Fractured Experience: A Student Body Divided into Six Colleges

OpinionStaff Op-Ed

Photos of the six colleges split into shattered panes of glass
Kristina Stahl / The Triton

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UC San Diego has not only made it harder for students to organize and gather but has also restricted students from getting the full college experience. This becomes clear to me whenever I venture to another part of campus because I always feel like a visitor. Hiking to Revelle College for class feels like I’m traveling to another campus. After attending class, I always leave Revelle the same way I found it: various skateboarders imitating Tony Hawk and dorm room sticky notes that taunt passersby, all hinting towards a culture that I will never be part of.

In fact, I’ve always found it interesting that Revelle, being so far out of my campus routine, is one of the only colleges on campus to have a real plaza where students can comfortably congregate and develop some semblance of a community without grassy or mountainous intervention. Every other college’s open space, from Warren Mall to Eleanor Roosevelt College (ERC) Green, is limited to serving as an “in-between” area where students await their next class or visit sparingly for college-specific events that offer free food.

Regardless of how it’s received by students, UCSD argues that the six-college system allows students to “thrive in a welcoming community,” essentially saying that the purpose of the college system is to make a large, public university feel like a small, private university by giving everyone a community of no more than five thousand to which they can relate. However, back before UCSD was founded, the president of the UC system, Clark Kerr, was searching for a more effective university system to institute at UCSD than that of existing UC campuses. Before serving as president, Kerr had also served as chancellor of UC Berkeley for six years when the Free Speech Movement started. So, when it came time to found a new UC school, Kerr had been exposed to enough student protests that he’d naturally want to limit the chance for civil unrest to arise like it had at other UC schools and, thus, limit space for mass congregation. Furthermore, George Winne Jr.’s self-immolation ten years later in Revelle Plaza would have been more than enough reason to ensure that no future college built at UCSD would have a space in which to demonstrate, systematically fracturing the student body. The colleges system was born out of a desire to avoid mass student protests and, with no university center at which to gather and make our voices heard, it has succeeded.

At UCSD, I don’t feel unified with students from other colleges because, for me, the center of campus is ERC, even as a commuter, because ERC Green is where I can participate in university events without feeling like an outsider. From stupidly wondering if the lock on the door of the Sixth College Commuter Lounge only permits entry to Sixth students, to scornfully overhearing Marshall students calling out “free food” available only to other Marshall students, I can’t help but feel like I don’t belong on my own campus. It doesn’t seem like students are supposed to feel welcomed to any other college on campus.

Despite individual college-specific spaces, UCSD, as one, unified institution, does not have a university center where all students can come together and feel connected. Sure, we have Library Walk where students can walk if they want to be bombarded by fraternity recruiters, cake solicitors, and missionaries. But, even then, Library Walk doesn’t offer one large, open area (like most of the colleges do on a much smaller scale) where the student body can unite and make its voice known. As a university, we don’t have a location where we can forget arbitrary college divisions, which are based on haphazard decisions that many of us didn’t realize would result in our inevitable isolation from other colleges for the next four years.

Rather than getting to experience what a large, research university has to offer, the college system unsuccessfully mimics the kind of experience that a student could expect from a small, liberal arts college. Although college-specific general education (GE) requirements such as the writing programs and humanities sequences are filled with the familiar faces of students  from your college, once you branch out to any other GEs or start fulfilling requirements for your major, the disconnect caused by the college system becomes more clear. After name and major, the next question of any introduction is usually: “What college are you in?” Therefore, instead of benefiting from the inevitable large, research university feel in a lecture full of three-hundred people, you feel fragmented from anyone who isn’t from your college even though both of you attend the same university. The college system creates divisions between colleges so that those who actually want to experience what studying at a large research university is like aren’t able to because the college system encourages them to develop a college-specific identity and then bombards them with students from outside of their college every day with whom they can’t identify as easily.

Entering UCSD, I often heard the not-so-fond nickname “UC Socially Dead” and was told that UCSD warranted the nickname because of its socially-awkward student body. However, many times when I had the opportunity to hang out with a friend, I found that the biggest reason that I didn’t hangout was because they were in another college and neither of us wanted to venture away from the part of campus where we felt the most at home after we had already settled in for the night and got started on our homework. I feel that the college system has inhibited me from getting to know people from other colleges because of differences in location and experience. UCSD should abolish the six-colleges system to demonstrate their commitment to a unified, university experience.

Alyssa Phillips is a Contributing Writer for The Triton.