Michael Conley headshot

Michael Conley, Gazette editor-in-chief.

Western University's campus offers haircuts, optometry and dental clinics, groceries, too many coffee shops, not enough walkways, a first-rate education and about 30,000 people. 

But even with great hair, healthy eyes, sharp teeth, a full pantry, a mild caffeine addiction, a heightened sense of urban danger, trivia answers and a mid-sized city's worth of campus compatriots, you'll be missing one thing:

A healthy sense of community identity (*zing*).

Though worry not traveler, because with attention to the rapidly developing kingdom of Londonia where our homeland rests, you may nurture your primal desire for communal connection like so many raging Thames Rivers.

We crave such a thing. Social psychologists suggest that our drive to belong may be our defense against isolation and uncertainty about ourselves. Our tribal, altruistic tendencies derive from an evolutionary mindset, which biologist E.O. Wilson calls, "simultaneously highly intelligent and intensely social."

Unfortunately, we often seek this community online rather than among the people and places where we live. Investing into online communities like Instagram and Twitter, though convenient from the comforts of campus, doesn't fulfill our need to connect.

Social media, for its many benefits, has been widely connected with rising anxiety and reassurance seeking. But perhaps our compulsion for likes, comments and retweets reflects the mindset that Wilson describes. Maybe, our thirst for community is misplaced.

By departing our bubble for London-at-large, we are free to gain the real-life benefits it offers. The community we desire is all around us. We just need to go find it.

Volunteering and its many benefits — as promoted through September's volunteer fair — off-campus socials and independent shops and restaurants are your source for experiences uniquely offered by London. These spaces are organic in a way Silicon Valley's consumer manufacturing is not.

In these spaces, art, business, food, nature and people collide. Such collisions are crucial to garnering a sense of community, placing ourselves in that community and forming an identity all our own.

Our world-class education is valuable. But learning how to effectively use it to address social issues is moreso. An understanding of inequality comes through engaging with the qualitative experiences of those who endure them — not through a textbook.

Finally, we have a civic obligation to ask questions about how the city we live in eight months a year operates. Municipal investment in Old East Village is a case-study in urban development. The topics we discuss throughout university are presented every day through these investments and other policy decisions.

Western is great. But don't treat it like a resort. Do yourself a favour by taking a break form the bubble.


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