In the discussions of free speech, hate speech, and safe areas of college campuses, schools use this member/community framing consistently. I don’t think I much questioned it until recently. Yet an alternate framing is not only possible, but I think, clearer: you are a customer purchasing a service. All the rhetoric of colleges is geared to steer you away from that idea. You are not a mere purchaser, you are a member of a club. You are not just learning some information, you are part of a community. That’s why they have sports teams, and why they have alumni gatherings and newsletters, so that after you leave
they can hit you up for money you can remain part of the community. “Community”
sounds like something you would want more of in your life, and they are
offering it to you. Famous or accomplished people who you never saw or even
attended entirely different years? – no
matter, you are both part of the community.
I completely get it. I considered
my college to be my “real” peer group after graduation for at least a few
years, and that faded only gradually. I didn’t follow the sports teams for
decades, but now that the basketball and football teams are just a little
better I check in on them at the end of the season a bit. I notice if some
person in the news went to my school. (My school. Hmm, there it is.)
Prestigious schools really sell that idea, that you are qualifying to belong to some rather exclusive club. Lifetime membership.
Visiting when my first son was looking at colleges, and not fully liking the culture (everyone seemed to play sports with sticks and be majoring in International Relations or some other world-running career), then having my second son display no interest at all drained most of the remaining juice out. They both went to another college, deeply evangelical, which provided a bit more reality to the continuing community aspect.
So there was a day when the idea of college as community meant something to me, but I view it with much more distance now. The school has an interest in continuing to whisper “community” to me, but is there much else that makes it true?
Just for amusement, make the leap to thinking “Okay, just hypothetically, let’s say that this is all just crap that meets the needs of some individuals. That it is possibly parasitic and at best symbiotic.” The light changes quickly. It becomes clear that those who pass through over a few years influence the culture very little - only in aggregate, and indirectly. Those who are there for decades get to create the culture in their own image. They make the club rules, written and unwritten. Worse, it is only those permanent members who really like this culture-enforcement stuff and are willing to put energy into it who make the rules. Those who want to be left alone to teach classes and do research in their fields are at a disadvantage here.
That subset of permanent residents, at colleges as everywhere, are the ones who have speech codes. They call the tune of what can and cannot be said, and convince you that you believe it to. They have every interest in getting rid of people who don’t fit. Elementary and secondary schools, churches, professions, snowmobile clubs, political parties, towns, teams. All of those are, in a much fuller sense, communities. Maybe colleges should no longer be thought of that way at all.