Tulane’s community not fulfilling responsibility to New Orleans


Emma Vaughters | Layout Editor

Apoorva Verghese, Intersections Editor

Towards the end of my senior year in high school, I was always so excited to tell people that I would soon be going to school in New Orleans. I knew how lucky I was to attend a university in a city so culturally rich and unique. 

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for me to understand how deeply separated Tulane University is from New Orleans. Tulane is largely made up of students from outside of New Orleans, many of whom are not engaged with the city as a whole. Sure, Tulane students venture out beyond the confines of campus whenever they want, but it is hard not to wonder whether any of us are genuinely engaged with our surrounding community. More likely, we as students and Tulane as an institution are nothing more than an ivory tower in New Orleans. 

The idea of an ivory tower refers to an institution, in this case one of higher education, that is blissfully detached from reality. 

Pretty much every member of the Tulane community is aware of the “Tulane bubble” that tends to separate our community from the rest of New Orleans. Nevertheless, we can’t expect to remain in our bubble forever. As Tulane students, we automatically have a responsibility to legitimately participate in the New Orleans community. 

Tulane students do engage with the New Orleans community, perhaps more than their counterparts at other elite private schools. It’s not enough, however. 

The main source of engagement for Tulane students is the mandated two service learning courses which have time and time again been criticized. When I decided to come to Tulane, I was actually excited about the emphasis on service learning and community engagement. The resulting program, however, has essentially made service learning superficial and inefficient for New Orleans. 

Students typically do little to help the New Orleans community and, in fact, are expected to use the community for their own moral advancement. It’s even argued that service learning burdens community partners and causes more harm than good to all parties involved. Community partners are forced to train and supervise students on top of their general responsibilities, especially when academic partners don’t properly coordinate service programs. 

Of course, students shouldn’t limit their involvement in New Orleans to just service learning, but as a core part of Tulane, the program needs to be overhauled to better help community partners. 

Importantly though, it’s not just the students that have an obligation to New Orleans. Institutions of higher education across the country have a duty to work towards benefitting their surrounding communities. 

Universities like Tulane hold necessary resources, including money and research. Mobilizing these resources can lead to great benefits for the surrounding community. 

Other universities like Tulane have established programs dedicated to helping the community around them. 

The University of Oregon began the Sustainable City Year Program, which incorporates community engagement into classrooms. The program has led to students independently creating projects that better their community. 

The University of Pennsylvania has a program dedicated to assisting their employees in finding affordable housing

Enacting change within the classroom, too, is an important way to bring the New Orleans community into Tulane. For example, course work can be made applicable to New Orleans in an effort to promote community engagement and problem solving.  

Creating programs that specifically benefit students of New Orleans can have strong, lasting influences. Even hosting exhibitions or events that celebrate New Orleans culture are crucial steps in the right direction. 

It’s clear that Tulane has a long way to go in terms of community engagement and the advancement of New Orleans. Genuinely engaging with the surrounding New Orleans community, is a crucial step that Tulane needs to take. We can’t just exist in a vacuum anymore. 

Many of us who have lived in New Orleans without ever engaging in the community, outside of our love of Mardi Gras, are in extremely privileged positions. Never forget that we ought to be eternally grateful to be a part of such an incredible city. It’s time to start properly expressing that gratitude.

Leave a Comment