Campus and Identity

Most of the time when I meet someone around, I will introduce myself as a student of University of California, Irvine. I imagine most of other students here does the same. However, when we are on campus, meeting other students, we often introduce ourselves by our major. As we know, most campus are designed and segregated by buildings of different schools. Compare to the campus as a whole, schools are a smaller place that provides people more specific identities within the category of student. In addition to the identities that are provided by campus, people also carry identities from other places, such as son, daughter, employee, husband or wife that also influences their relationship with other people on campus. All of these identities as a whole makes campus a complex but resourceful place to study. While some people argue that such complexity is the cause of certain types of conflict, it is safe to say that meeting people with different background but similar goal is an effective way to expand our view.

“Places differ one from another in that each is a specific set of interrelationships between environmental, economic, social, political and cultural processes — what Lukermann has called a ‘bounded element complex’ — and geography has always been concerned with elucidating these complexes.”(Rose, page 41)

The identities that are given to us by a specific place derives from these set of interrelationships that Rose discusses. One of the basic functions of identities is providing people the most fundamental information of each other during interactions. From the perspective of campus, the most common types of identities that it provides are “student” and “professors”. However, for the activities that are taking place on campus that creates interactions among people, these identities do not provide enough information. A more specific identity is sometimes needed for people to exchange information more effectively.

“How a mere space becomes an intensely human place is a task for the humanistic geographer; it appeals to such distinctively humanist interests as the nature of experience, the quality of the emotional bond to physical objects, and the role of concepts and symbols in the creation of place identity.” (Tuan)

While bringing forward the importance of connection between place and people, Tuan mentions humanist interests as creation of place identity. The main interest of campus is obviously education. But when buildings of a particular school is constructed, for example Social Science Lecture Hall in UCI, the interest would be education in social science education. The interests of people who design a place create identity for the place, and such interests are passed on to people as part of people’s identities through the place. It is important to recognize the difference in the information provided by different identities. “Student” as an identity states the position of a person in the place, while “student of xxx school” emphasizes the interest of the person that relates him/her to a particular place within the bondary of campus. In spatial matters, these information indicates place that a person spends the majority of his/her time at. At the same time, it also implies the preference of a student when choosing place to study. In UCI, there are two areas that most people study at outside of lectures, Science Library and Gateway. I am a student of economic major, which belongs to school of social science, therefore I usually like to study at Gateway. There are no rules that require me to study there, but it is a place where I find myself belong to when I am studying. I can often find people studying there share similar view or participate in similar discipline as me. As mentioned above, a student is given a more specific identity when he/she selects a major. At the same time, this identity is also attached to a certain place on campus. Although there are no spatial rules set according to identities, people tend to feel more comfortable when they are around the places that are associated with their identities.

Despite the spatial relationship, place also have a significant influence on interrelationship among people that could be controversial. Students usually participate in academic activities on campus, but not always do they study with the group of people that has similar identities. Writing course at UCI serves as an example of such matter. Writing course is a general education requirement in UCI, which means all students have to complete the series no matter what their majors are. In writing classes, the distribution of students’ majors is relatively random, which contribute to the interactions between students from different schools. A common scenario in writing class is that students trying to achieve same academic goal with different approaches. Generally, students’ views are related to their field of study. For example, students with mathematics or engineering background prefer to support their views with theories and historical facts, while students from literature major tend to focus more on genre and rhetoric aspects of their work. Most of the time, such interaction is considered an advantage. The interaction between people who focus on different fields of study can help them expand their pools of knowledge and think from a different perspective when they share similar goal. However, without a common goal, these interaction, or collision, could be chaotic.

“The basic point is that any space one occupies habitually is an important interface between oneself and the university. The space therefore cannot be autocratically controlled by one party without producing resentment, hostility, and alienation in the other.” (Whisnant, Page 553)

In his article, Whisnant points out the possibility of conflicts between different department of universities. Without a place that provides common academic goals for students from different majors, it is unlikely that these students will help each. Instead, one might try to persuade another to accept an opinion that deviates from what his/her field of study values. In this case, campus will be the place that causes such negative interrelationship.

Besides the identities that are provided by campus or schools as a place, people come to campus carrying other social identities. In Massey’s opinion, it is old-fashion to think of a place with an unique identity.

“It is a phenomenon which has been called ‘time-space compression’. And the general acceptance that something of the sort is going on is marked by the almost obligatory use in the literature of terms and phrases such as speed-up, global village, overcoming spatial barriers, the disruption of horizons, and so forth.” (Massey, Page 6)

While Massey is describing an world-wide phenomenon, similar situation can certainly be found on campus. One of the terms that people like to use when describing UCI campus is “multi-cultural.” Most of the time, people are referring to the increasing population of international students during the last few years. However, campus is no longer a place that is built solely for the purpose of preparing students for work. Interestingly, the interrelationship between people with completely different social identities is somehow less problematic. As mentioned before, without the existence of a common academic goal, interactions between students from different field of study could cause conflicts. When it comes to interactions between people with different social identities, they start to accept the difference.

“We need, therefore, to think through what might be an adequately progressive sense of place, one which would fit in with the current global-local times and the feelings and relations they give rise to, and which would be useful in what are, after all, political struggles often inevitably based on place. The question is how to hold on to that notion of geographical difference, of uniqueness, even of rootedness if people wnt that, without it being reactionary.”(Massey, Page 152)

When Massey wrote these words, “email” was still a new communication tool. After all these years, people have learnt to accept the difference and benefit from the diversified environment. Campus is now considered as a place to provide the experience of living among people with different identities.

What makes a place matter largely depends on how the place fulfills the interests of the people who design it. While campus is built for education, it encourages learning new knowledge and achieve academic success. With the common goal, people who support views could complement and achieve their goal together. When the difference between people’s identities is too large to be assimilate, they will learn to accept the difference and adapt new environment. Although conflict among people does exist due to different identities, it is more often viewed as a stimulant of learning.

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