apartments more wisely. By "use" I mean demolish and by "wisely" I mean very soon.
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They're old, awkward spaces that should have never been built. I have heard countless times that they weren't meant to last as long as they have, and to tell you the truth I can't believe they're still around. In their stead (and this is not a revolutionary idea, but expensive) build houses in rows with each having a different architecture, size and feel to it. Beside the houses there could still be apartments for those students who prefer to live the apartment life.
Think: Pac House and Atlantic House, but just more of them and with larger living rooms and common spaces. Give them yards and kitchens and even a chef to the larger houses that allows them to be an autonomous body of students on campus. It's not too far from what is reality at many schools that have developed cooperative dining systems for certain residence halls and would make this school more livable.
Our school really struck a chord when the Living and Learning programs were created and now it's time to take it to the next level. Fraternity houses (where guys actually live) sorority houses, themed houses (French house, rugby house or hippy house) and new unique places for students to find where they feel comfortable, new quirks to change up the monotonous block of housing we call UFA and new opportunity for social spaces on campus. Each house will be able to register parties on the weekends with the same regulations by which any apartment or frat house currently abides. In addition, new space on the first floors of some houses will allow for organizations to promote their activities alongside those that the school currently enjoys.
In this way, the administration could provide diverse housing options for an increasingly diverse student body. Without forcing students into a certain type of room (i.e. the only type on campus) students could live as they personally desired. In addition, the new options would spread student activities throughout campus and give a unique identity to each type of person.
Contact staff writer Michael Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org
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