This morning’s shocking demonstration of Trinidad and Tobago’s Police Force’s grit and determination when it comes to fighting white collar crime manifested itself in the only way it possibly could in the twin-island paradise: self-interest. After reports that there were stoppages to traffic at almost every major point on the nation’s roadways to the point where there was traffic in Tobago – how could there be traffic in Tobago? – I felt that I must probe the situation further for dissonance in my immediate surroundings. Imagine my surprise to find that on my residence hall, residents, even and especially locals were pleased.
I hesitate to use such a word as ‘pleased’ in such a controversial context. I do not presume to be able to accurately gauge the emotional state of anyone, least of all, myself. However, the smug grins of residents reclining on lounge chairs, at their ease in the lobby, citing traffic as the reason they will not be going to class today, told quite the story. Distressed final year students appeared as if they were smiling for the first time in years when they contrived dramatic excuses for missed midterm deadlines today, naming the streets at which they spent an hour, not moving, when they surely did not leave their residence hall for the day.
These observations drew my attention, once again, to the fact that residence hall students experience university life in a completely different, and arguably, insular environment from those who commute or live close by.
Outlined above is one such example, where, when unaffected by abject circumstances, residence hall students will continue to benefit from the collective compensatory action, such as cancelled classes, extended deadlines and lecturers’ (some) sympathies. Major cultural events manage to diffuse their way onto the campus, where residents may choose to either involve themselves or not, such as Carnival, Divali celebrations and others. Major campus events usually have, as their primary catchment of participants, residence halls, where special invitations are typically issued to events such as:
- Faculty Weeks, as representatives are known to personally walk the halls and issue invitations;
- HSU’s many initiatives such as the Walk/Run Against Domestic Violence and De-Stress with Tai-Chi, Zumba and Meditation;
- The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Guild of Students Election which hosts forums on each residence hall in the week leading up to elections but only one general forum open to all students at the Student Activity Centre.
With a record like that, it’s no wonder voter turnout is so low and residents make it a point to don their hall apparel, arrive together and are expected to vote according to their slate. They are specifically targeted by candidates who regard the support of the halls as invaluable to their campaigns because of their numbers and the surety of their turnout. The marginalization of the general student body can be further emphasized by anecdotal evidence sampled all around the campus expressing a lack of confidence in the Guild; ignorance of Guild events, mainly populated by hall residents and marketed with the futility of gaining the participation of non-residents by lazy public relations officers; and even the damning lack of awareness of the election itself.
To a residence hall student, however, the Guild is working for them. They receive the first tip-off when activities are planned and coordinated such as Operation Hot Chocolate (disclaimer: this is not organised by the Guild, however, the tip will often be traced back to the Guild); the first offers for group discounts, tickets and shuttles to parties, clubs and fetes; and the first offers for on-campus employment.
The perks of being a hall resident span far beyond the sense of belonging to the University community, the time saved commuting, the money saved renting off-campus, the solidarity with your fellow residents and even the opportunity to mix culture with persons from other lands, far and wide. It involves a certain calculated capitalization on local events and current circumstances, an opportunistic outlook and a willingness to profit from simply being in the right place at the right time.