By Sean Willett, February 2, 2016 —
If you’ve been going to the University of Calgary long enough, you’ve probably heard complaints about a lack of campus culture. U of C students don’t seem to share the same enthusiasm for engaging with their campus community as students in other universities — they don’t join clubs, go to the sports games or hang out around the school. But that community does exist at the U of C — just not on campus.
Maybe it’s because most students commute to school, or maybe it’s because the U of C is still fairly young, but campus can seem like a wasteland at times. Students come to school, go to class and go home. It’s hard to find anything to do on campus after 6:00 p.m.
But this is 2016, and there are other ways to interact with your peers. Forums like the r/ucalgary subreddit and Facebook pages like U of C Confessions, Compliments and Snaps are all large, active online communities centred around the university. The largest, U of C Compliments, has over 12,000 likes — more than half the number of students enrolled as undergrads at the school.
While not all of those likes come from current students, these pages still play host to active discussion about life at the U of C. Despite having no real-world analogues, these communities allow students to share their experiences, commiserate over assignments and swap stories.
But is this online presence the same at every university? Or are we somehow exceptional? After comparing the online communities of different Canadian universities, a trend seemed to emerge. The universities with the largest online communities in proportion to their size were the U of C, Mount Royal University and the University of Saskatchewan — all three of which don’t have much to do on campus.
In contrast, urban schools with bustling campuses like McGill and University of Toronto have relatively small online communities in proportion to their size. Schools that tread the line between these two extremes, like the University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta, fall somewhere in the middle.
The U of C does have an exceptionally large online community compared to other Canadian universities, but we aren’t alone. Students in other schools that lack a centralized inner-city campus have also found that it’s easier to connect with their peers online. These sites can build a sense of community difficult to find on commuter campuses.
But can they ever act as a replacement for a strong student presence on campus? Probably not, but it’s better than nothing. Compared to other universities, the U of C is in the middle of nowhere. We’re not near any cool bars, interesting stores or trendy restaurants. Students have very little reason to stay on campus for fun, so it’s no surprise that it feels like a ghost town.
Since this isn’t going to change anytime soon, students may as well find another way to talk to each other. These pages and forums fill a hole in the U of C’s student experience, and make our school seem like more than just a bunch of buildings on the side of Crowchild. They make it feel like a real community — even if it’s one mostly made up of snapchat screenshots and anonymous Facebook posts.