Almost a year ago I wrote a commentary piece entitled A Fractured Campus, that spoke to the lack of student involvement at McDaniel, and the highlighting of prestige programs over community building activities. Much has changed since that piece, in my life and in the world. But I returned this Spring semester to a campus that certainly has done very little to change.
There now exists a phenomenon I have begun to call the “McMalaise.” It doesn’t manifest itself in anger or demonstrations – in fact, until you stop and listen closely, you might not notice it at all. But once you hear it, hidden in day to day talk between friends and quiet Glar conversations, it is impossible to ignore.
“It’s sad that this school got so fucking depressing.”
“The social life is dead here man. You can’t have fun anymore.”
“If I wasn’t so far in, I’d leave right now.”
“This isn’t worth the money we pay.”
Many don’t hear these gripes, and for good reason. They don’t come from the straight A, Magna Cum Laude students or the Club-hopping leaders. They don’t come from the star athletes or the “ambassadors.” They come from the everyday students of the college, who have no access to the people that need to hear these messages.
But they are indeed important messages. The sense of severe disillusionment runs rampant through the student body; that sense that the people above simply do not care about their daily, small accomplishments and achievements. The sense that everything from scheduling to budget cuts are disallowing the kinds of engagement they so desperately need.
Attendance in extracurricular activities has continued to drop as meetings are forced to fight with an influx of night classes. The Free Press has seen a decline in meeting attendance due to this, as have clubs such as Allies and various Greek organizations.
Meanwhile, social gatherings of students in apartments are shut down swiftly and completely, even when not particularly disruptive. Students in turn leave campus to gather socially, putting them at greater risk of harm and injury, and leading to weekend nights on campus that feel empty and dead.
This phenomenon became even more clear to me at the recent Scholarship Brunch. At this event, I heard a number of alumni describe their time on the Hill, and all the great memories they had while here. And I very much wish that I could have turned to them and gone tit-for-tat, describing the great times my fellow students were having here now; but as I probed my memory, I could find few to none.
I was left wondering to myself where the campus they described, a campus for some no more than a decade old, had gone. They described a vibrant club scene; I see one collapsing in on itself. They described a vibrant social scene; I see one that penalizes students for minor offenses. They described a campus that tried to lift all students up; I see one that only cares for a select few.
This is the McMalaise. It’s the undercurrent you don’t see, the grumbling and gripes. It’s the reason few students seem to truly enjoy going to this college anymore, and it’s the reason they succumb to such deep-seated, disillusioned apathy. They don’t feel respected, they don’t feel supported, and they sometimes wonder if their leaving would be seen as anything more than a loss of profits.
But all is not lost. We as students still have the ability to organize and act in a manner that can make the campus a place we can enjoy, live, and thrive. We’ve seen student in the past engage in acts of protest and advocacy that got the attention of the higher ups; this needs to continue, and even more powerfully than before. It has to transcend the social identities we’ve rigidly become trapped in, and be a movement for students, by students. It will mean organizing in Red Square weekly, educating new students early, and using our strength in numbers to demand the administration take note.
It will be tough, as students juggle tough work and class schedules, athletic practice and extracurricular work. But with just an hour a week from each student working to improve the campus is enough to make a meaningful and long-lasting change in the lives of every student. The McMalaise can end, but only if we make something better to replace it.