Columns

Esemplare ’18: The beauty of the college bubble

By
Staff Columnist
Monday, October 17, 2016

Objectively speaking, Brown is a bubble. I’m not venturing into the discussion about trigger warnings or safe spaces; I’m talking about the insulation of Brown students from the responsibilities affiliated with adulthood. As I repeatedly hear from most adults, life in college is largely easier than life outside of it. Students are provided considerable latitude to experiment and even fail with impunity. Decisions made in college are certainly important, but not nearly as constraining as those made afterward. When priorities or interests change, students can switch concentrations or clubs without lasting ramifications. You can take accounting without becoming an accountant, and you can major in biology without pursuing a career in science. The workload and assessments can be stressful, but Brown also provides resources to help you along your academic journey. If you’re slogging through midterms right now, you might balk at my suggestion that college life is easy, but it’s certainly easier than it could be.

Of course, the extent to which students are shielded from the responsibilities of adulthood varies. Some students pay for college themselves, managing their own finances and confronting these more difficult responsibilities. Others work to send money back home. But for the most part, the structures in place in college aim to make student life easier than life post-graduation would be.

The college bubble is much derided by outsiders. The term “bubble” itself plants the seed for a negative connotation: After all, the first thing that comes to mind about bubbles is that they pop. The implication is that bubbles like Brown are unsustainable and that they don’t peacefully fade; they burst, suddenly and unexpectedly, exposing people to the grim realities of life.

There’s also an element of softness associated with the term, an implication that today’s college students don’t understand the real world. To some extent, it’s definitely true that living on a college campus protects students from day-to-day struggles that adults deal with more frequently. The campus environment sometimes keeps students from learning certain valuable skills. For example, the existence of self-replenishing meal plans can reduce the need for budgeting. Though meal plans aren’t free, and students paying for their own meal plans budget for the payment of the overall program, meal plans reduce the stress associated with regularly paying for food and allow students to focus on other aspects of their adjustments to college. While it is not ideal that some college students leave campus without a basic foundation in certain areas, viewing this insulation as strictly harmful overlooks the benefits associated with easing into independent life.

It is true that exposure to difficult situations is an important piece of personal development, and measures that inordinately shield a person from facing these realities can be detrimental. But it has always been unclear to me why we so often romanticize the harshest realities of life. There’s no harm in cushioning the blow — at least for four years.

In many ways, college is a simplified version of post-graduation life. College students deal with many of the same anxieties and pressures that working adults do, even if they might experience them to a lesser degree. Students get a taste of the struggles of later life but with the support systems in place to keep these from becoming major setbacks. Failing a class, not being elected to a club board or missing out on a summer internship can sting, but these disappointments provide valuable life lessons without jeopardizing a student’s future. It is beneficial to have a buffer between the security of high school and the far-reaching responsibilities of adulthood so students can acclimate to independence.

Living in the College Hill bubble still comes at a price. It is important for Brown students — and students everywhere — to understand that their experiences are not representative of the experiences of the American population as a whole — and many students do. Brown is a unique community, and that may leave Brunonians with a certain degree of naivety. But life is full of harsh realities. Maybe the harshest can wait until graduation.

Nicholas Esemplare ’18 can be reached at nicholas_esemplare@brown.edu.

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