Does “Campus Community” Actually Exist?

Illustration by Sonja Benton

Over the past few years, MSU has managed to establish an obsession with two terms: “campus culture” and “campus community.” The time has come to question first whether these two statements actually have any substance, and, secondly, if the right efforts are being made to cultivate the collective identity to which the terminology implies.

Although our university is well known across the country for certain programs, it is still a fledgling entity in terms of its character and associative reputation. Every well-established university takes on a regional and individual personality, which consequently draws the interest of similar-minded students. Ours remains ambiguous.

Such universities enjoy the existence of a strong sense of belonging among the students, as well as cooperative (though highly diverse) reactions to relevant events. Students take an active role in addressing the treatment and interests of their colleagues as well as themselves.

These schools also share a characteristic that is virtually non-existent at MSU, and that is the enthusiasm to participate in cross-departmental events and activities, as well as those in the local community.

The fantastic concert performed in Reynolds Recital Hall on Saturday evening, featuring cellist Kris Williams, music department director Greg Young and pianist Julie Gosswiller, saw an excellent turnout from the Bozeman community, but only an extremely limited attendance by non-music students. While classical concerts may not garner the attention of all college age individuals, it is essential that students make the effort to expand their horizons and support campus activities that might be new to their experience at MSU thus far. Professors and administration should encourage cross-departmental participation.

While this is not any kind of heinous crime, it certainly illustrates the disparate nature of campus communication and interests. Within specific programs (most notably the Honors Program and athletic programs), an outstanding sense of unity has been developed among the students. Why? Because these students have common goals as well as a well-promoted set of shared interests.

MSU’s effort toward developing a “campus community” is confusing and extremely arbitrary. Our rapidly increasing prestige and student body can be compared to the acquisition of an instant fortune — it is met with a swift attempt to build a seemingly historical and well-established foothold in terms of influence and culture.

Before this can happen, minds need to be made up in terms of what kind of identity is desired. Are we striving to be a school whose collective identity centers only around a screaming mass of students who “bleed blue and gold” and religiously trek past alumni-owned Escalades on their way to the stadium every game day, only to return on Monday to a position unaware of other departments’ existence? Or are we to be truly Montanan, a libertarian-minded school that exists purely for academic perusal by students who leave campus at 5 to go back to their own lives?

Or should we try to move past the exceedingly redundant concept that MSU’s only uniting factors are football, skiing and frustration with the financial aid office, and start encouraging students to really explore outside of their major and outside of their social comfort zone?