Who knows what the “Lawrence difference” is?

Erik Wyse

I want to briefly examine and enter into conversation with the idea of communal life, or communal living. When communal living is mentioned, one association engrained in our culture pops up: the image of a bunch of hippies trying to live off the land. Open marriages, open minds — that’s the basic idea held up as communal living.

Lately I’ve been troubled, along with some of my peers, by what the school does to negatively affect communal living. The university praises its communal living situations and advertises it on paper for all to see. It looks good for the university, as they can say that they are fostering a real sense of community, banding like-minded individuals together to form strong, common bonds.

Being a participant in formal group housing, I am grateful that the opportunity exists. What troubles me is how I see the school threatening and breaking down communal living situations, breaking down what they hold up.

Any communal living situation is built on trust and common understanding and I can’t help but feel that a divide exists between the administration and the students when it comes to communal living, that somehow the administration has violated a sense of trust.

The university professes to be idealistic and progressive in allowing students to form their own mature and functioning communities within the greater Lawrence community, possibly making gestures towards romantic and orientalist ideals, while threatening the existence and proper function of these very communities through judiciary action — this judiciary action running counter to the goals and atmosphere of communal living.

These problems concerning the breaking of trust are pertinent not only to group houses but to all of the Lawrence residential life. A major draw to Lawrence is the strong community, and part of the so-called “Lawrence difference” was the belief that the students would be treated with respect and there would be dialogue between the student body and the administration, without police presence. Security and the administration should be held accountable to treat Lawrence students as well-minded individuals and adults living on the Lawrence campus under a common bond.

In classrooms we are taught to challenge institutions that may threaten or hinder innovation and personal and communal growth. It grows tiresome to say the least when students are disciplined for laws or rules that the students themselves believe to be antiquated.

This is a powerful part of the education here, to look critically at the structures and institutions of society, which include the laws and regulations governing everyday life. Do the students now challenge Lawrence University itself?

Without delving into specific laws or rules, yes — there are many activities Lawrentians undertake that fall under the umbrella of illegality. Certainly the university feels a responsibility as an American institution to respect and uphold these laws, and act as a microcosm of larger government.

The university’s security, as an instrument of the administration, can continue to widen the divide between themselves and the students, however, acting in this way will only be to the detriment of the student-university community — a community that is strained daily. So the once proud, total community of Lawrence seems less and less a reality and more something that looks good on paper.

The question must seriously be asked now: What is the “Lawrence difference?” What do the students want Lawrence to be? And what does the administration want Lawrence to be?