A recent VOICE survey of 30 Mercer students found that only 43 percent felt like they were part of a community at the college. Fifty percent said they felt they had grown as human beings because of the socializing they have done here. By contrast, we conducted the same survey (this time with 35 respondents) at Rowan University where 94 percent of the students felt a part of the Rowan community with 91 percent saying they felt they have grown as a person due to the socializing they have done at their college.
Many students at Mercer just show up for classes and go home or to work afterwards. Some of them probably like it that way. But for a lot of us this may be our entire college experience and it provides hardly any sense of community like what you would find at a typical four year college.
In terms of social space, our college doesn’t have much. There is green space, but much of it is not set up for human interaction. There are some benches, tables, and the gazebos where students congregate on sunny days. But these areas are not used in the winter or in the rain. Moreover, there are too few of these areas to provide much opportunity for socializing.
On cold and wet days the cafeteria fills with students looking for a place to socialize, eat, or wait for their next class to start. Mercer’s student center used to have a big common area with couches. It wasn’t lavish, but it was better than the unbearable yellow and red plastic chairs in the main eating area. That old space is now SC 104, a room reserved for planned events for clubs and student activities, locked away from students the rest of the time.
The library offers a room for groups to get together for work, but there is a two hour time limit, a no food or drink policy, a limit on the amount of people who can fit in the space, a ban on loud talking and a requirement to ask the librarian on duty to unlock the room. This is a no nonsense work atmosphere, which is fine, but it doesn’t help students relax and have the opportunity to meet others.
Mike High, a second year Digital Film major at Mercer, said, “I feel like an ant in a hive. There are a lot of people and they all do their own thing, all in their own little ant cliques.” He continued, “Go to your class, go to your next class, and if you’re lucky you have an hour to kill and that is when you meet friends.”
Mike’s view of the Mercer experience isn’t an isolated one. Ryan Romano, a junior biology major at Rowan University who transferred there from Mercer said, “Mercer has no community. It’s just a bunch of locals that go back and forth and leave.”
When asked how Mercer stacks up to Rowan, Romano responded, “The community is alright here [at Rowan], mostly dominated by pretentious Greek Life, but I’ve found my niche of stoners and miscreants to relate to.”
Ben Knudson, a freshman marketing major at Rowan University said, “ Personally, I find the community at Rowan to be very comfortable. I’ve met a lot of people from a lot of different cliques and have been able to get along with them.”
In the survey we found that 80 percent of Mercer students view socializing as important during college, and 77 percent would like more places that promote informal bonding.
Mercer does not need a huge special building, but it does need recreational space for students that is proportionate to our school’s size, a student center that goes beyond a high-school style cafeteria and the ten odd chairs found upstairs.