I begin with a thought experiment: imagine you’re taking a class in the Humanities Centre on the second floor. As you walk down the hallway, you pass professors’ offices, interspersed with classrooms. Your professor’s office, in fact, is next to your classroom; after each class, your professor opens his or her office for questions. With it so close, it’s easy to get help.
I first visited a professor’s office in my second year, hoping to get help with essay structure. Prior to the meeting, I was afraid of office hours; in fact, I was ashamed, because I felt weak, thinking I should’ve been able to work without aid. Yet when I arrived, my professor really helped in developing a good structure for my ideas. Moreover, as we talked, I noticed her interesting book collection, and our conversation turned to a shared literary interest: speculative fiction. I left a half hour later, learning that professors aren’t scary and it’s not weak to get help. Since then, I’ve never written an essay without consulting with my professor.
Why are there these vertical splits in so many university buildings? Perhaps it means that undergraduates don’t exactly know how to act above, don’t know it’s normal to visit professors.
The 2015 film High-Rise is about people living in an apartment building separated by class: upper-class people live on higher floors and lower-class people on lower floors; however, the people aren’t fully separated. Upper- and lower-floor people mingle at parties and at the high-rise’s supermarket and swimming pool. Still, there is separation: the building’s architect only interacts with lower-floor people when forced; some upper-floor parties are private; lower-floor people struggle to fit in at upper-floor parties, not having the customs and social capital of those above them; and despite paying the same rent, lower-floor people have worse amenities.
As both an undergraduate and graduate English student at the U of A, I’ve spent most of my time in the Humanities Centre. As an undergraduate, I lived mainly on the first and second floors, where my classes were. I sometimes ventured up to the third or fourth, mainly to visit professors. As a graduate, I rarely leave the third and fourth floors: my classes, my professors’ offices and my office are all there. I have friends who live on the first and second floors, still undergraduates, but I rarely see them.
Why are there these vertical splits in so many university buildings? And what do they do? Perhaps the separations make us like the people in High-Rise, occasionally mingling but never having the same experiences. Perhaps it means that undergraduates, like the film’s lower residents, don’t exactly know how to act above, don’t know it’s normal to visit professors.
If, in my first year, I’d walked past professors’ offices, if there wasn’t a vertical hierarchy, I likely wouldn’t have experienced my fears and anxieties about getting help. I would’ve known that help is part of academic culture: even top academics have their papers peer-reviewed, after all. I believe that, in building future university buildings, we should try and integrate undergraduate and graduate students and offices and classrooms to create a more equal arrangement that’s about learning together in shared spaces.
Student Voices is a WOA blog feature that presents the experiences and viewpoints of current Arts students. Through their posts, you’ll experience the creativity and passion of our students as they present glimpses into student life. The views and opinions expressed within these posts are solely those of the authors.