Dateline Downtown

Dan Roche

Last week, I offered $50 to whomever could write the best 500-1000 word essay on what the “Urban Mission” is. As of now, we have received precisely zero submissions. After some soul-searching, I threw away a few initial presumptions: people don’t like money as much as they used to. A gang of toughs from a local racket discouraged potential contest entrants and planned on submitting their professionally ghostwritten essay right before deadline, but were raided by the Feds before they could send it to me. God struck my all submitters. Anything could have happened.

After further introspection, however, it occurred to me that the problem probably is that not many people pay attention to the paper, and that fewer are civically engaged enough to say, “I’m going to bash this out. The ‘Urban Mission’? Lemme at it.” And, people are busy. So this is what I will do. I will double the pot.

One hundred convertible-to-Euros U.S. dollars ($100) will be awarded to whomever sends me the best however-many words about this school’s philosophy. It is open to anyone who is not on the Mass Media payroll. Submissions to [email protected] shall be accepted up to 11:59 P.M. May 1st, though judges are sympathetic to entries that are bashed out in the heat of the night after “deadline”, especially if they do not need to be edited and are inspired. The working deadline, then, is Friday, May 2nd, when judges are lazily slurping coffee at their computers and mulling over syntactic novelties, some time in the morning.

I spend a lot of time thinking about why there is this lack of civic engagement on campus, though. Why the paper has problems holding on to writers, why so few vote at Student Senate elections. A few weeks ago when people held that “Student Centered? Prove It!” rally, the 70 people in attendance were held up as an emblem of its success. 70 people at a student-organized rally? At this school? It is something.

I don’t know if it’s apathy necessarily. I yammer with the old heads about this: why are so many people so detached from UMB? Is it, “Nah, nobody cares about anything anymore, it’s all mush, there’s no sense of community anymore here or in society”? I’m not too inclined to think so, if only because I know so many people from this school outside of school, where I know that it has been a positive influence. It just seems to be that several irremediable contributing factors – outside life, the remoteness of the campus ? combine to make for a more detached environment than at a school with, for example, higher residency rates.

Part of it is because we are a commuter school at heart. From what I understand of the intentions of the school’s founders, it was meant as a waterfront escape, a sheltered grove of academe for the city’s working class. It was intended to provide something like the college experience an undergrad at, say, Williams or Amherst would have to smart people who otherwise might not have the same sort of opportunities a rich kid from the South Shore might.

It would give kids the necessary equipment to return downtown and start work as social workers, lab techs and nurses, some might go on to law school. Whereas before, there was little opportunity for a lower-cost education. Now, people have one within their means if they want it enough.

My feeling is that the factors that keep us somewhat separate can serve to bring us together also. I think about the Urban Mission and would like so much to see a concise, compelling version of it to run in this paper only because a philosophy that speaks to, and in a sense for, the faculty and assembled studentry at this school can provide a cohesion to the spirit, the attitude, the “feel” of this school that I feel is here, but just needs to be drawn out and put into words.