As the one now responsible for soliciting opinions in The Uniter, I have to make a confession: Before a few weeks ago, I had been to the University of Winnipeg only twice.
Most recently I waited outside Riddell Hall for two hours to hear Cornel West talk about jazz and social justice, and before that I spent a week in a Winnipeg Goldeyes’ camp for baseball-obsessed twerps at the Duckworth Centre in 1997.
My ignorance of campus life didn’t come up in The Uniter job interview, but I knew I’d have to get to know the school fairly soon. So I wandered the campus, surveyed its posters, chatted with students and staff and observed the bustle from afar.
It turns out this place is not that festering pool of liberal hipsterdom that students at that other school would have you believe. Nor does it seem to be a faceless corporate entity herding student-customers through its hallowed halls.
Maybe this is a first-date-infatuation type of thing, or maybe it’s just that I’m a relatively well educated white guy and institutions like this were basically built with people like me in mind, but I’ve been surprised by the humanness and approachability of the U of W so far. The back-to-school atmosphere hasn’t been one of dread, but one of optimism and mutual determination.
Part of the friendliness I’ve noticed probably has to do with the university’s size. Already I’m beginning to notice familiar faces, and they usually don’t seem too hostile. According to the school’s communications department, 9,487 students are enrolled in classes this semester.
That may sound like a lot compared to your average high school, but for comparison, if every student at the U of W showed up to a Jets game, the MTS Centre would only be two-thirds full. This relative smallness struck me at the final show of Roll Call – the event seemed more like a large house concert than a ticketed gig at some bigger venue.
The campus is also quite sprawling and it’s fairly porous. There’s no threshold to pass as you leave downtown proper and enter the university grounds. This makes the campus feel welcoming and as if it’s part of a bigger community and conversation, and there’s no sense that the university experience has to be constrained within a few blocks of the city.
While new and updated spots like the RecPlex and Buhler Centre prove the school’s not destitute, there are plenty of unimpressive rooms and corridors to remind you that you’re still in a humble prairie town. In a way, the U of W is like a microcosm of Winnipeg itself. It might not be the biggest or most prestigious spot on the map (and it has exactly one geological feature that we insist on climbing), but that’s the way we like it – or at least I do.
Tim Runtz is the comments editor at The Uniter. He also works at Geez magazine and moonlights as a bicycle mechanic.