A common complaint heard on campus is that people come to class and then immediately leave for home or to work. That’s true. This is a commuter school and not everyone has time for socializing after classes. But there is community here if you bother to look for it.
“It really has to do with getting involved,” says Mani Kissling, adding, “Nobody is going to know who you are if you just kind of hide in the shadows of class.”
Before transferring to Monmouth University Kissling was on the soccer, basketball, and cross country teams at Mercer. “Doing athletics really, really helped in getting involved in the community” Kissling says.
In a survey of 37 students on the West Windsor campus, just over a third said they do not feel they are a part of a community, but most of these students also said they go to their classes and leave campus immediately afterward. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed said they were not in any organization or club at Mercer, which is the simplest and most practical way to get involved.
Being a part of The VOICE has given us the ability to meet, work, and socialize with fellow students many of whom we have never had a class with. It also give us the chance to interview faculty and administrators for articles, and build a relationship with them. Before The VOICE we had only ever seen President Wang in pictures; now we have built a relationship and she knows us when we come to interview her for articles. Sure there may be days where we have to stay late to work on the paper, but that keeps us away from the go to class and go home trap.
We had a former VOICE staffer, Daniela Rocha, come in to talk to us at the start of the semester and she talked about her career in international journalism that started at Mercer, but also mentioned the lifetime friendships she made on the paper. A glance at The VOICE’s social media shows staffers stay in touch long after they graduate; they help each other find apartments in new cities, they meet up when they’re back home.
For some students, it’s not clubs that provide community, but their program of study. Joe Suarez, a Freshman studying Music at Mercer says, “A typical day for me is nothing super interesting. I go to classes, maybe have to wait a half an hour or so for my next class, and after all of them I leave.” But he notes that he does talk to people in his department.
Sympathetic to the community college students unique situation is Literature Professor Dr. Jack Tabor. Having been a community college student once himself, Dr. Tabor says he can relate to the cycle of school, work, home: “inherently [with]in the community college it is hard [to find community] unless you are involved with a student group.”
He tries to address this at Mercer by having an active dynamic in the classroom to help students collaborate. When students don’t speak or are disconnected from him or one another, he has them “turn their wagons” to create small groups. “What the group work tells me” said Dr. Tabor, “is that there is a very strong sense of community.” Dr. Tabor has found this strategy to be successful.
Brian Morton-Salley, a sophmore studying Information Technology and Informatics at Rutgers University told The VOICE “I feel that a community college can have a sense of community itself because you’re still having classes, you’re still gonna have to find people to study with.”
In an interview with Mercer’s President Dr. Jianping Wang, she said, “students [here] have [a] much closer relationship with their faculties than [those at] a four year institution, because we are smaller classes…Our faculties are very student centered…They are always with you. So that gives the students a sense that they care, that the faculty cares about them…That should give them a sense of community.”
Dr. Wang did note, however, “there are some students who come here full time and work full time. So they come, take classes, and leave. I would say that those students probably don’t feel a close sense of community with fellow students,”
Another suggestion for the students looking for a community would be to visit your success coaches. They can provide a list of available clubs and advise you on any other questions. Success coaches are assigned to every freshman on campus, so that’s a place to start (Hint: don’t look on the Ellucian Go app, try your MyMercer portal to find yours :).
Hidden in faint white italics on the top of Mercer’s home page is the college’s mission, stating, “a vital college, engaged with its community, and dedicated above all else student success.” Mercer’s faculty and students are engaged in creating and maintaining a sense of community. It’s there, you just have to keep an eye out for it.