Beginnings Students

Finding a Place in a New College Community

How do students know when they fully belong to a community? It is different at different colleges. At St. John’s, as a student once told an inquisitive visitor, it happens around the time all the Freshman read Plato’s Republic, between eight and ten weeks into the first term.

I don’t know whether all our students agree, but many do. Why does the Republic have this effect? Because, after our students have plunged into geometry, biology, ancient Greek language, literature, and philosophy, as well as singing together in chorus every week, the Republic starts to pull it all together for them. It provokes discussion about the structure of the inner life, about ignorance, knowledge, learning, and love, about art and beauty and the Good—in short, about all the crucial questions of life. And most important, it wraps the whole in an inquiry about what sort of community—or polis, as the Greeks called it—is best suited to promote personal development while we try to answer these questions for ourselves.

As I said, different colleges have different ways of belonging. But most of them have a similar goal: to be an effective polis for our students as they shape themselves into adults.