University campuses have increasingly come to resemble the most cosmopolitan of cities in the way that they mix and match people from all corners of the world in close proximity with each other. Yet universities are only now beginning to react to that new found quality by rethinking how their campuses could be set up as ‘little worlds’ which can appeal to many communities at once, by both placing and displacing those who live and work there.
To begin with, there is the matter of language. What is remarkable is how monolingual many campuses are. The home language drives all before it. But things can be done to change this. For example, surely at least in the main buildings it is possible to have a scattering of other languages? Thus, at Warwick we now have a welcome sign in twenty five different languages which is much appreciated.
Then, there is the matter of the signs of other places. I know that a number of universities now fly the flags of their students’ countries (although this can be a minefield, as the UN protocols on the flying of flags show). There are universities that put clocks in their main entrances showing the time in the major cities of the world. Some universities are toying with the idea of road and building names that demonstrate globality. Some universities are toying with the idea of road and building names that demonstrate globality. And so on.
Again, food is crucial. Food needs to reflect all parts of the world. Students need to be able to draw on the cuisines of many countries as a matter of course. Many universities already have international food courts: others are only now catching up.
Finally, there is the issue of producing thoughtful mixing, the better to produce students and staff who show genuine civility to other cultures. That means a number of things. First, it requires the correct design of circulation spaces. Modern architecture has moved from a concern with buildings as functional blocs to a concern with flow and part of that move has involved seeing the spaces surrounding buildings as crucial. It is possible to design thoughtful interaction, replete with surprises and quiet spots. Second, it requires getting the degree of mixing right in residences. It is possible for students to spend all their time with just people from their own country if this is not managed correctly, which is not to say that some degree of gravitational pull is illegitimate. Third, it requires demonstrations of all kinds of tolerance and respect. At Warwick, for example, we are very proud of our multidenominational chaplaincy which has been placed centrally on campus. Equally the new Students Union is carefully set up so that particular cultural conventions (for example, on alcohol) are respected.
And all this is before we get to things like the nature of the curriculum, of what counts as a canon and what produces good global citizens.
So, a challenging agenda but also a privilege to be able to begin the institution of places where everyday acts of tolerance and diplomacy can be encouraged, indeed can be built from the ground up.