Community vs. Individualism

Community vs. Individualism Individual and community are two words whose meanings contrast each other. An individual is one who is self-sufficient and not reliant on outside forces to get whatever task complete. A community however, is a group of individuals whose sufficiency is intertwined with one another, and therefore can rely on each other. In her narrative essay, “Community and Diversity”, Rebekah Nathan unveils the individualistic society that was her college experience. She describes life as a freshman from her own point of view and examines the characteristics of the student population at her university.
She uses her own experience as a microcosm of university life throughout the country, but her account does not represent all schools appropriately. She says, “They (students) genuinely want to have a close community, while at the same time they resist the claims that community makes on their schedule and resources in the name of individualism, spontaneity, freedom, and choice”(Nathan 233). Her description exposes the student body as being largely individualistic, which is not always the case.
In this essay, I will argue that not all campus life in universities today is individualistic, because there is still a great deal of community amongst the student body. To begin with, saying that campus life is geared towards being an individual is not always true. Students go out of their way to join clubs and participate in study groups and review sessions. They want to come together and form an alliance for academics or just to be social. In her essay, Nathan claims that our nation as a whole is becoming an advocate of “individualism”.

While this may be true, it in no way means that university life is affected by this. People come to college to not only further their academic quest, but to expand their horizons and to network with their peers. For example, an incoming freshman has the capability of joining a learning community related to their interests or what they think their future major might be. If a business major wants to get involved outside the classroom, there are a number of options available to them, such as an academic service learning program, or joining a business fraternity.
The variety of choices one has is overwhelming, and these programs and clubs would not be available if they were underused, they would simply turn over. Equally important, is the fact that in today’s classrooms, group work is often either encouraged or required. Professors expect classmates to get along and collaborate (just not when their teaching), either during an assignment in class or for a project assigned to work on outside the classroom. How so then, as Nathan puts it, are students getting more and more individualistic? In his essay, James Surowiecki explains that there is power in the form of the small group.
He says “small groups have the opportunity to be more than just the sum of their parts” (441). This means that a group can outperform even the smartest of its individuals on their own. That said it isn’t hard to see the benefit of community values in an academic workplace, rather than individualism. A good example of this is if you were to put five students in a group to complete a series of math equations. If it took the smartest individual thirty minutes to complete twelve problems, it would likely take much less time for the group, including that same individual, to finish the task.
For this reason, privatizing the campus experience is not beneficial to the learning process, rather it is harmful. Integrating students from group work keeps them from building social skills that they will need in the real world after college, and it additionally gives students an absence of the cognitive diversity one could discover while working in small groups. Moreover, if an institution wants to inspire a common education goal amongst its students, there are several ways it could initiate it.
For one, the university could instill living learning communities into the student housing. This allows students with the same majors or interests to live in the same suites, as well as giving them the some of the same core classes. Consequently, students can share information about classes and even form study groups without even leaving their dorms. Another way to instill a sense of academic community throughout the campus is to organize free events such as study sessions and reviews for certain classes.
For example, offer a math tutoring session available to all students with refreshments, or maybe even ice cream, would be a great way to attract people and get them involved with not only in their studies, but with the campus as well. A university could even go as far as providing incentives for good work, such as raffling off high end electronics and skateboards. The cost of the raffle ticket: “A” papers. On the other hand, Nathan argues, “Rather than being located in its shared symbols, meetings, activities, and rituals, the university for an undergraduate was more accurately a world of self-selected people and events” (237).
This cannot be said for American universities as a whole. Many if not most colleges have strong on-campus communities starting at the roots of student living; the dorms. Every week you will find a plethora of activities and events going on no farther than the students’ downstairs lobby. From events like “Residents Fest”, where the different dormitories face off in multiple competitive events, to comedy shows and entertainers that come to the campus auditorium and perform live for the students, free of charge and welcome to everyone on campus.
At the same time, there is still room for individualism in a functional community. Any given community that is profiecient needs individuals to lead operations. In our everyday society, we rely on politicians and small businesses led by headstrong individuals. But the individualism that is essencial for these people is also essencial for the community as a whole, much like that which is found in university life. Resident Assistants or, “RA’s”, are hired in order to not only control the students living in on-campus housing, but to bring them together as one solid body.
It is not uncommon for RA’s to request input of those students living on their floor during floor meetings. For example, most RAs give each room on their floor living agreement forms. Nathan remembers, “After pizza, M&Ms, and yet another icebreaker game, the RA introduced our charge of creating a joint compact and handed out cards and pens, asking each person to write down something in the way of a rule or a ‘don’t’ that she would like to obtain for the hall” (234).
On it, residents are allowed to make rules for their specific suite to make sure everyone gets a say in what goes on in their living space. They want everyone involved with the building they are living in, but also to know that the RA is ultimately the one in charge over them. Interestingly enough, Surowiecki points out, “One of the real dangers that small groups face is emphasizing consensus over dissent” (444). This concept could lead floor members to agree more readily with the majority, rather than be the black sheep to stand out and argue against it.
Without doubt, college campuses around the country display a strong sense of community. In the classrooms students display cooperation with each other in the form of groups and in-class discussion, and review sessions before tests are no rare occurrence. There are a variety ways to get students involved, and it seems that many are eager at the opportunity to gather and strive for academic improvement. From learning communities to social events and clubs, there is no lack of student involvement on campus for many universities.
Although Nathan says “The university community was experienced by most students as a relatively small, personal network of people who did things together,” this is simply not true everywhere across the country (237). While there are hints of “individualism” in the student body, it is overwhelmed by the power of the community that is found in most universities across the states. This is good thing, because an emphasis on “individualism” could affect the development of cognitive diversity which is a valuable characteristic in society, especially on a college campus.
Surowiecki states, “Diversity of opinion is the single best guarantee that the group will reap benefits from face-to-face discussion” (446). By this, he is saying cognitive diversity sparks a flame in the classroom, whether it through arguing or open discussions with classmates and teachers. If students were not exposed to such diversities in the classroom, they would be unprepared to face them in the real world. Besides, giving students a strong sense of community is almost always more effective than the alternative.
Works Cited: 1) Surowiecki, James. “Committees, Juries, and Teams: The Columbia Disaster and How Small Groups Can Be Made to Work. ” Emerging: Contemporary Readings for Writers. Ed Barclay Barrios. Boston, MA. Bedford/St. Martins, 2010. 439-452. Print. 2) Nathan, Rebekah. “Community and Diversity” Emerging: Contemporary Readings for Writers. Ed Barclay Barrios. Boston, MA. Bedford/St. Martins, 2010. 439-452. Print.

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