In college, it can be easy to get so caught up in everything happening on campus that you forget your school exists as part of wider community. This so-called “bubble” phenomenon is real at schools all across the country (see “Vassar Bubble,” “Bowdoin Bubble,” etc.), and can actually be a detriment to students’ overall college experiences.
At Brown, going out into the Providence community is often referred to as “getting off the Hill.” We live on College Hill – which is, in a sense, physically separated from the rest of the city – and sadly, some Brown students rarely venture off the Hill.
At first glance, it might appear like this issue isn’t very important. There are so many exciting things that happen on college campuses, and college is such a unique time in a person’s life, it might seem as if students should spend as much time as they can on campus. After all, one’s time in college is possibly the only chance he or she will have to be that involved in school activities, whereas one can interact with local communities at any point in one’s life.
While somewhat convincing, this argument neglects to consider that getting involved off campus can actually strengthen the college experience. The typical aspects of college life – like classes, clubs, and parties – are great, but they are a bit removed from the “real world.”
Going out into the local community, be it through volunteering or just through the local social scene, is a good way to stay connected with the struggles and successes of everyday people from all walks of life. Plus, doing this can diversify a student’s interactions beyond the ideological, economic, and age-related homogeneity that is sometimes present in college communities.
For me, I’ve gotten tremendous value from volunteering off campus. I help out at an elementary school and a nonprofit legal advocacy group (both are in Providence), and doing each has strengthened my ties to the city and bolstered my academic experience.
There’s no better way to care about a community than to become invested in its children. When I’m working with 5th graders on math problems, I’m reminded of the educational opportunities I’ve been granted, and am intimately aware of how important it is that the children of Providence receive those same opportunities. Similarly, when I help increase turn-out to meetings that will make utility rules more fair for low-income RI residents, I am forced to reflect on the immunity a college campus often provides, and how I can use my studies to make a tangible improvement to the world.
These experiences are not unique to me. As a group, college students have an excellent opportunity to take advantage of the privileges that college provides, while also connecting with local communities that are vibrant in their own right. It is often said that it can take a while for a college to start to feel like a home. Learning more about the town or city in which your college is located will be great way to expedite that process and to become a more involved citizen, overall.
So, even if you think you are totally content to stay within the gated confines of campus, I urge you to try to expand your horizons and enter into the communities around you. Whether it is finding local groups to volunteer with, checking out public libraries, or frequenting local parks and businesses, a college experience is wider and deeper when it expands beyond the campus bubble.
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By Aidan Calvelli.