If you ask a student at the University of Connecticut where they attend school, their answer will most likely be “UConn,” with an immediate reference to the campus where they attend. In fact, campus identity appears to be stronger than university identity, particularly among students at the regional campuses. Many students at the Stamford campus for example, have anonymously expressed apathy towards the Storrs campus and its resources because they view them as inaccessible. While each campus has an individual identity, the administrative divisions and academic departments of the entire university are integrated in ways that do not mirror the distinct campus cultures and identities. Therefore, university faculty and students should work towards creating a pan-campus culture and identity that emphasize the integration and accessibility of the university and its resources.
The University of Connecticut is a single corporal entity, with a single president and Board of Trustees presiding over all of its campuses, according to its by-laws. This is in deep contrast with the University of California system, in which each campus is run by a chancellor and granted a high degree of autonomy. Additionally, each campus has its own admissions process and no single UC campus is regarded as having superior status in the university system. This has allowed for the formation of strong campus-oriented identities such as “Berkeley” and “UCLA,” which is unsurprising given the structural nature of the university system. In practice and essence, the UC schools function as separate universities.
Despite the absence of organizational structures such as those of the UC system, the regional campuses at UConn have still created unique identities. In other words, the Stamford campus appears almost as an entirely different university than the Storrs campus. That has had serious implications for students, such as misleading some of them to believe that they cannot participate in activities or benefit from resources offered at the Storrs campus. Similarly, there has been a growing notion that Storrs is superior to the other regional campuses. While Storrs is the flagship campus of the university, there is no official authority that grants it superior status. All students, regardless of campus, should feel pride in attending a top public university like UConn.
Rather than constructing separate identities, students and faculty should come together to form a pan-campus identity that is more consistent with its organizational nature. First, faculty should inform students about resources offered in the entire university system in order to increase accessibility and knowledge about university-wide resources. It is worth noting that faculty are already experienced in the integrated university system, since they obtain tenure in the entire system and are able to teach on multiple campuses. Second, the university president and department heads should visit each campus at least once every semester to interact with students and emphasize their importance to the entire university. Third, the university should plan an all-day event during the academic year and invite students from all campuses to attend. The event would be full of fun group activities to acquaint students from different campuses and culminate with a celebration of a single UConn identity. Finally, students should reach out to faculty and students on other campuses in order to establish friendships and connections.
The University of Connecticut will be a stronger and more diverse community if it promotes a pan-campus culture and identity. It will allow students from all campuses to interact with students of more diverse backgrounds. For example, tuition and fees at the regional campuses are significantly lower than at the Storrs campus, which means that the regional campuses are more accessible to low-income and first-generation students. Furthermore, the regional campuses are located in urban areas (in contrast with the rural location of Storrs), which means that their student populations are more likely to be racially and linguistically diverse.
The University of Connecticut, at least at the macro level, is already an integrated system of brilliant professors, diverse students, and unique campuses. A pan-campus culture and identity would not change any of those qualities, but rather make them more visible at the micro level, and give rise to the notion that “we are all UConn.”
Michael Hernandez is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org