Before entering university, what is the typical picture of a university life in one’s imagination? Have you perhaps imagined Robin Williams taking his students out to the green grass lawn to recite a poem or two, as he did so in the Dead Poets Society? Or maybe you have imagined a scene where a group of students leisurely drink a few bottles of makgeolli on a sunny afternoon, under a blue sky and on top of a crisp patch of grass? However, where are all the green plains of land that are shown on the campus map on the SMU website? There are many gardens and parks on campus where we can fully enjoy the nature hidden in every corner. However, how can it be that the gardens, which are hidden right under our noses, seem to feel so far away?
Secret Gardens, Open at All Times
Many of the gardens on campus are empty and not popular to the students. The first step that must be taken is to find out where one can find a piece of nature on campus. There are two types of gardens here at SMU; gardens on top of buildings and gardens outside of buildings. The Seoul City government conducted a Green Roof Policy, a project where the roofs of city buildings are transformed into gardens in order to reduce the urban heat island effect. So in mid-December of 2008, a total of five bland rooftops were changed into gardens that both students and faculty members could use. Each roof garden has a number of benches to rest on and a variety of different plants and flowers that one can enjoy. There are other venues where one can enjoy nature. The grass lawn in front of Sae Him Hall is available to any SMU student without having to receive permission (excluding official events or photo shoots). There is also a short but pleasant brick road, known as the Kkotdam-gil, behind the faculty cafeteria Kkotsandal, where students can take a walk or sit down on benches surrounded by a variety of flowers. Every stem and branch on the entire campus is cared for by just three gardeners whose office is situated in the garden house on the right side of the Queen Sunheon Building. The head of the gardening team, who has been at SMU for over 27 years, said, “With only a limited number of gardeners, it is hard to maintain every plant on campus, but we always do our best.” Indeed, the flowers on campus are captivating enough as to become a place for sightseeing to visitors from outside of SMU. However, it is an undeniable fact that these gardens are deprived of interest from Sookmyungians themselves.
The Gardens, Visible Yet Unapproachable
What are the reasons for the low utilization of gardens at SMU? In this regard, there are general opinions about the main problems. First of all, many students pointed out that students throw away their trash on the benches and flower beds, which makes us feel disagreeable. Some students don’t clean their seat, even when they spill their coffee on the benches. Every garden has a trash can near the benches or at the corner of the garden. In spite of it, they just leave flyer sheets or wrapping papers. They fail to observe the rules of basic etiquette with the neglectful thought that someone will clean up for themselves. It is not the matter of improper maintenance, but the matter of students. Also, many students are repulsed by the smokers in the garden. Lots of freshmen were surprised when they passed by the garden, since the smoke was rising. Ironically, due to the low utilization of the garden, it became the place where smokers are assembled, and it made students to have more difficulty in using the garden. Cho Munjung, Department of Political Science & International Relations ‘09, who came from China stated, “In China, smoking is banned on the whole campus. Smoking in gardens is not good for either the environment or the image of the school.” The most dangerous thing is that there can be fire from the cigarette butts. On March 4th 2013, there was a fire in the garden; a cigarette butt left by a student lit a fire from dead leaves. After several accidents, some trash cans were changed into china trash cans, and about seven ashtrays were equipped. However, it cannot be a fundamental solution. School authorities make some effort in gardening by operating the division of gardening. They provide fresh flowers and trees. However, do they make a suitable place for students? Visually, the garden is beautiful, but practically, there are some difficulties for using it. Above all, there’s no facility for blocking the sunlight or to take shelter from the rain.
Also, the grass plot behind the Administration Building has limited access to protect the lawn from being destroyed. If so, can we call it a place for students? According to the head of the gardening team, “It doesn’t matter whether students use the grass plot, as long as they do not wear heels which will instantly kill all the grass.” However, the school is allowing the graduation photo shoots to take place on the grass plot, but is blocking ordinary students with sneakers from using it. In such cases, the school failed to sufficiently consider the actual usage of the gardens. A garden should be a place where students can relax and find comfort within nature. Concerning the smoking problem in the gardens, the school authority does not have particular rules outside the buildings on campus. According to the Maintenance Service Team, the Health Care Center already requested to make a separate smoking room instead of the garden. However, the school authority insists that due to the budgetary deficit, it’s hard to build a new facility.
Turn the Bench Around, Turn Your Thought Around
Garden is our resting place and our nature where we can breathe on campus. For making the garden as our real rest place, the university needs to set up some regulations to discourage students from taking up smoking in the garden. The need of a ban on smoking has already been mentioned many times, but it is a problem that there aren’t any smoking bans in SMU other than the national regulations. For a better environment for nonsmokers, the university needs to set up regulations. At the same time, the university needs to make a smoking area for smokers because the reason why smokers smoke in gardens is because there are no smoking areas on our campus. Many other universities, including Chung-ang University, Korea University and Gachon University, have smoking areas on their campuses. Gachon University student Yun Euijin said, “When I smoke anywhere I stand, including the garden, it was uncomfortable to smoke because I felt everybody look unkindly at my smoking. I think it is a good idea to make a smoking area for smokers. It is good for us and also good for nonsmokers.” Although there are many beautiful flowers and trees which are well cared for, not many students use the gardens. One of the reasons why students do not come out to the gardens was because there are not enough resting places and useful facilities for students. Therefore, if SMU wants students to come outside of buildings, SMU needs to improve facilities for them. The university garden is students’ place so it can’t just be used as one of the visually promoting methods of university. What we need first are gardens as a comfortable rest place that students can easily use. Konkuk University student Wang Hyunjin said, “In our campus gardens, there are pavilions. Because of them, we can take shelter from the rain and keep out of the sun. So, we students like to stay under pavilions and study there.” Like pavilions, SMU needs to find new facilities which are suitable to SMU gardens and helpful for students’ rest and comfort. Our university garden can fully be a students’ healing place. One may wonder, why stay outside when you can be comfortable indoors on a sofa? Try to turn the question the other way around. Why haven’t we wanted to use the garden before? The start of questioning will allow one to realize all the uncomfortable problems that made us not want to use them in the first place. The bench in the Suryeon Faculty Building is currently faced backwards so no student can use it (as one can observe on page 20). The need to turn the bench around ourselves has arisen. The division of gardening of SMU said, “The owner of SMU garden is students, so if students show their interest in their gardens, they will be better places for them.” Let’s spotlight the gardens and their problems. Your small spotlighting can be the big start of changing and can change our gardens.