The first ever strategy of the University of the Arts Student Union was approved in the spring. The strategy outlines the long-term goals for ArtSU, but also its values. ArtSU’s values are Art, science and education, Ecological sustainability, Critical thinking and Sense of community and equality. The definition of each value can be found in the strategy but we also wanted to hear from members of the community to know what they think about them. The chair of the academy committee of Sibelius Academy Aurora Visa and ArtSU’s community coordinator Jane Kärnä discussed what sense of community and equality mean and how they manifest in the Uniarts student community.
Jane: What does sense of community mean to you?
Aurora: Sense of community is that you feel like you belong, that you are part of a group, a community, part of something bigger than yourself. Sense of community means that we support one another and that there are people you can ponder and brainstorm with. The community and the friends I’ve made here have been hugely important to me several times throughout my studies.
Jane: I love how in a community where people study the same thing as you, others can understand from just half a sentence what you mean. They are people who see the world somewhat like you. That community certainly makes you feel less lonely, it feels like a united front because through those communities you know you are not alone with your interest but that there are others who value the same things and who you can talk to about topics that others might not fully understand. Then again, in diverse communities, you get challenged in a good way. That expands your worldview and by understanding the ways you differ, you come to understand yourself better too. That is why things that bring together people from different fields, arts and academies are valuable. And after all, there are a lot of similarities between all Uniarts students, I think, such as their drive and courage to pursue and study what they are truly passionate about.
Aurora: A key element to sense of community is also that you can feel like you can be who you truly are and that you are accepted as such – and that of course you yourself also act in a way that enables others to be who they are and that everyone has the chance to participate.
Jane: That is why it is great that ‘equality’ is paired together with ‘sense of community’ in ArtSU’s values! At its best, a student community is a safe place for everyone to experience, try, grow, and also fail.
Aurora: Other thoughts on sense of community as our community coordinator?
Jane: I think it’s interesting how many kinds of things bring together and unite people and how diverse are the things around which communities form. Like, in the Uniarts community this can be for example your subject group or major, your academy, your campus, a common hobby, the fact that you are active in the student community whether it be a committee, a subject organization, as a student representative in university government, on the student union board or in the representative council, or perhaps a studies-related project like a performance or a group exhibition, or a cause or something related to your identity. It is great that communities form around diverse factors and it is highly important that the student union supports their coming-into-being, existence and activities.
Aurora: Yes! For example, we have an amazing group spirit amongst the student actives in the Sibelius Academy! It exemplifies what I was talking about earlier that we support and help out one another, and we have a good “let’s do this together” attitude!
Jane: Obviously, what people need from communality vary and not everyone can dive into the deep end. It is important that there are different places and occasions to feel a sense of community, such as events, but not only that. Sense of community can also be small mundane acts: smiles in the hallways, sitting down together for lunch or at the student rooms, an empathetic touch, a shared moment of deep sighs or encouraging someone in a class discussion or on social media.
Aurora: Why do you think sense of community is important?
Jane: Apart from the fact that shared joy and fun multiplies and share worry is divided, I think, in a university student context, sense of community is also important for the building of one’s personal and professional identity. When you are part of a community of peers studying to become part of the same field, that can strengthen your sense of belonging in your future work environment. However, neither our community nor the future workplaces and fields that our students will be part of are perfect or finished in the sense that everyone would truly have the same opportunities and could equally feel like they belong. This is made painfully clear in recent surveys such as those done by the Musicians’ Union https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-12442235 and Actors’ Unionhttps://yle.fi/uutiset/74-20001022 That is why it is important that ArtSU examines its own activities and continuously develops its own community too and in addition contributes to the creation of and demands a more equitable art field. This should be our common will and shared goal. This community fosters futuremakers and I believe that with shared determination the necessary changes will be made.
How about you Aurora, why is sense of community important to you?
Aurora: Sense of community has helped me get even more attached to my studies and the university community. When you have a safe environment and welcoming community where to study, the actual studying feels all the more fun and motivating. I can imagine that if I was ever to hit a rough patch, be in a moment of despair or have a crisis in direction or my studies would feel especially tasking, I know I would have people I could discuss the situation and my worries with. The fact that there is a community, that there are people to lean on, would help survive even those tougher moments. It makes me feel secure to know that I am not alone.
Aurora Visa is the chair of the Sibelius Academy Committee and a member of ArtSU’s Representative Council. Aurora studies in Sibelius Academy Folk music department kantele.
Jane Kärnä is ArtSU’s community coordinator. Jane is a Master of Arts from the University of Helsinki where they studied theatre research.
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