Community vital to students

by Nancy Ngo

The importance of an interactive University community to freshmen and sophomores has increased considerably, according to a recently released University survey.
Researchers in the Office for Student Development and Athletics have conducted the survey every five years since 1971 to monitor community development among University students. It is released to administrators, college deans and departmental directors and gives a glimpse of students’ current views of community on the Twin Cities campus.
“People that live on or near campus are more likely to experience a sense of community,” said Roger Harrold, director of research in the Office of Student Development and Athletics.
The survey used randomly selected undergraduate and graduate students, and it was distributed by mail. The response rate was 79 percent, which is considered high, Harrold said.
Survey questions were based on the idea that the University community allows faculty and students to work together, share academic goals and support freedom of expression.
Winter 1996 results show that 43 percent of those surveyed considered building community as important, compared to 29 percent in 1991. The importance was greater to lower division students, with no significant increase among those in upper division.
Students said Thursday that residential living presented the most opportunities for students to become involved in community activities.
Freshman Annie Luebke, a Pioneer Hall resident, said she finds the most interaction with others in the dormitories. “It’s like a family within our hallway,” she said.
However, Luebke said she would have preferred to live in a dormitory designated only for freshmen, such as Frontier and Territorial halls, because those environments make meeting people easier.
John Weisbecker, a freshman who lives in Territorial Hall, said that he is glad he lives in an all-freshman dorm because first-year students share common experiences.
Territorial Hall Director Dan Hansen said students who live in residential housing connect with the University in ways they would not otherwise, including dorm-sponsored programs. “Programming helps facilitate that growth and development.”
Hansen also said organizations sometimes target residents halls to advertise their events. He said this makes residents feel linked with what is happening on campus.
Harrold said the survey might reinforce ideas about making the University more of a community as part of University President Nils Hasselmo’s strategic goals.
Increased efficiency in student services through better computer access and more living options plays a key role in the community-building process, Harrold said. In the past few years, since the last survey was conducted, the University has made significant changes in all of these areas.
Among the things Harrold emphasized was that each University student now receives a free e-mail account. Also, the registrar’s office has developed ways for students to register themselves, avoiding long lines.
In addition, the University is building more apartment-style residence halls, like Roy Wilkins Hall, which opened last fall. Harrold said these elements improve community life. “That’s why there’s an interest in building more housing,” he said.