Taking Charge on Campus Culture

Rosalind Wiseman and Charlie Kuhn, co-founders of the adolescent social wellness organization Cultures of Dignity, addressed the School last Tuesday as part of their ongoing efforts to further strengthen community values and culture, primarily in response to the administration’s concerns regarding the student body’s lack of unity or productive political discussion.

Rosalind Wiseman and Charlie Kuhn, co-founders of the adolescent social wellness organization Cultures of Dignity, addressed the School last Tuesday as part of their ongoing efforts to further strengthen community values and culture, primarily in response to the administration’s concerns regarding the student body’s lack of unity or productive political discussion. For the most part, students and faculty members alike received the presentation with confusion and frustration: Many left the meeting still uncertain about the organization’s purpose at Lawrenceville or the concrete actions it plans to take—perhaps because Cultures of Dignity itself, despite nine months of information gathering, has not yet developed any concrete plans toward which it is working. Others perceived the extensive discussion of the Lights Out rule as unnecessary or patronizing.

Yet despite the presentation’s flaws, Wiseman and Kuhn’s underlying message about the need for a healthier campus culture remains valid. Even if all else went awry, the one portion of the presentation during which Wiseman and Kuhn hit the nail on the head was their definition of happiness—particularly by including “satisfying work” and “meaning beyond oneself.” While Culture of Dignity’s work may improve School programs like PDS or House Orientation, its meaning of happiness suggests that it cannot spearhead an effort to improve campus culture in a significant, lasting way because satisfying meaningful work is ultimately something that we confer on ourselves. Although the administration and outside organizations can guide us, we students are the only ones who can, and must, change our culture.

Currently our culture is mostly marked by dissatisfaction. But because it is our actions and choices that lay the foundation of “Hellville,” we are the ones who can change it.

In a Lawrenceville culture students have created over time, we obsess about meeting certain standards and crafting what we believe to be a superior resume. In doing so, we often cause ourselves to forsake our passions—satisfying work that gives us meaning beyond just ourselves. In turn, we forsake our own happiness and the happiness of those around us.

The solution lies in the phrase we parade around admissions and teach our II Formers to revere: “Do Lawrenceville Well.” In other words, rather than mindlessly chasing after what we may consider “success” by our culture, we should redefine success to mean producing satisfying work—in doing so, happiness will naturally follow. If we employ a collective mindset of “Do Lawrenceville Well,” we can create a healthier campus culture of greater collective satisfaction by actively supporting each other’s pursuits of individual passions and subsequent happiness.

Our misunderstanding of success rings true particularly in the extracurricular scene on campus. Many consider larger and nationally recognized organizations, such as Debate and Model UN, to possess greater merit than smaller and lesser known clubs when they appear on a resume, thereby motivating students’ involvement. Similarly, clubs focused on business and investment draw a large crowd often not actually interested in the fields but rather in the clout students believe involvement may bring.

In contrast, small, student-run organizations, such as those geared towards sustainability initiatives, have consistently lower turnout despite students’ passion for climate activism as evident in social media and conversations across campus. So before we place all our faith in Cultures of Dignity, it is time we students take initiative and improve our own campus culture by working towards real, lasting change that neither the administration nor any outside organization can make.

We must develop our individual passions and happiness, which should include seeking the success—genuine success—of those around us. We must create a culture in which we actively support each other to do what we love, serving as a voice of encouragement, especially in the moments our peers seem to need it most. And only when we truly embrace “Do Lawrenceville Well”—when we make this campus a place of joy where we can pursue meaningful work while uplifting others to do the same—will we create a healthier campus culture that endures.

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