Observations on an Urban Campus

30,000 people live, work, and study here. It is a university.

If you were to walk into the soaring atrium of the central campus building, and were to stand for a moment, and really notice where you were, you would know that you had entered a temple. In ancient days such an edifice would be reserved for the gods, but at this place people pass through with heads lowered, cell phones raised, lost in conversation. Look up! The architect draws you into the conversation: knowledge is worthy of awe, merits such a building. Pause and reflect on the luxury of marble and polished wood in a building used only as a thoroughfare.

Let us not forget the books. The bookstore brings my long-deprived rural mind to the brink of tears – Oh! To possess such tomes! The words of the French philosopher: captured in the year I turned four, here translated and transcribed, so vividly conversational that I yearn to write a letter to the long-dead man, to ask what he thinks of all this.

Finding myself between lunch and coffee, imposing on the workday of friends still here, I wander, dumbfounded, so out of practice at this scale. I perform social experiments on the urban residents, smiling at strangers. I compliment a fun pair of canvas sneakers, and a (truly) great leather fedora. The clothes are sharper, the students better dressed, the technology shinier, the buildings bigger. I am in my faculty disguise; I could be on any campus in North America. But I am out of water.

What have they done with the Faculty of Education? When did I last use an elevator? I never noticed this weird courtyard before… They have double-decker buses! I am so thrilled with the double decker buses that I briefly ponder getting on one just for the fun of it.

And here is the highlight of my day, which is filled with wonders and good conversations with old friends. It gives me great pleasure (and, truth be told, hope) to see the young white man plastered with rainbows and bedecked with piercings, walking ahead of me, in animated conversation with the headscarfed woman in the jeans and backpack. Look! Right here! This is possible.

This is a university.