An exploration of the meaning behind the noun
Written by Madeline Judge
1. a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common
Before coming to Michigan State, I thought I knew what “community” meant. It was a group of people who did stuff together and spent time obsessing over the same things. It wasn’t anything fantastically special or noteworthy. The Drama Club at my high school was probably the tightest-knit group, closely followed by the band geeks (which I was proudly a part of, so I can call them geeks). In grade school, kids made friends by default based on who was in their class and who wanted to play tag at recess. These communities seemed insignificant to me at the time, and I had little appreciation for the effort that the teachers put into making our classrooms shared spaces.
Once I moved to campus, community came to mean something a little different: it was what I didn’t have. I was in a brand new place, sharing a 12’ x 12’ box with someone I barely knew, and I had no group that I really identified with. For those first few days before classes started, when all the freshmen were herded around together, I was very apprehensive about finding people I could relate to on a level apart from superficial small talk.
I lived on the second floor of Bailey Hall my freshman year, the designated RISE floor. Everyone in the program had some sort of interest in environmental issues, which intrigued me from the start. I thought I could just jump right in with instant friends because that’s how college works, right? As I came to find, just because I shared a living space with a bunch of people and we were all in RISE didn’t mean I had an automatic community with no effort involved. That was what I was missing, and that is what I would come to find, create, and shape over the next few years at Michigan State.
2. a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals
It has taken me a solid two years of working to build relationships with people to truly find what I fondly refer to as “my people.” These are the folks who share my interests, help me toward achieving my goals, and challenge my attitudes when I’m out of line. These are the people who I have shared experiences with, some of which were purely fun, others life-changing and transformative in both positive and frightening ways. The “feeling of fellowship” that the Google definition talks about? I could not have said it better.
As I said before, just living together didn’t make finding a community an instantaneous process. Living in RISE definitely helped me on that journey, don’t get me wrong. I would never have met many of my close friends without that residential program thread connecting us initially. But it’s the work that we all put into our relationships, our projects, and our legacy in Bailey Hall that truly knits us together.
3. a group of independent organisms of different species growing or living together in a specified habitat
Even though this is a more technical definition from an ecological standpoint, I think this third part of community is perhaps the most important. Independent people cooperating, creating, and learning together is a beautiful thing to witness. There is simple joy in seeing a common goal achieved, or a group of friends support someone in need. Joining RISE takes care of the “living together in a specified habitat” part, but growing together is where it’s really at. That’s where the magic comes from.
Being a member of the RISE community has shaped me into the person I am today. It may sound cheesy, but it’s the honest-to-goodness truth. The professional network I’ve formed is one byproduct of this community that might look good on a resumé, but the personal development and connections I’ve forged have transformed the way I see the world and my place within it. My people are here.
When students were asked to vote on the core values they thought best embodied RISE and what it stands for, community was an easy standout candidate. The power that community can have, the power we give it, is why it has been adopted as a shared value of the RISE program. My words of advice to anyone who cares to listen are these: Find your people, and stick with them.