The college experience is not for everyone

By Anasuya Narasimhan

Durham is a collegiate university and I knew this when I applied here. It was one of the driving factors that led me to choose the University over other offers. When I got here, I understood why so many people spoke positively of the collegiate experience; the Freps at Durham just seemed to do so much more to make us feel like college truly was a community than anything I had heard of at other universities.

Three years down the line, I have benefitted from college support. Whether that be through receiving funding to explore my hobbies from my college trust or help from college student support in times of academic stress and difficulty. Very quickly, however, into the three years, I knew that college student life was not for me.

College student life was not for me

The intent of this article is not to bash the way JCRs function, or college culture, although I am sure reasonable criticisms of both exist. I understood soon into first year that I did not quite fit in to activities at college. One of the big reasons for this was that there was little interest for the hobbies I was looking to pursue at my college. I also felt as though everyone around me knew each other – I never quite understood where from – better than they knew me, or I them.

I have also heard of experiences of friends and acquaintances, which describe how the ‘college experience’ can be quite exclusive to marginalized groups. For example, many of my working-class peers have described their disillusionment with ‘vital’ college events such as formals and balls. Obviously, some colleges suffer from this problem more severely than others, but the bottom line remains – the college experience is not for everyone.

As I write this article, there is a strange war raging in Durham student politics. College JCRs have expressed significant disappointment with SU functioning, raising many concerns about democracy within the SU. Two college JCRs have recently ‘disaffiliated’ from the SU. There have been people on JCR execs who have spoken to the obsolete nature of the SU; how it is of little use in a collegiate university.

There is a strange war raging in Durham student politics

When I first arrived here, I was greeted by Freps and my JCR- my first point of contact within the University was college. I was led to believe that being involved with college was the norm, and felt intense pressure to fit in, especially since college was also where I lived. Looking back, I know I wasted so much time on what was a futile pursuit, and even more feeling bad about myself, and more generally lonely. I worry that the animosity towards the SU in Durham politics will make things worse for students such as myself, particularly with the public denouncements.

This is not to say that JCRs, and students more generally should not be criticising the SU. It is to say that if JCRs want for all students to be contained and satisfied within the college experience, they should work to make it more inclusive and accessible. Until that is the case, this article is a reminder, especially to the incoming year, that if you do not find yourself within your college, that is okay. You can look get involved with the SU; there are hundreds of societies for almost everything you can think of, you can contribute to the SCA or trial for Team Durham. Durham is a collegiate university, but there is so much more than that.

The author would like it noted that this article was written before the university’s plans for academic restructuring were announced.

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