By: Takhliq Amir
As a student who never experienced life living on campus and did not grow up in Hamilton, I’ve found it hard to feel a connection to this city the same way I do to my hometown. The stress and added weight that often accompany heavy schedules filled with group meetings and other commitments often make going home a relief, but that feeling of relief has recently made me increasingly disconcerted. After having lived off-campus in Hamilton for almost two years now, why do I still not feel like this place is a second home?
While McMaster presents a tight-knit community that seems to hold itself proudly compared to other universities with much larger and less connected student bodies, it poorly masks the deep disparity that exists for those who only come to Hamilton for the purpose of education and little else.
As students progress through university, it becomes easier to place less emphasis on possible interactions with the Hamilton community. Perhaps they stop having as many lectures, labs and tutorials. Perhaps they have a project course that doesn’t require them to be on campus. Or perhaps they choose to take an online course so that they aren’t required to make a trip into the city from the comfort of their own homes.
I can at least claim to live in Hamilton for most of the week, but I have countless friends who commute from neighbouring cities like Toronto and Mississauga on a daily basis. If I do not feel attached to this city as someone who lives in Hamilton, what about the many McMaster students who don’t have any attachment to the city outside of university?
It is true that situations like these aren’t easily solved. Growing up in another city or only going somewhere for the sole purpose of education doesn’t really give you the opportunity to develop strong attachments or truly care for the city. Being involved on campus is one thing. Being involved in the city is another.
There are different factors that play into it, but low exposure to the city makes it harder to work towards building a relationship with it. There needs to be a greater effort made to involve and embrace off-campus and commuting students and to communicate that they are part of the city’s culture instead of just the university.
When I saw the McMaster Students Union presidential candidates’ platforms, plans for improvement regarding community engagement and the off-campus experience stood out to me.
Similar phrases were existent across most of the candidates’ websites, with promises of improving student life or removing community barriers, but after reading the particulars of each, I was left more disappointed than optimistic.
Despite great emphasis on off-campus late night security, which seemed to be the strongest reference to off-campus anything across most platform points, the definition of most of their ideas of community engagement seemed not to encompass what it meant to truly feel connected to the city and to see it as a second home.
Certainly, their efforts must be commended, and off-campus security is a vital and relevant concern that must be addressed. The discussion regarding these issues is a great indication of the fact that off-campus students are still factored into McMaster-wide decisions.
These services will undoubtedly go a long way in making people like myself feel a lot safer walking through the streets late at night after a long day of studying, working on group assignments or simply having a late-night work shift.
But that doesn’t mean it’s all off-campus students need. This shouldn’t be a sacrifice of one for the other. I appreciated the ideas of those candidates who offered ideas such as establishing an arts community, providing off-campus students with a space to come together or hiking through the various trails and pathways that can really expose a newcomer to the inner beauty of the city. But they weren’t enough.
The MSU campaigns fell short in the approach they have taken to the very relevant issue of community engagement. They seemed to view this as a technical issue, focusing more on tenant agreements or city by-laws rather than focusing on the big picture of community involvement and fully immersing you in city life and culture. Temporary housing or late-night services are all great, but there is nothing like fostering relationships through working or volunteering that truly allow you to appreciate a city and its people.
Different people choose to learn about the place they live in differently, but many often need the encouragement, the acknowledgement and perhaps also the incentive to get out and make an effort.
While I continue to live here, study at McMaster and volunteer in different parts of the city, I will continue to work on building a stronger attachment with the city that, for all intents and purposes, should feel like a second home.
I hope that in the future, McMaster University and the student body will work towards this goal for the countless others who feel the same.