Do Student Events Promote Community?
Over the summer, several members of The King's Council met together to formulate a budget proposal for the 2012-2013 academic year. At the first Council meeting of the year, they submitted their proposal to the House presidents. After having looked over the proposal, one of the presidents raised the concern that student events may not have been allocated enough funding. This came after it was revealed that the Department of Student Events (if I may call it that) will be receiving $22,000 of the total budget of $88,715 – just barely shy of a quarter of all Council funds.
This president raised the concern that 25 percent of the Council funding – which is a cut from past years – would damage the ability of student events to fulfill its purpose of “promoting community.”
Here at King's, “community” is, in the words of 20th century intellectual Richard M. Weaver, a “god term” – an idea with such “inherent potency” that it automatically gives anything connected with it a positive meaning. Whatever is done in the name of “community,” after all, must be a good thing.
But what is “community”?
As a Man of Bonhoeffer, I must admit that I am partial towards our namesake's conception of community as he outlines it in Life Together. According to Bonhoeffer, “community” is not something that just happens when you have a bunch of people show up to a party, or roller skating, or a movie night. It's not that simple. For Bonhoeffer, community is an intentional process and can only be achieved through a constant, concerted effort by the members of said community to reinforce and strengthen relationships on a deep, personal, spiritual and emotional level.
With this in mind, can we really say that stuffing 200-500 students in one room for something like the Fall Concert, the Red and Green Affair or Spring Formal “builds community?”
I don't think so. These events are great ways to get students together for a night of fun and hanging out, and it's a great way to meet new people, especially at the beginning of the year. But this is not developing community; it's having an active social life. True community takes work– a lot more work than just hosting a few social events. The events the Council funds with their Student Events budget are great for building camaraderie and memorable experiences – but not for their stated purpose of “building community.”
The real community-builders here at King's are the Houses. I've developed bonds with guys in Bonhoeffer that run deeper than anything I've known before. This is due to the hard work, dedication and persistence of my House Exec Teams and members over the two years that I've been here – not $20,000 worth of events hosted by the Council.
This year, we are only spending $7,000 more on our Houses than we are on events – that's a difference of less than eight percent of the budget. This seems a radical inconsistency for a Council that claims to be House-centric and one of whose main goals is the promotion of “community” within the college.
Now, I'm not saying that we should immediately get rid of the Director of Student Events position or eliminate all student events that operate on Council funding. But if we're going to continue on doing the same things we have been with regard to student events, let's at least be honest with ourselves about what we intend and what these events actually achieve.
Getting the entire student body together for an evening of listening to music, or Christmas partying, or watching the Super Bowl, or any other big group activity, is a lot of fun. But that's all it is.
It's fun, but it's not building real community. If we're serious about actually fostering “community,” we need to have a solid conception of what it is. Let's take time to think through and discuss what it means to be part of a “community” within our Houses, in the Council, and in the student body as a whole.
We can come to a fuller understanding of “community” and how to encourage its development effectively, but if we continue with our current cavalier use of the word, we will slowly distort its real meaning, and sap it of its depth and true significance.
[Note from the Author: Any mention of The King's Council, or any particular House president is not meant as a personal attack or insult. I merely wish to remind them, and the rest of the student body, that words, especially words as loaded – and as central to King's as we know it – as “community” are weighty and should not be thrown about lightly.]
Christian Stempert is a junior majoring in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. His writing has been featured by Real Clear Religion, the Institute on Religion & Democracy, and Conbustible.com. He blogs at Christian-Libertarian.org.