Something I hear all the time is that DCU is special because of its sense of community. There’s a subtle energy about the place, as if anything could happen and everything is possible. Feeling like you’re a part of a community also gives you a sense of pride. Do we, however, as DCU students, feel the same connection to the local community and does it matter?
As students of DCU we’re connected to the DCU community, obviously, but by default of our campus location we’re also connected to the wider community: the areas of Ballymun, Whitehall, Glasnevin and Finglas. Over 78,000 people live right on our doorstep (census 2011). Even though most of us will only live in the area temporarily and sporadically, while we’re here that is the actual community we’re a part of.
So does it matter if we engage with the local community?
Professor Ronnie Munck, Head of Civic Engagement thinks so. “Making a difference is the key issue. Why do we have universities? Why go to college? … Well to make a difference in society, to make it a better place in some tangible way.”
Seems about right. Ask yourself, why did you go to college? We may not have realised it but we’re all working towards the same thing: to make society a better place. Whether you create a better life for you personally or you learn skills that enable you to help make a better life for others, we’re all contributing to society.
There’s something more, that sense of pride, of belonging to something, community – that’s what really makes college and society worthwhile. The reason college and DCU is so enjoyable is because we’re all in it together. Eventually we’ll all end up in our own place but right now we’re all on the same path. Outside of college we don’t necessarily experience as strong a sense of community, but imagine how great it would be if we did, if what we had in DCU was the same, or even stronger, outside of DCU.
The more we can connect with the community around us the better it becomes for everyone. The local community benefits from a stronger connection to the resources and opportunities DCU provides and the students benefit from being a part of an even stronger and more content community.
So, how engaged are we with the local community?
Professor Munck puts it like this: “Students could be playing a much more proactive role. Students are citizens- local, global, virtual, and cultural. Yes students are here to learn but that encompasses much more than just studying for a degree. The situation around us demands creative and energetic citizens.”
Our Students’ Union isn’t content either. Welfare Officer, Neil Collins, told me: “Students do care but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re involved in the community… I wouldn’t say the SU are happy with the amount of students who are engaged with the local community, no.”
I also asked Fiona Descoteaux, CEO of the Ballymun Whitehall Area Partnership whether or not she believes DCU students are engaged with the local community and she responded with a confident no. However, she doesn’t see this as a negative and believes that it’s not completely up to the students. “We’re not utilizing the potential of students enough; there’s a middle ground where we all come together… We could be doing more and so could the students.”
So what’s the issue?
Well actually, there isn’t one. There’s nothing stopping us from strengthening and growing the community. We just need to become aware of the benefits and make it happen, whether that be through volunteering in a community centre or just talking to our neighbours: it all makes a huge difference.
The university is committed to making it as easy as possible for students to get engaged and they’re planning on doing even more. Recently, a national platform for student engagement, Campus Engage, has begun meeting and figuring out how to build the framework for universities, students and local communities to start working together.
So it’s up to us. If we want an even stronger sense of community, if after we graduate we want to keep the passion, the pride and the sense of purpose that we feel in DCU, then it’s up to us to make it happen.
If you want to get involved in the local community you can contact DCU in the Community, Campus Engage, the author @RonanODalaigh / firstname.lastname@example.org or the Ballymun Whitehall Area Partnership to find out what opportunities are available to you.