Commentary: The hyperreality of collegiate busyness

One of my students asked me how I felt about the pace of my life. I answered honestly and said that it was busy. I gave an analogy that it was a pace not sustainable for a long period of time, but that in a long run (such as life) it is not a pace that is detrimental. I do believe that, but there is also something untrue in my statement. I assumed that my pace has no impact on the run at large and that the central goal is to be able to finish the run. While that is valuable, the central goal should be more than just finishing the run it should be running well – in all portions of the journey. The pace I have now does in-fact damage my ability to run well later. I won’t magically regain energy. Runners change pace, but we sometimes forget that is is easy to remain quick-footed when the run requires steadfastness.

I have a lot to do. It is November, so reviews are beginning for student leaders, I am slated to lead/teach the next couple class in our Residence Life course, I have to start preparing for a Summer Scholars position that I am taking up, the first Basketball games are happening . . . there is more both with my job and outside of it, but the point is clear. Life is busy. To be honest, I am sprinting, which is detrimental and not sustainable for the long run.

My students too are trying to maintain sanity and tend to sprint. It is interesting that colleges are the one place that can be “counter-cultural”, yet in regards to busyness, they are often hyperrealities that convolute what is real and what is fantasy and in turn cultivate a “reality” in which busyness becomes normality both within the culture and something brought to the “real” world post-graduation. So institutions awkwardly sit in the midst of the machine that they (at least some) would like to deconstruct.

Simplicity seems like the answer, but simplicity is not simple. The liberal-arts particularly have a quirky complexity when it comes to simplicity. While we have  confirmed identity in purpose in the liberal-arts, in those basic fundamental elements (language, literature, philosophy, mathematics, sciences -both social and natural-, and history) that encourages intellectual and personal development, we are also on a never-ending journey to add to our programs and provide a broad experience. This is good and necessary, but is all too often frantic.

What would it look like for colleges to set a culture in which simplicity was a value. Not simplism, we do not have to negate the complexities of thinking intellectually and academically, but simplicity. What if we reduced our programming and adjusted our expectations to help students learn, but not become overwhelmed or overindulged with information? Can we encourage students that healthy social relationships doesn’t mean that you have to, and that it is dangerous to try to, engage with everyone in a deep level (a particular problem at a small college). What if we put limits on student participation and form rhythms that promote wholeness and rest (the phrase “I feel rested” rarely comes from my students and dare I say my own mouth, especially is juxtaposed to the frequency I hear and say “I am busy”).

What kind of institution would this be? What type of “counter-cultural” students will graduate? And what positive change could this existence and restful imagination of Shalom (wholeness)  have on the world at large?

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2 thoughts on “Commentary: The hyperreality of collegiate busyness

  1. This is something interesting to chew on. But what if this habit of business started before college? I know some of my teens were not only participating in zoo camp, but also in sports and about a zillion other extra curricular activities. Maybe the College/University level is a place where this culture of “we must be busy” can be re-routed and a well rounded adult can be developed.

    • Stefanie, I agree this starts with our children we engage them in so many things so that they will be talented and “good”, often we do it so students can make it into a good college. I think there is a need to address it at that level as well. For me, the fact that many students need to be busy and “accomplished” to make it into college is a problem in and of itself. You last point is where I am getting at, instead of college being part of the machine, I think it could be a place that changes the norm (which is never easy and that means that we as higher education professionals need to help students navigate students to be satisfied and content in simplicity).

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