Humpday Grumpday post time.
Oh my goodness, I am about to write a blog post that utilizes student development theory… luckily not about Chickering though.
Campus ecology and campus environments was sort of a guilty pleasure interest of mine in grad school, and I didn’t get enough of it while there. This is probably why I’m so interested in the design and community building obstacles of urban campuses, especially for campus centers/student unions.
One of the key environmental elements of MIT’s campus is the Infinite, a long hallway that connects numerous academic and administrative buildings that essentially serves as the spine of campus. It’s a key piece of MIT’s history, culture, and visual look, and was a part of my campus tour during my job interview.
And I hate it.
I hate it. There, I said it. I hate The Infinite. It’s crowded, too narrow, crowded, is not efficient, narrow, and too crowded. One tour group, one couple wanting to stop and chat, one slow walker, and you are done for. For such a key part of MIT culture and environment, it makes me want to run screaming out of the building and into the Charles… which is not really what the ideal campus building should be doing.
I now take either the second floor hallways above the Infinite, or most often, the fun network of tunnels that snake underneath campus to bypass the traffic and narrow build of the Infinite. Both of these options have little to no foot traffic, and are smooth sailing, both in walking speed and for my nerves.
So, class, let’s turn in our Green Books, you know, Student Development in College, for some campus ecology theory thoughts on this subject. A couple pieces from the pages on the subject stand out to me, particularly Barker’s (1968) behavior-setting theory, which boils down to people seeking to maintain settings they find pleasant and vacate settings they do not enjoy. The Infinite is the most direct path across campus, so it will remain popular. I don’t particularly like the Infinite, it stresses me out, and I’m willing to take stairs and a couple extra turns in the tunnels below it to be more relaxed coming to or leaving work.
The Green Book also expands on Barker’s theory, stating -
In theory, if enough is known about students, environments, and the behaviors that those environments elicit, then student affairs educators – “milieu managers” (Helsabeck, 1980) or “campus ecology managers” (Banning, 1980a, 1980b)… might predict student behaviors and take steps to manage the setting to elicit different behaviors.”
I think about the administrative offices that live on the Infinite, with one door between small lobbies and office work and the milieu of foot traffic, and I wonder how harried people feel entering those office spaces and how there isn’t much room in these offices for a calm-down moment. Offices like Admissions, Dean of Student Life, Dean for Graduate Education, and many more all branch off this hallway, and whenever I visit them, I always need to take a couple extra breaths when I get in and get out of the Infinite. I can’t be the only one, and I just wonder how others feel entering those spaces under different contexts.
The Infinite isn’t going anywhere, I know that, nor should it. My reaction and thoughts on it are probably an outlier. But if there is a space on campus that makes me think about campus environments and campus ecology theory, it’s The Infinite. It also brings up thoughts about my first ever ACUI presentation with Colette Masterson when I was at the Ohio Union, on keeping students involved without a student union, and how an under-construction union may facilitate drastic changes to a campus’s student traffic patterns, like it did at Texas A&M and Ohio State.