There’s a fine line between community and insularity. Having a group of people that you share an affinity with is validating and can often lead to long-term friendships and connections. But, when associating ourselves with those whom we are like becomes insisting upon separating ourselves from others with whom we are unalike, exclusivity can easily turn into outright animosity. The four Hogwarts houses are a good — albeit hyperbolic — example of this. For the witches and wizards of JK Rowling’s fictional world, being sorted into Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, or Slytherin has a profound impact on the rest of their lives, and almost immediately affects who they associate with for the remaining seven years of their education.
For students of MacEwan University, as with Hogwarts, a social network that shares an understanding of how difficult a certain course is or that can offer support and advice on navigating administration is incredibly valuable. Outside of magical boarding schools, however, such a network is not always easy to access. Informal Facebook pages such as the MacEwan Used Book Exchange are a good way to get in touch with other students regarding more general student experiences, but it’s not the same as being part of a community within one’s program. Sometimes you just need to surround yourself with people who get it.
As I come into my final year at MacEwan, I am increasingly grateful to have had access to a designated space for the exact purpose of building connections and community. Having a student common room within the English department has meant I have a place to go whenever I am on campus where I know I will always belong. I have been able to grow closer with others in my program and act as a resource for younger students, just as those graduating last year were able to give me advice and support. In effect this common room is a safe space, one for which I am immensely grateful, but it is also an exceptional privilege. As MacEwan continues to grow and sitting space comes at an even greater premium, program-specific spaces such as this are increasingly scarce, if they were even available to begin with. After all, a large number of programs never had such spaces, and several that did exist have since been repurposed.
I wonder about what the future holds for the English common room. I wonder if, after I graduate and am gone, anyone will rearrange the furniture. Who will take on responsibility for removing outdated posters from the whiteboard? Restock our little tea collection? More importantly though, I wonder whether the common room will continue to balance along that fine line between inclusivity and exclusivity. Will the space continue to provide a much needed environment of camaraderie and closeness, or will it run the risk of becoming something cliquey?
I wish that all students had a space unique to their program where they could go and build community. In fact, I believe strongly that this should be included in future planning for academic institutions, but I also recognize in myself a reluctance to share the space that I have been so fortunate to access. It might not be as bad as the enmity between Slytherin and Gryffindor, but it does stem from previous experiences where the quiet and unspoken codes of etiquette in a student-specific space have not been respected. Just as much as I wish that all programs had a common room for themselves, I also wish that we could collectively be respectful enough of the few spaces we do have as to not need to be separated at all. It’s possible that our student communities would only be stronger for this level of interprogram diversity, but it is also possible that in making a place less exclusive, it might also become less welcoming and comfortable for those it was intended for.
For now at least, I am grateful to have a common room that can be shared with those in my program. It might not involve secret passwords or a hidden entryway, but having a place to act as my home-away-from-home while at MacEwan has been truly magical for me.