For the past three weeks our brand new community of 19 students and 6 staff members have spent three days a week playing, learning, talking and figuring out how to live together. We’d all read the books, watched the videos and talked endlessly about freedom and responsibility but now we had to actually figure out what that looks like with real people in real situations.
The first week felt a little a bit like a non-stop party. Energy was high as were noise levels. Everyone was full of the joys of “great I can do whatever I want!” Week two began with a bump. There was a complaint sent to the Judicial Committee about the noise levels, seven students had been written up by one staff and 3 other students. A special meeting was called. What was to be done? They hadn’t broken any laws but people were unhappy. Students complained of not being able to concentrate, getting a headache and feeling overwhelmed by the level of noise and activity. The noise makers retorted but we want to play. For me this is where the rubber meets the road. These moments are what it’s all about.
I asked them “how can these students feel free to go about their day how they want if they have to live with your noise levels? That’s not freedom.” It was agreed to add a new law: No noisy activities inside the building except in the Hall. How loud is noisy? Well, that’s probably for another meeting. For now, students are reminding each other “Hey, if you want to play like that go outside or in the Hall” and they do.
Our Judicial Committee (JC) has seen other tricky cases too. One student complained that another was watching what they were doing over their shoulder, they felt like they didn’t have enough personal space and asked them to step away, but they didn’t want to. “That’s not fair, I should be free to watch it if I want to” came the response. The members of the JC however, were clear on the matter – not if it bothers her you’re not.
Shortly after the noise law came the issue of mess. Our agreement with the community centre requires us to keep the space clean, but whose job is that? Students (and staff) often make mess in the course of their activities. The art table has been covered with glue, paint, glitter and many other things, but its also where people often sit to eat, read or write. When asked whose mess this is the replies are often, I don’t know, I’m coming back later or I haven’t finished yet. Though they clearly have. Now we require everyone to clean up before they move on to something else, in a small space we can’t afford to leave all our messes till the end of the day or no one would have anywhere to do anything.
So freedom it turns out comes with a lot of catches. Students are finding they have to think about not just what they want to do, but will it affect anyone else?