People Watching – University

Ahoy from RMIT Bundoora campus, where today I write about the people I see and speculate on what might be happening for them right now. I predict that the results of this exercise will only enhance the restrictive stereotypes placed upon uni students. My university is Deakin but today I have set up shop here in support of my partner, and to do some essays of my own. I sit in the supposed silent study area.

For the last twenty minutes, all I can hear is the commotion and rattle of a ping pong ball from the level above. I cannot see the combatants, but assume it is some staff members escaping the many emails that panicked students have sent. The answers to their questions have almost certainly been addressed in the criteria for their assignment, or have been answered during one of the lectures, and probably once or twice on the discussion forum. But if you cannot see the answer right in front of you, don’t worry about doing your own digging, or maybe applying yourself for 15 minutes to find the answer; just shoot off 2 emails at an inappropriate hour with the big red ‘high importance’ exclamation mark ticked. The staff members appear to be playing out a long set, and it is unlikely they will be disarming the distress of the lazy students any time in the next 4 to 5 hours.

The gentlemen sitting diagonally opposite me clearly has much on his plate. Scrappy notes surround his table, with books frantically flung open and constantly whispering under his breath. It looks like it has been a stressful morning for him, what with the untamed hair and general look of haggardness. But after 10 or so minutes of scribbling, and a light sweat breaking out on his forehead, the pressure has gotten to him. Out come the earphones and the iPad. From what I can gather, afl.com.au has been cracked open and some sort of game highlights are on. He won’t be getting anything else done today.

The RMIT student support area is part of the study space in a new age open plan building design. I hear a female support staffer begin to raise the volume of her voice in a firm and authoritative manner. “Yes, it is your responsibility to enrol into the subject, not the course administrator’s. Census date is widely advertised, and it is up to you to pick the subjects you would like to do and enrol by the date, not just email the course chairs.” She has had this conversation before, many times. She looks tired. Not just physically, but of the amount of, put simply, moronic people who are unable to micromanage the smallest and simplest of tasks. She takes a long sip of her coffee, spins around on her chair a few times and looks across. She needs a new job, for the dumb students are breaking her.

The ping pong game is still going, at 10.25 am, nearly 40 minutes after it started. This is a marathon. I hear a voice, female, older. It is definitely teachers who don’t want to confront another day of babying students through life. I imagine they wonder what is wrong with the secondary system that is mollycoddling and producing students on mass who are incapable of independence. When I go on to teach, fostering independence will surely be the equal of teaching subject content in preparing the students adequately for life in the real world.

Another young man has joined the study area. He has come with the best of intentions. Before too long, he will be like the rest of us – rudderless ships searching for the next meme to drag us through the day. He wears junners, a sure sign of intellectual intent, and gets to work immediately. He has several devices plugged in and is hard at work on the keyboard.

A female joins the room. She is eating a plastic bag of mixed nuts, because they are brain food and help you think. She pulls her hair back tightly, because this is a behavioural cue that will switch her brain into study mode. She has a sip of water, because this will keep her hydrated, and given so much of the brain is made of water, this can only do good. She opens her book and rules the page, because an organised page is the key to efficient study. She puts her earphones in, because this will ensure the external noise of the ping pong game will not distract her from the important lecture at hand. She spends 10 minutes setting herself for study, and then seemingly forgets what she’s here for. She is now staring out the window into an abyss of nothingness, without her laptop on, earphones out. All she can see is the many tasks that she has to do, and isn’t doing. It’s an arduous life. She picks up her books, 20 minutes later and leaves, defeated.

A man with pamphlets stands outside the window. He isn’t having much luck and seems deflated and almost shocked that no one is interested in the student union. This seems to be a precursor for the politicians of the future who are so out of touch. If you can’t get in touch with the university students when you’re still at university, what hope have you when you get inside the warped reality of parliament house? Perhaps he should get back to organising free student barbeques so that he gets voted in again next year, so he can do more protesting about things no one cares about. He is now moving on, just 5 minutes into his campaign.

Two people come and gather, looking decidedly unhappy to be here with the other person. You can ascertain with a high level of certainty that they are here only by the evil compulsion of group work. Ask any student what is the worst thing about uni, and to a man you will get a a consistent, deafening response: group work. The reasons why we have to do it are clear enough; almost everyone will have to work in groups for their jobs. It is an important skill to develop. So why is it so terrible to do at uni? Not knowing the people you are allocated with is one answer. The looming dread of being lumped in with an unreliable student, or international student, is another. The assumed incompetence of the other members of the group means most arrive with prejudicial views of what is about to occur, which are usually correct. Social loafing dominates.

So here we have these two people, and they make uncomfortable small talk about how the assignment is going. To an outsider it doesn’t seem to be going well. They have different recollections on who is doing what parts, and one wants to speak at the start, but only if someone else writes it. Hmmm. 15 minutes later, another girl arrives into the forced and slightly awkward atmosphere. She apologises for her lateness. Her tone indicates that she couldn’t give two hoots, and the steam arising from the takeaway coffee cup in her hand suggests that she indeed planned to be late. Things aren’t looking good for their presentation later today.

Onto the cafe I venture. It is very busy. The ladies working in there are running around like ants do when it starts raining. Two of them are attempting to serve the same person, one lady is brandishing the eftpos machine in her hand like a caveman with a club, unable to see where the customer has gone. The customers are incapable of forming an orderly line, and two girls have ordered, paid, and still reside in front of the cash register. It is not hard to queue, and then move to one side while waiting for your order, but then I forget that students are idiots, and unless you roll out a red carpet and hand them a very clear list of what to do, they revert to their indomitable primitive roots. One of the cafe girls is holding a roti bread tandoori chicken wrap. I know this because she has been screaming about it for two minutes now. All of a sudden, a small man next to me realises it is his. I don’t know what he’s been doing for the last 120 seconds, but his desire for social anarchy is obvious.

The time for people watching is now over. From a small sample of my day, I can confirm the following: students are simpletons; staff members hate them; the cafeteria needs to improve it’s infrastructure RE: areas to order and wait, to cater for the simpletons. Have a good day.

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