On a recent tour of colleges and universities in Pennsylvania, I kept noticing that most of the common spaces on these campuses were relatively quiet. Obviously, the time of day and the day of the week can make a difference in how many people one observes scurrying through student centers.
And yet, one of my student tour guides admitted to me that the common spaces were almost always dead on her campus–even though it was a residential college (and not a commuter campus). I asked her why, and she launched into a very well-developed thesis on how Facebook, texting, and other social media has obviated the need for physical space for students to congregate: they tend to congregate online.
Brilliant observation. So I recorded this short video at Drexel University to share some of my thoughts on the issue. If you prefer, you can read the transcript below.
Right now I’m on the campus of Drexel University, and it’s in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, right next door to the University of Pennsylvania. And I’m here in the Student Center where it’s pretty well deserted right now. This is the morning, but I’ve had a similar experience at most of the other campuses I visited no matter what time of day or night. Many of the student’s spaces are pretty well empty, and it wasn’t until I was talking to a tour guide at Ursinus College, which is about 35 or 40 minutes north of Philadelphia, and she was saying, “Yeah, this is the way it usually is. The Student Center is not very busy.” And she was quick to add that the reason for that is that students are connecting in different ways. That they’re connecting on Facebook, and they are certainly communicating by text also. But they’re not having to physically meet in a particular place in order to make arrangements for what kind of social stuff they’re going to do, and I was telling her about my own experience in college; how if we wanted to connect with other students, we didn’t even have land phone lines in our rooms. We had to physically go to another students’ room and leave a note on the whiteboard outside that said meet me at such and such a place, at such and such a time.
So, the Student Centers have taken on a very different role in student life, and it’ll be interesting to see over the next, you know, few years even what happens to these spaces, because they’re not being used as intensively as they once were simply because students are communicating in a different way. And this is important really for parents to remember, especially, because they may walk into these student common spaces, and think, “Where are all the people? Why aren’t they congregating?” Well, remind ourselves that’s how we communicate with our own students, and that’s the way our students are connecting with each other. So, it’s not necessarily indicative of the college; it’s indicative of the way in which we have radically transformed the communications among people. It’s going to have an impact on campuses across the country.