I love attending discussions and lectures around campus, and regret not making more time for them. Whenever I do make time, I leave feeling more informed about the topic, enthusiastic about learning more and eager to take action.
Last week, I was able to attend the beginning of the event entitled “The ‘Ferguson Era’ and Baltimore Protests: A Discussion” put on by the Committee on Diversity Affairs (CODA) and sponsored by several other student groups. The discussion was well-moderated, and invited respectful discussion and debate that allowed me to see some different perspectives on the issues presented.
However, I observed a pattern in the attendants at such events. Most often, the people that attend these events are already fairly well-informed on the issue and have constructed an educated opinion on the subject. I see the same faces over and over again.
At the CODA event, there were students that I frequently see at similar discussions and members of the sponsoring groups. On the one hand, it is great to see students supporting their organizations and committed to an ongoing education about current events and social problems that these types of events provide.
However, there was little indication that this event had attracted a wider campus audience. The people who stand to benefit the most from these discussions—students less informed about a particular topic or who could benefit from a different perspective—are never in attendance.
Social change needs to start somewhere, but to be truly effective, it has to work on widely educating and spreading the message to people who don’t already know about it.
Now, obviously you can’t drag people from their dorm rooms or pull unwilling participants off the street to come to these events. These conversations are more effective if people are willing to be there. It also has just as much to do with the fact that some people are willing to learn and change while others simply are not.
Yet, as students of Lawrence, we should be committed to improvement and education that will benefit individuals and the wider campus in a myriad of ways. We have the programming in place; every week, I see numerous posters and Facebook events advertising engaging speakers, important discussions and informational panels.
Advertising earlier and for a longer period of time might help somewhat, but even if people see an advertisement, they usually have no other reason to attend besides personal interest. Therefore, we need to implement a system that gives uninterested individuals a greater incentive to attend such events.
A large-scale change would certainly take a lot more planning and some thorough brainstorming as to the best solution. I propose an incentivized system similar to one used at the University of Dayton in Ohio. This system is called Points Accumulated Towards Housing (PATH).
According to their website, PATH is a system by which, as a result of participation in certain “engagement opportunities,” like sports, games, discussions and other extra-curricular offerings, “you can earn points that reward your involvement and help you to achieve a higher priority within the housing assignments process.”
“The more engaged you are in the residential community, the more points you are likely to accumulate. The more points that you and your group members have upon entering the housing assignments process, the greater likelihood you will have in receiving your preferred housing type.”
I am not an expert on the way this system operates, but I think applying the basic concept to Lawrence would have many benefits. Firstly, it would eliminate the messy and cheat-prone lottery system currently in place. Housing makes a really great incentive because the prospect of securing an ideal living situation is something that students really care about and would be willing to compete for in this points-based system.
Subsequently, providing students with an incentive to attend more lectures, panels, festivals and games would ideally lead to a more educated and socially conscious student body by helping to bridge the gaps between disparate social groups and student organizations.
There are clearly a lot of potential complications with this system that would need to be worked out. How would we track points? How would we ensure that people attend a substantial portion of the event instead of leaving early or showing up for the last few minutes, just to get their points?
Would there be a quota on specific types of events so that certain people who are more apt to attend certain events—Conservatory students at music events, athletes at sports games, etc.—can’t acquire unlimited points at the same types of events?
However, for as many potential kinks there would be to work out, there would be an equal number of benefits to students and their community. An incentivized system would encourage students to take advantage of more campus events and programs that are partially funded by their tuition.
As such, it would increase student exposure to a wider range of events and help students to cross the boundaries of their established internal communities like Greek organizations, theme houses or majors, for example.
While this is obviously not a fully-formed proposal, I suggest this as a starting point to a larger initiative that would encourage greater involvement and promote ongoing education about issues affecting our campus life and community at large.