Rethink Lawn selection, end application process

MOTIVATION: the drive that fuels success and ambition. It can be found in abundance among a great majority of the student body at the University. It is often that which led to a student's admission and the same ingredient that continues to distinguish the University's academics, arts, athletics and student-led organizations. But there is one institution at the University that cheapens student achievement and success, and it lies at the geographical and symbolic heart of Thomas Jefferson's Academical Village: the undergraduate student rooms on the Lawn. Though meant as a reward for those individuals who have distinguished themselves in their service and achievement at the University, the Lawn selection process leads to resume building and competitive political maneuvering that devalues the reward. The process should be changed.

To be clear: Those who I know on the Lawn clearly are inspiring individuals and have a deep love for this place that permeates all that they do, both in academics and extra-curricular activities. Most Lawnies would continue to distinguish themselves if Lawn applications never existed. In fact, their achievements are all the more impressive when done without the promise of immediate reward or public acclaim.

More than one secret society makes a habit of rewarding students along these same lines. Those who continue to better the community with their deeds ultimately will find reward even if their acts fly below the radar screen. The Zs take some first-year leaders out to dinner in their second semester. The P.U.M.P.K.I.N.s dole out autumn produce to students whose achievements usually go unnoticed. Sevens, 21 Society members and Purple Shadows write letters to similarly distinguished members of the community. The A.N.G.E.L.S. dole out a number of roses to a select few. Few know how these groups make their selections and through what networks they get their intelligence regarding student activism - but the intrigue makes the recognition special.

Alternately, certain anomalies in the Lawn selection process present cause for closer inspection. Many assert that membership in a particular student organization is requisite for a competitive application. Groups such as the University Guide Service, the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society, the Honor Committee and Resident Staff each boast many members with Lawn addresses, some belonging to several of the groups. Though these organizations' continuous funnel of membership to the Lawn seems questionable, such groups have long been appealing to students of unusual motivation and prowess of leadership. Yet the insinuation of reprehensible motives and selfish ambition undercuts the significance of membership in these groups. Such implications are devolved from the reward system inherent in the Lawn selection process.

Involved and ambitious students are a dime a dozen at a competitive institution such as the University. Those who are driven to exceed expectations of performance in all facets of student life and who offer extraordinary service and dedication to the school should be rewarded. But the reward must be something the student doesn't apply for. Awards can and should bring public acclaim to the student but should place emphasis on recognizing those who do not usually enjoy commendation for their work.

Instead of an individual application process, rooms on the Lawn could be assigned according to nominations from other students. This is the way that the Good Guy Room on the Lawn has been assigned for years, and it effectively takes away any claim that residents resorted to resume building or self-promotion to win a residence in the center of the Academical Village. Though claims have been made that this particular room may favor IMPs or Zs, the basic idea remains inspired. A nomination process would lack the tendency toward a popularity contest, like elections for student government office, and would offer equal opportunity to all, unlike a secret selection process. Such a process would promote a reward system that benefits those usually unrecognized in the University community, unlike the current system that depends on applicant self-promotion. This method would still leave opportunity for leaders who do receive a just amount of recognition for their contributions to the University to be nominated for a room. Students, faculty, staff or any other member of the community on Grounds could submit applications, thereby ensuring achievements of all kinds receive consideration.

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  • Living on the Lawn is an unrivaled privilege for any undergraduate student at the University, but the current process cheapens the honor of such an achievement. A nominating process still would require a student committee to review applications, as nominations certainly would outnumber available rooms, but it would ameliorate the selection process while eliminating insinuations of ambitious overachievement and resume building. That way, residents would be given the opportunity to be surprised with the honor for their final year, like the wonderful gifts and notes from the University's many secret societies. Never again would extraordinary gifts of time and energy for the betterment of the University community be mistaken for ulterior motives of personal gain.

    (Preston Lloyd's column appears Tuesdays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at plloyd@cavalierdaily.com.)

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