Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Binghamton University as a city unto itself; how we engage as a part of our surrounding area and how, if at all, we contribute to this community. In the midst of these considerations I’ve had the opportunity to join a program at a local middle school as a mentor to a student there.
Not only has this experience been rewarding already, but it has also opened my eyes to the larger community that we as college students are missing.
It is very easy to forget that there is a community outside of our little haven on the hill. We are separated both geographically and socially from the greater Binghamton area, and this sometimes leads to a disconnect between our school and the community that we call home for seven months out of the year.
It is easy for us to forget that just last year, much of the surrounding area was under water. Hundreds of people were displaced, and a nearby school was completely shut down in the process. While our campus remained relatively untouched, others in our area lost homes. Although we may have volunteered or donated to the crisis then, how many of us even give it a second thought now?
I admit to being as guilty as the rest in this respect, and that’s why the mentoring program came as such a shock to me. The school where the mentoring program is run is not far from our own. Class sizes there are large and test scores low. There is a high level of poverty in that area. It is difficult to see kids struggling with simple math or basic writing and realize that these results have to do with the lack of opportunities that have been offered to them.
These are issues about which many of us have never had to worry. Most college students always knew that they would finish high school, then college. It’s a privilege that we take for granted. In sharp contrast, some of these middle school students are unsure if they will even make it to high school.
While I think that the mentoring program is a great initiative and is extremely beneficial to all of its participants, it makes me wonder if there is more we could do as an institution to promote education and spread awareness of its importance in the area surrounding the University.
I guess my hope is that Binghamton students take a moment to realize that our school is only one part of a much larger social system; we should not be removed from it — rather, we should become more involved.
Think of all the community projects that could be accomplished if even half of the students at Binghamton got involved. What impact could this school have not just on the economy of the town, but on its very culture? As students privileged enough to obtain higher education, is it not our responsibility to advocate for learning in the town that supports our own educational goals? It’s definitely something to consider.