The shooting at Virginia Tech serves as a tragic reminder of the importance of a strong campus community, one in which people know and look out for each other. In the wake of this event, it is important that we make sure that all students feel comfortable in our campus community. This opportunity should be seized to reflect on how to foster a greater sense of community, especially in upperclass dorms.
There seems to be a presumption that, once out of their residential colleges, upperclassmen are sufficiently acclimatized to college life. While colleges provide students with RCAs who organize study breaks and generally foster a sense of commnity within dorms, upperclassmen are left to their own devices. Though eating clubs provide some measure of support for upperclassmen, nothing exists to promote socialization in upperclass dorms or among the many students who do not choose to join clubs or remain in the residential colleges. Independent work, which puts increased pressure on upperclassmen and often requires them to spend significant time alone, means that community feeling outside of eating clubs often suffers. Some students go through an entire year without meeting all their neighbors.
Though social dynamics among students is, in the end, the result of our own behavior, there is room for the administration to provide a helping hand. While the University provides mental health services for those in need, having intermediaries step, similar to RCAs, would greatly stimulate social interactions in upperclass dorms and encourage students with psychological issues not to isolate themselves. This could easily be achieved by expanding the mission — and budget — of dormitory assistants, whose current responsibilities are focused on questions of maintenance and living conditions.
These measures are not intended to prevent tragic instances such as those at Virginia Tech. They would, however, encourage interaction in upperclass dorms and foster a greater sense of community. It would encourage people to meet and take an interest in their neighbors, reducing the risk that students who are depressed, or feel particularly lonely, slip through the cracks unnoticed. We share the pain of the Virginia Tech community and hope that from this tragedy, we can all realize the vital role of looking out for the wellbeing of our classmates.
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