Life Inside the Higher Education Bubble

Being a college student can be a stiflingly insular experience. Don't get me wrong--in the words of the mindless Asher Roth song which has been steadily gaining in popularity amongst people my age, I love college. It's just that sometimes it's hard, almost impossible, to feel like you're an actual part of the real world when you live with, go to class with and interact only with people between the ages of 18-22 who would just as soon be concerned with an upcoming party or test as they would with the possibility of GM going under or the impact of President Obama's surprise trip to Iraq.

Of course, I realize this probably isn't a new issue. Some people might say that it isn't even a bad thing: college is really the only four years of your life where you're allowed to ignore the world at large. Have fun and enjoy the carefree existence, because it's the last time you'll be allowed to live like this, right?

This was the college environment I'd come to accept and even embrace throughout my freshman year. However, on returning to campus this past September I was witness to something of an awakening: the Obama campaign had gotten people my age to care again. I'm not going to delve into the reasons why--enough has been written about that already. Suffice it to say, it was a heartening turnaround. We all still talked, looked and acted like college students, only now dining hall conversations often focused on electoral math, and dorm room posters of Biggie Smalls were replaced with ones featuring that omnipresent "O" logo. Here at Williams College, the months of building excitement culminated in a euphoric election night event hosted in our packed student center. It was an inspirational couple of months in many ways.

Of course, I expected this on-campus enthusiasm to wane a bit after the election, but I didn't foresee it fizzling out as quickly as it did. By the time Obama's agenda started making its way through Congress very few students seemed to care about what was going on: the stimulus, the worsening situation in Afghanistan, etc. It was back to business as usual.

Then in mid-March I began to see flyers for a student forum assessing Obama's first two months in office. Whoever was behind this, I thought, must be the exact kind of students I've had so much difficulty finding--the kinds of kids who still stay informed and opinionated even though the excitement of the election is now just a memory. I happily marked off the date on my calendar and waited.

When the day finally arrived I walked to the building where the forum was being held only to find the assigned room empty, with a few confused-looking students milling around outside of it. It turns out the event's organizers had not shown up, by default canceling the meeting. I wasn't really upset. In fact, I found it kind of funny. For over two months I'd been disappointed over how little college students seemed to care about the outside world. When I finally found an event that seemed to prove me wrong--to show that the kinds of students who did care were out there, if only I would look hard enough--it was canceled almost to spite me, it seemed. FML, I guess.

I really wish I could offer something more than a rant about how little college students follow or seem to realize the importance of current events. The truth is, while I try to stay informed, in many ways, I'm no exception. I just wish there wasn't this concept amongst so many students that this is some kind of either/or: that going to college and being well-informed are mutually exclusive. It may be a bit more pronounced at Williams than in other places, but I'm sure it exists to a certain degree everywhere. Here, we call it the "Purple Bubble"--the opaque, nearly-impenetrable force field that surrounds our school, keeping the news from getting in and preventing us from peering out. While I know that the Bubble is part of what makes college so special, I sometimes wish it weren't so good at its job.