Putting the Living Back in Learning

Ah, Living-Learning, the only place on campus where you can live with a community of individuals who have more in common than a desire to investigate the various combinations of getting drunk, vomiting and hooking up. In L/L you can move in when school starts and assemble like Voltron with a team of like-minded folks. Do you enjoy film, music, cultures, diversity, community service? Whatever your interest is, there’s a nice little nook somewhere in L/L for you. The greatest thing about L/L is the community aspect that simply cannot be found anywhere else on or off campus. Which brings me to my next point. L/L is hurting. This year’s building is a very different beast from years past. A lot of changes have happened which go against many of the values we in Burlington would like to claim we believe in and live by. First and foremost on my mind is valuing quality of life over standard of living. In a very un-UVM fashion, I feel that the new buildings sacrifice quality of life for standard of living. The new buildings are wonderful, the new furniture is top-notch, but material things aren’t what make you glad to come back to your suite after a hard day. You don’t wake up in the morning happy to be laying in a brand-new loft bed, looking down at your fresh new dorm furniture. You enjoy dorm-life because of the interactions you have with the folks who live around you. It’s being able to walk back from class, duck into your neighbors suites, say hello, and enjoy a few minutes of conversation that makes L/L life so enjoyable. It’s the ability to connect with people from a variety of backgrounds and interests and truly live and learn together in a functioning residential academic community. The development plans of L/L should have been a result of community consensus, and some of the changes go against many of the very ideas I have come to believe the place stands for. For example, the decision to remove the balconies and court-yard doors was foisted on us as an unavoidable construction requirement. Now it seems that safety-concerns at the administrative level led to the elimination of balconies. It might be a legitimate concern to worry about students falling off balconies, but the decision should have been made after a discussion and community consensus building process. In a behind closed-doors process, minor safety concerns were allowed to override the importance of community and destroy the avenues for human interaction which were one of the things that made L/L such a great place to live in the first place. Currently residents look out at each other, separated by windows and a courtyard to which they no longer have access. Previously the courtyard provided the opportunity for residents of an entire block to mingle and get to know each other. Because of half-way legitimate safety concerns, the courtyards now serve little purpose other than storm-water drainage. Maybe it’s just the winds of change, and up-coming residents will learn to live with the new building. Maybe in the long-run the new changes will be hugely beneficial to residents. But even so, the decision to eliminate balconies and change community dynamics should have been the result of a community-based decision process. We were allowed to vote on standard of living issues like what kind of furniture we wanted. Why couldn’t we vote on VITAL quality of life issues like whether safety concerns overpowered our desire for avenues of interaction and community-building opportunities?