Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Micro and Macro Contact Zones

Micro and Macro Contact Zones

smalina's picture

I was interested to hear a tour guide's perspective in terms of the marketing of SGA to prospective students and their parents. I remember going through the process of taking tours myself, and hearing numerous schools focus on this aspect of their community, seemingly very proud to have such a forum in which students could discuss and change policies of the school. When I first arrived at Bryn Mawr, already knowing a number of people from high school, I was launched into a community of friends who took SGA as seriously as these tour guides did. Not going to Plenary was not an option--it was something you simply did, no questions asked. As soon as I started dating my girlfriend, this changed. Spending time with her and her friends (at the time, a group of already jaded Juniors), I quickly grew skeptical of the SGA process and concept itself. What voice could we really have in a community like Bryn Mawr that coddled its students to such an extreme point that we could not even throw a party without clearing it with the administration? And even if we did have a voice, what difference would it make when the vast majority of Mawrters flocked to the annual Build-a-Bear event, something I considered an infantilizing use of money that could have been spent on prestigious and informative speakers? Surely my voice could not breach the wall of differently-minded Bryn Mawr students, let alone make any sort of lasting or significant change. 

Hearing a tour guide question the SGA process, after hearing time and time again from such figures that no system could be better, feels significantly validating. However, at the same time, I am beginning to question my cynical thoughts about the system. True, perhaps not even as a committed member of SGA could I make a difference in the way Bryn Mawr is run. Perhaps the administration will never allow for a true contact zone, one where our voices, when combined with their own, could be weighed equally and lead to a lasting change as a result of our different opinions. Perhaps we cannot ever achieve this macro-contact zone, of sorts. But there is something stopping me from discounting SGA as a system altogether--as a forum in which people from different backgrounds, different cultures, different hometowns can come together and express their different opinions on aspects of Bryn Mawr and the way we function together as a student body. Perhaps if I allow myself to think of SGA as a sort of micro-contact zone, one within a greater, more "oppressive" system, I can see it as something legitimately useful.

I'd like to hear what others think about this idea of "macro-" vs. "micro-" contact zones. It seems to me that when we begin to think of everything around us as a failed contact zone, what it comes down to is that it is simply impossible for any larger institution to function this way. Even democracies have their own systems of power that disallow completely equal conversation between all members of a nation, and a university is no different. 

At the same time, it seems that there is something valuable in the way we are challenging the macro contact zone of Bryn Mawr to be a true contact zone--is it possible that in questioning the systems set up to give us a false sense of a voice, we are forcing the "oppressive" powers of the administration to allow us a voice, whether they like it or not? 

What Post are you responding to?
Relation of this post to Related Post: 

Identity Matters Tags