The First Word: What is community?
It doesn’t surprise anyone that we ask a lot of questions at North Park University. Questions lead to answers, which in turn lead to more questions, additional answers, then still more questions.
Learning is a process of asking questions and testing answers. We do this on many levels — sometimes individually without much contact with others, at other times in teams of two or three, more often in a classroom of 20 students, and then occasionally even as a whole community.
Each year we encourage our entire community to consider a "big" question — an idea that frames our life individually but which also guides our lives collectively.
So this year we’re asking, "What is community?" We expect students will consider this question individually, but we also encourage our entire "community" to reflect on this question collectively. And in this issue of the North Parker we invite our wider "community" of friends and graduates of North Park to engage this question as well.
In exploring this question we invited Sharon Haar to campus. Haar is the author of a recent book that explores the relationship between campus and city, using colleges and universities in Chicago as a case study. This relationship between campus and city is the locus of community. And in this setting Haar suggested a new yet related concept. She asked, "On our campuses and in our city should we speak of 'urbanity' rather than 'community'?"
Friends and strangers meet on a campus and in a city, like North Park and Chicago. Here community is formed, here urbanity is born. Urbanity is edgy and sometimes messy. Urbanity is infused with life but it isn’t always a beautiful life. Urbanity is infused with plenty of smiles and abundant joy, but urbanity also makes room for tears and pain. Urbanity includes friends, but also strangers.
This comes close to the definition for community suggested later on in these pages by Karl Clifton-Soderstrom, a faculty member in philosophy at North Park. He states: "Community [is] the social architecture that nurtures empathy and obligation among strangers in their movement toward friendship." In this same article, Campus Pastor Judy Peterson notes that in community we bear God’s image.
Urbanity works in this same way: wherever friends and strangers meet — in residence halls or classrooms, city sidewalks, or urban skyscrapers — the image of God is present.