After a long day of classes till 8pm I decided to go for a walk towards the canopies later that night, in an attempt to unwind and clear my head. As I reached the main path I saw a brilliant white light emanating from a tall post. This light sliced through my eyes and bathed everything in a clinical glow and every grain of stone stood out in vivid clarity. I could see the pimple on a guy’s face from 50 metres away. This was till the point I started losing my vision and a swarm of insects whizzed above my head like a hurricane. I tried to shield myself with my notebook and saw another post of enlightenment through the pages.
Now I was aware of the reasons why these lights had been installed but I couldn’t help but mourn the loss of one of the few hang-out spots on campus; despite the mosquitoes and rain it was nice to sit in the glow of golden lights and catch up with friends or sit alone. What was it about these lights that changed things so much? Why was I bothered? Isn’t light good for keeping darkness away? I realised that the lights drastically changed the dynamics of a certain recreational space. Ideas of time and space in relation to student life on a residential campus is something that is very much embedded in the ‘physical place’.
The physical zones of our expansive campus can be identified as the hostels, academic blocks, library, sports areas, dining halls, mini mart/bank/hairdresser building, hospital and the canopies (oh and chess garden: essential for birthday parties). We spend our day largely circulating between classes and hostel: studies and rest. There is not much space or time for recreation since we have a time cap on cultural activities as well.
Let’s look at the library as a physical place. An aesthetic specimen of architecture, it has a cafe, A.C. and comfortable sofas. Majority of the SNU population come there to chat and eat while studying somewhere in between. If you’ve noticed the conflict between noisy students and understandably irritated guards, it’s because the library is a space of confusion! As Juhi*, a 4th year, clarifies: “ It’s the library. We all would like to keep certain decorum there. Other than that there is no gender neutral closed place for both girls and boys to hangout. Reception of the hostel is also prohibited. Friends cannot sit and chill inside and winter is coming so it makes it even harder to stay out for long”. She has a point most people would agree upon.
I decided to talk to more students along the way and my questions branched out to include the many pairs of eyes in every corner of the campus: the CCTV’s. I wanted to know if these cameras changed how we relate to space. For instance, I make funny faces at them in the lift because I hope the bored person watching is entertained for a bit. On a more serious note, Zoey* (another 4th year), gave me an interesting insight into her relationship with the little eyes: “I feel conscious of myself all the time, conscious of what I do, the people with me, when I hug my friends and even if I’m simply walking around. I feel the cameras are okay for security purposes but they are present everywhere except for my room. This is one of the biggest reasons I only feel free in my room and like being there”. Varshini* too had a story to share: “I would like to share one of my experiences. I saw ISC guards sitting in front of the screen watching the recordings of girls’ lift CCTV where the girls were adjusting their clothes”. Now it is impossible to decipher intentions since it’s part of the job to watch the screens regardless of what is going on but one must ask questions about space again. In the literal and virtual sense.
One of the first few questions we tend to ask is “what is college all about really?” and I found a starting point in a speech Barack Obama gave at a high school in 2015. He said:
“Look, the purpose of college is not just, as I said before, to transmit skills. It’s also to widen your horizons; …The way to do that is to create a space where a lot of ideas are presented and collide, and people are having arguments, and people are testing each other’s theories, and over time, people learn from each other, because they’re getting out of their own narrow point of view and having a broader point of view”.
A university is a space for learning, growth and immense engagement of bright minds. Our college is definitely not devoid of such minds and energies and much good work is already afoot. As Siddharth*, a 2nd year says, it’s a fine line when it comes to college life being dictated by the administration and the students: “The issue that the admin is trying to address is very fair, academia must come first and foremost but where does one draw the line at influencing an adult’s decision?” More communication between the admin, students, professors and guards is necessary for a healthy learning space. Without this doubt, suspicion and heavy questions fester, as Krishna* (2nd year) comments on decibel levels and the equal need for accepting “ privacy as a fundamental human right ruling”.
That said, I’d like to zoom out of those themes to the connections in-between. Pure zones of academics, hostel are limiting and airtight. A hall with A.C., wifi, a cafe would be more than enough for students to unwind and communicate all sorts of ideas. Whoever said recreation and rest means no productivity? It is in fact a definite booster since it rejuvenates minds. To take baby steps and being considerate towards logistics, Zoey suggests an alternative: “The best option is to convert the ground floor common rooms in hostels to hang out spaces. Maybe a few bean bags/ stools. Permission to play music”. A conducive physical space can lead to a further engaged mental space and therefore make college students achieve the potential they are definitely capable of.
Disclaimer: The views, information, or opinions expressed during the article are solely those of the author and the individuals involved and do not necessarily represent those of the university
Obama speech reference : https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/safe-spaces-college-intolerant_us_58d957a6e4b02a2eaab66ccf