For someone that has spent most of his life on a university campus, strolling around campus in the evening is as close as it gets to a magical evening. Today I had the chance to attend class instead of giving a lecture. I attended Shelli Fowler's Grad 5114 class. And on the way back walking to my car, I got to experience that magic again.
There is something special about being on campus in the evenings. I walked from Torgersen to the GLC, a path I make every day, but tonight it was strange. Must be that it reminded me to the many strolls around campus when I was at Ball State; I often went to campus in the evening after having dinner to study. Or it must be the many evening classes I took at GWU. All of my phd courses were at 6pm. It might even be all the times I went to UPR with my mom; I must have been 6-8 yrs old and played in the grass next to buildings of Administración de Empresas while she copied exams. Maybe even being in my office at UPRM while Olga taught her graduate class at night on Thursdays. Or maybe even the strolls in Georgetown when we went for coffee after many hours in the library researching our respective dissertation topics.
In all cases, campus off hours was (and still is) more quiet than usual. Fewer students. Less rush from one class to the other. More students walking around with more relaxed expressions in their faces. It feels like I was in a magical place, a place that is different from the rest of the world. A place that values deep thinking about serious problems. A place were all come to learn for the sake of learning. However, I have never felt that way at VT. This was the first time. Somehow I have a new found affection? that's not the word... liking? acceptance? Don't know how to say... a new way to see VT.
It is no coincidence that I spent the evening (6pm-9pm) sitting in a classroom "pretending to be a student." But more importantly, a student in a discipline other than Computing. It's been more than 25 years since I have "taken a class" in anything other than computing. Sure, today was only a lecture, but it was an engaging lecture with lots of students asking lots of questions. The engagement in the classroom discussion is what makes academia great. It is what keeps me coming back to campus.
It is, or must be, why I enjoyed tonight so much. And I say must be because the topic of discussion and the reason why I was in the classroom is one of the most painful topics of discussion that we face today: diversity. This topic is so misunderstood that it prevents us from talking about it without being in pain and getting defensive. It is so taboo to talk about race, sexuality, ethnicity, etc. that we can only use the terminology that the government gives us (which is way over simplified). It is painful to think of all the work that our universities (particularly VT), our society, and the world has yet to do so we can have open discussions about what is in essence at the heart of each and every one of us. That is what makes my day job so hard. Which is all the more ironic that I can be in the same space at night and have such a magical feeling about academia. Maybe there is hope for us all yet.
Posted on 10/15/2008