Cracks in IC’s social structure
By Jackie Simone
A typical day at Ithaca College includes running into tour groups of high school students with their nervous parents. Tour guides walk backward and try to project their voices so that the out-of-place crowd can hear vivid descriptions of the college and the myriad opportunities offered to students. The visitors come to the college because they want to gain a sense of the campus identity.
However, the divisions between the schools at IC often hinder campus unity. Many students tend to label themselves with monikers like Parkies, Whalenites and Theater-Kids, instead of embracing the college as a whole.
“I don’t think it’s an exclusive thing,” Zachary Tomanelli, a sophomore journalism major, said. “Those are three very specialized areas—communications, music and theater—and you have to have certain talents or interests that lead to those things. I think that the fact that people hang out together from those schools almost makes sense because they share interests and they share certain responsibilities.”
Even so, the prevalence of identifying with a specific academic program or school has led to a divided campus, where numerous students take more pride in their major than in a unified Ithaca College community.
Since IC began as a music conservatory in 1892, the school of music has continued its elite legacy. Prospective students must engage in a selective audition process before being accepted to the school, and even talented musicians might not be accepted into the most competitive programs. If they are accepted, they are expected to participate in ensembles and performances, and they must practice their instrument daily. The rigorous academic and performance expectations make it difficult for music majors to take many outside classes or participate in extra-curricular activities. This is exacerbated by the fact that certain classes, such as ensembles, are not offered in accordance with the standard time schedule of the rest of the college. Many students believe that the music program’s unique schedule has caused music majors to keep to themselves instead of associating with students from other academic programs.
Junior Jenna Silverman spent her first two years at IC as a music performance major before switching to sociology with a music minor. Her decision was influenced by both personal reasons and a desire to receive a comprehensive liberal arts education.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the separation between schools,” she said. “The music school is very inbred and doesn’t let you take a lot of classes in other areas. That can really affect aspects of your social life and the academic experience you get, which is really important to me.”
She elaborated that scheduling conflicts between the music school and other schools made it challenging for her to take classes outside her major. When she was able to take classes in other programs, she was exposed to more diverse mentalities and different people. For this reason, she thinks the music school and other programs should encourage students to take classes outside of their program.
Some academic programs at IC have less general education requirements because of the intensity and organization of the major. The clinical health studies/physical therapy major within the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance, for example, is a six-year doctorate program. Students take liberal arts classes during their first three years in the program, but the second half is considered the professional phase in which courses focus intensely on subjects related to the major.
The strict requirements of this program and others with similar course rigor mean that students cannot easily venture outside of their major.
Drama and music majors, as well as students in many other programs, might not have room in their schedule for outside classes. When students take most of their classes with the same group of people, they will naturally form bonds and a sense of unity with other people in their major. The performance aspect of these majors increases the amount of time spent with the same core group of students. Rehearsing for performances necessitates that students know and trust their peers, because they must rely on each other in order to achieve a high quality end result. The same could be said for communications students who often work with other people in their programs to produce television shows, newspapers, radio broadcasts and magazines. Therefore, not only do certain majors spend time in class with their peers, but they also spend a considerable portion of their free time with them. For this reason, certain majors might be criticized for not interacting with the campus body as a whole.
Nick Bombicino, a senior Italian studies and drama double major with a minor in music, believes that the intensity of specific programs contributes to divisions between majors. Students in the drama programs have classes from early in the morning until late at night, in addition to frequent rehearsals for performances. For scheduling reasons, he deems cliques at IC “unfortunate but justifiable.”
“A lot of the theater majors who are really in it don’t leave the building very much and are only really able to be friends with people who are of their major because they are the only other ones to share the schedule,” he said.
The Roy H. Park School of Communications is also frequently criticized for its exclusivity. Students with majors in the school often refer to themselves as “Parkies” and the wide range of media-related extra-curricular activities means that many students spend a considerable portion of their spare time in Park’s production studios, photography labs or newspaper office.
Since the Park Foundation endows the school, it has more resources than certain other academic programs. Dianne Lynch, dean of the Park School, believes that the sense of community within individual schools is a positive aspect of the IC experience because it gives students a sense of belonging.
