Celebrating Opportunities Here

I planned a Spring Break theme for this column ““ using quotes such as Wilson’s “A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking.” But, when I realized that the phrase, “been taking,” might refer to my classes or those of my peers, I decided to eschew such a potentially disturbing topic .

Helpfully, a woman in one of those very classes said recently, “You used to be vice president for student affairs, didn’t you?” After glancing around furtively to see if this was some sort of trap, I admitted that I had served for several decades in that division. This student, as Trinity undergraduates usually do, had a follow up question, “Why do we have to live on campus?”

I, shamefully, don’t know or wish to know much about current campus policies that apply outside the classroom, and I’m certainly unfamiliar with the language used these days to explain and/or to defend policies unpopular with some.  Nevertheless, I do have experience and opinions on this topic, and here’s a summary:

When I first came to work here, there were 144 resident “girls” who lived in the McFarlin Complex; the “boys’ lived elsewhere and wherever, including Grande Courts, but let’s not go there, literally or in any other sense of the phrase.

There were other students who lived in the city with their families; these “townies” expressed that attending Trinity was “just like high school,” and certainly it must have been for them.  They commuted, ate separately in the Student Union Building coffee shop and only rarely become involved in campus activities.  They felt (sadly and accurately) that they were “second class citizens.”

As those in positions of authority engaged in long range planning, we wanted to include all students in the life of this campus; we wanted to create a true academic community.   Thanks to generous donors, the capacity for student housing increased with “dorms” and services about which everyone bragged ““ maid service, no group showers and toilets down the hall, spacious storage and, luxury of luxuries ““ private balconies.  (Don’t get me started on ways those balconies were a bane of my early years here; girls checked in at the 8:30 curfew, then, promptly, sneaked out over the balconies.  Good old days?  I don’t think so.)

In creating this community we desired, among other goals, to meet students’ basic needs ““ services providing not only comfortable housing but also food, health care, athletic activities and research opportunities (libraries and labs).  We hoped to enable students to focus on their education, both in and outside the classroom, acquiring knowledge and polishing skills that would serve them well throughout their lives.

Predictably, students never appreciated these as much as some felt they should: someone would get the “roommate from hell” and be miserable, another would resent some health service policy, but, the perennial target of most complaints was and remains: the food service – prices, quality and hours of operation.

When we provided only one entrée served cafeteria style for limited hours, some hated it.  When we had a “women’s dining hall” with waiters serving the meal, students complied with a certain dress code and stood until I tapped my water glass, and we all sang the doxology; some hated that.

And, today, just as then, some of you forcefully state: I want to cook my own meals.  Well, I “cook” mine by picking them up at Central Market or Whole Foods and heading for the microwave. My younger colleagues with families somehow make time to shop for fresh produce and “fixins” after or between classes, with children in tow or waiting supper at home.  I think if you ask those who do cook how they find the time or energy to do so, their answer wouldn’t be enviable.

Here’s the student life dean still lurking in me:  Celebrate the opportunities and appreciate the services that Trinity provides.  As have most who preceded you here, develop lifelong friendships.  When you gather for reunions, appreciate the irony as you gripe about your memories of the food and the residency policy even as you reminisce about your years at this remarkable community that so enriched your life.

Coleen Grissom is an english professor.