As the spring 2016 semester comes to an end, so does the first full year of neighborhood classes for the Class of 2018. Originally intended to build community among students and unify the general education requirements around common themes, the Neighborhoods are now being supplemented with more and more new programs aimed at achieving the same goals.
A huge goal of the Neighborhoods was to bring students together through communities centered around unique themes. After experiencing these classes and mandatory events this academic year, however, the Neighborhoods are falling short in regards to building a community.
“I, for one, don’t feel any more connected to members of my neighborhood than I do people outside of it,” said Ricky Hiers ’18, a Mysteries and Marvels student. “The neighborhood events never quite seem to draw the attention of the student body in the way that they want.”
ICE student Chelsea Adams ’18 appreciates the efforts of the Neighborhoods, but notes that the eclectic mix of students of all majors in each Neighborhood might detract from the sense of community.
“I think that the concept of cohorts is a clever idea,” Adams said. “It provides an opportunity for students to form relationships with people that they may not meet in any other class. Mixing people who are pursuing all different majors is a great way to spark engaging discussions and encourage creativity. It seems as though students are too preoccupied with their majors to actually find mentors among faculty in neighborhood classes.”
Tara Gallagher ’18, an Images: Mirrors and Windows student, mentions the general student opinion on the Neighborhoods. “There are so many people complaining about it and every single thing they can find wrong with the system that no one really cares about becoming closer with the faculty and fellow classmates.”
She continued, “I don’t see it as the system’s fault, because it is still fairly new and as we bring more class years into the neighborhoods new challenges come up.”
Rollins places a strong emphasis on finding one’s anchor – incoming students are assaulted with peer mentors, Neighborhoods, Greek Life, athletics, clubs, and now major mentors as soon as they arrive on campus. That pressure for first-year students to find their place on campus is being extended through the second and now, as the class of 2018 prepares to enter their junior year, the third year. This seems excessive.
Though these are great opportunities for students to get involved on campus, it’s not the place of a general education to create that community, especially when we have so many other systems of support and involvement for freshmen.
Rollins recently announced yet another advising program for incoming students: major mentors. According to the Rollins website, major mentors would guide students within their departments, helping them choose classes and find clubs and organizations related to their major. This is an attempt to increase the sense of community among students academically – much like the Neighborhoods.
The major mentors, for example, are a new attempt to foster a community among students, but with the entire general education system designed around this goal, why do we need yet another means of official mentorship for freshmen?
“It’s difficult to encourage students to find community in their general education system when they are encouraged to do the same in other areas of campus, like FSL or their major,” Gallagher said. “I understand that the faculty who teach in the Neighborhoods really want students to grow and create a better learning experience for themselves, but I don’t think the Neighborhoods need to be emphasized as much as they are trying to right now.”
Fortunately, faculty has recognized student dissatisfaction and there are initiatives in place to gather student feedback. Anna Wenzel ’18 is a student in the ICE class Collaborative Problem Solving, which focuses on identifying and solving the problems with the Neighborhoods system. Throughout the class, Wenzel and others have worked to develop alternative plans to help improve the Neighborhoods.
“The community within the neighborhoods builds primarily through the specific classes, as classmates and professors spend time with each other,” Wenzel said. “This is not any different from classes outside the neighborhoods, and because of this, I do not think that the neighborhood system has offered anything new in the way community building.”
The lack of community among students in the same Neighborhood is just one concern – the mandatory events seem to be failing, the classes don’t all feel unified under one central theme, and students are questioning why the seemingly arbitrary course subjects are chosen.
As the Neighborhoods system moves forward (along with its guinea pig, the class of 2018), these concerns and the new ones that will inevitably arise will need to be addressed. The overkill of Find Your Anchor initiatives won’t help students nearly as much as a solid general education will.