Lynch understands that students might be frustrated that so many Park classes are reserved for majors, but she explains that this policy is based on a lack of space, professors and time rather than an effort to exclude non-majors from Park opportunities.
“When I talk about community, I’m not talking about a closed club,” she said. “I’m not talking about walls around it. I’m talking about when a student walks into the Park School, he or she feels a certain sense of being at home, of having a place in the institution, in the community, and in the world here. And that’s not about keeping anyone out; it’s not about exclusivity, because that’s not what a community is.”
Tomanelli agrees that it is natural for students to associate with people who share their interests. He sees the strong Park community as an asset to the school instead of a negative clique.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, because I think it’s good that you start to build camaraderie with people that are kind of in your industry,” he said.
This sense of belonging should not supersede involvement in the greater campus community. Lynch encourages Park students to participate in activities outside of their specific academic program. Some Park majors, such as journalism, are required to have a minor outside of the school of communications. All Park majors must complete half of their credits outside of the Park School.
“It doesn’t mean that you don’t have membership in more than one community,” Lynch said.
The benefits of establishing the different schools as distinct communities include giving students a sense of identity and belonging in a more personal setting than the college as a whole. For example, 5,994 undergraduate students are enrolled at IC this semester. Of those, 712 are in the Business School, 1,271 are in Park, 46 are Continuing Education, 113 are in the Department of Interdisciplinary and International Studies, 2,155 are in Humanities and Sciences, 1,218 are in Health Sciences and Human Performance, 15 are in the International Extramural Exchange Program, and 464 are in the Music School.
Certain schools receive more criticism than others for fostering cliques. Since changing to a Sociology major, Silverman has noticed that students within the School of Humanities and Sciences are less prone to stay within their particular academic program.
“I think that with majors that aren’t within a school that’s so specific are more broad with the friends that they have and more open to meeting new people,” she said.
This explains why the Music School, which offers only nine undergraduate programs, and Park, which offers a mere six majors for undergraduate students, are typically associated with cliques to a greater extent than the 57-major School of Humanities and Sciences.
Additionally, most courses within H&S are not composed of solely majors, because most IC majors have some general education requirements that require students to take liberal arts classes. This differs from music or communications courses, which are often reserved for majors related to that subject.
Since students with H&S majors are constantly being exposed to students from other schools through their classes, whereas students in other programs take many classes with a core group of peers, it is no surprise that H&S is not often criticized for being cliquey. With the exception of certain majors, such as the Drama program, H&S students are rarely criticized for staying within one group.
“A sense of community would be nice, but I think it would be weird, just because of how different the majors in the school are,” Heather Dube, a sophomore Economics major, said. “I just don’t think people would have that much in common.”
Dr. Leslie Lewis, who has worked as the dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences since the start of this academic year, also suggested that her school does not have such a pronounced sense of community because of its size and broad liberal arts focus.
“H&S is the heart and soul of Ithaca College, so it makes sense that the identity of Humanities and Sciences is really tied to the identity of the college as a whole,” she said.
Lewis has observed that the administration has recently been paying increased attention to her school because of the size of Humanities and Sciences and the diversity of majors offered. Based on her time at IC, she does not believe there is competition between the schools or significant divisions between students, and she sees more similarities than differences between the schools. She plans to help H&S students forge a sense of community while also encouraging students from other schools to continue their participation in Humanities and Sciences.
Meanwhile, students can take personal initiative to increase their involvement in extra-curricular activities and interact with students from various academic programs.
“I think that, if you’re a student who is having problems with cliques, get involved in some sort of group that has absolutely nothing to do with academics,” Bombicino, who is the musical director of the a capella group VoiceStream, said, “That really helped me.”
Bombicino believes that the administration could ameliorate the problem by opening more classes to non-majors and increasing general education requirements. Tomanelli suggested that the administration could encourage more students to attend programs and events that are open to the entire campus, such as sporting events and concerts. The administration has addressed the issue of divisions on campus during meetings with school deans. Both the campus and individual school leaders are in the early stages of brainstorming solutions. Until more progress is made, many students will continue to identify with their specific school instead of embracing Ithaca College.