Living in a Community

This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

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Women Living Well - 2004

Student Papers

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Living in a Community

Elsa Marvel

It is undeniable that living in a community, especially one as concentrated as the community of a small liberal arts college, where a student's entire life (academic, social, residential) revolves around the campus and community, is a challenge and something that can be difficult to adjust to or keep from becoming a situation where conflicts arise. Especially at Bryn Mawr where we have a social honor code in addition to an academic honor code, the community life can be tense and difficult to deal with. That said, there are many things about being in a community such as this one that are wonderful and make our college experience what it is. Everyone at Bryn Mawr chose to come to this school, knowing that community is very important and a vital part of being a Bryn Mawr student. Without community, there would be less of a difference between small liberal arts colleges and large universities. Our community keeps us from getting swallowed up and almost invisible, and it is very nice to recognize every face on campus and have professors who know their students.

The challenges of being immersed in a close knit community such as the one here at Bryn Mawr are numerous. For one, there is always a great deal of "drama" because everyone knows each other, and people always know what is going on in the lives of other people, even if they are not friends with them. No one likes their personal business being common knowledge, and I think that that is something that can potentially happen in a community as small as ours. Also, in any community, no matter the size, it is always difficult to be respectful of everybody and avoid stepping on toes. People are going to feel disrespected at some point in a college community for so many reasons: stealing food from the fridge, using someone's shampoo, not respecting quiet hours, the theft of computers, wallets, etc., making comments that make people uncomfortable, not making great enough efforts towards diversity, a conflict between roommates, not getting along with your customs group, breaking up with someone who lives on your hall, and so forth. We expect everyone to treat each other in the "right" way, but the fact is that even with only 1,300 people, one is going to find a wide range of values and beliefs that not everyone shares, and from this stems inevitable tension.

The tension is positive however, because it can keep people thinking about whether they are behaving appropriately and respecting everyone in the community. If we had no tension from living in a community, it would either mean that we were living in a utopia, or that there was no sense of community whatsoever, and the whole campus would be fragmented and chaotic. The tension keeps the community together, reminding us that people still need their personal space and that there are boundaries that cannot and should not be crossed, but that nonetheless, we would not have those concerns (that personal space would be invaded, boundaries crossed, etc.) if we were not already a community.

As for gaining a sense of mutuality within a community, without giving up ones individuality, I think that there are several things that make it possible. For one, having our own rooms (or the prospect of getting ones own room) makes a big difference. I think that in order for such a small and concentrated community to work, physical personal space is very important. In other words, people need a space that they can call their own, where they can go to escape the community if they need to or want to. I'm not advocating that people become reclusive just that it is sometimes important to separate yourself from everything going on in the Bryn Mawr community. That we are all interested in different things and are very different people, and entered Bryn Mawr with this being the case, is another thing that contributes to being able to retain our individuality. Not much is needed to gain a sense of mutuality, because there is already so much in place to make sure that we do feel like a community. Things such as traditions, activities, athletics, and the fact that we are all women and all at the same school.

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