I doubt my college is unique in having offered over the years “events” too numerous to count where free pizza, ice cream, or doughnuts have been, if not the main course, at least one served up as part of some kind of learning experience. The publicity posters–first paper, now double-blasts of paper and email graphics–have featured very prominently the words “free food.” Of course free food is a misnomer, since students pay for the food with their student activities fees.
As a faculty member I am not trained to understand the function of student affairs or activities, frequently confusing their supposed separation with the forward-slash term student affairs/activities. I have studied the mission statement but perhaps it is all one big misunderstanding. Maybe it is the function of student affairs, or is it activities, to function as a modern-day kind of “bread and games” purveyor of education.
Having just written this last sentence, I can see a new Circus Maximus activity being planned already by student activities in which faculty are pelted with stale leftovers from food functions for being so serious as to want more than events attached to food for students, or worse, the sacrilege, to want events that do not feature food at all. No, I am not one of those health food nuts complaining about the lack of nutrition of the junk food given away to students during events, and to be fair, last year we had what I was told was a celebrity chef fly in all the way from California to prepare a meal made of plants and to also talk about this kind of diet or lifestyle, so someone at the college was looking out for the students (I don’t know if they offered hotdogs or doughnuts as the free food part of the event).
Setting aside for a moment junk food that is ingested to go through the intestinal tract, I just don’t understand what part of the anatomy of college students benefits very much from activities such as throat-tickling Ferris wheel rides coming to campus, slides being inflated from which to descend on one’s bottom, faux tattoo makers leaving their impressions on you-pick-the-part of your skin–all the equivalent of junk food for the mind. Should student activities sponsor events that appeal to the pleasure-part of the brain or can students find that kind of stimulation on their own? I am sure you can insert here your own list of student activities “favorites” that you have witnessed over the years at your institution.
Yes, when I went to college we did not have electric ponies on which to ride and free junk food or free food, for that matter, was not offered. What we had instead was an endless buffet of speakers–among them Nobel Prize recipients, famous authors and musicians, playwrights, prime ministers from other nations, Cary Grant and Liv Ullman–and I realize now how fortunate we were as students and how much we benefited from these offerings. I also recall that attendance was voluntary and these venues were filled to capacity. There must have been a tremendous hunger for intellectual and professional stimulation.
So what are we waiting for? Let us make a commitment to feed students speakers of renown and while we are at it, let’s cut down on some of the unhealthy food that is being given out. Our student body does not need such food. Nor does it need to be conditioned to come to receive such handouts. After all, we are in the business of educating students in a way that emphasizes a healthy mind-body connection so that they can start a life journey of exploration and work that is productive and satisfying for them and society. Or are we?