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St. Xavier's college is located in South Bombay or SoBo as it's called which has a very distinct culture of its own. Kids come to this college not only from different parts of Mumbai, but India and even from foreign countries. Each brings with them their own culture that eventually pours into the seething, dynamic culture of Xavier's enriching it.
We can deconstruct the culture of Xavier's under the following topics which will eventually lead us to the impact of Xavier's culture.
A common thread running through activities at Xavier's is excellence both academic and non academic. Academia at Xavier's follows the state syllabus (before autonomy) and has now expanded to include newer schools of thought and added research. The existence of the Honours programme which is an extra credit course is a manifestation of the need for something extra. Each department is allowed a week in which to showcase the work they've done and share it with the college students and even students of other colleges. Apart from that each department has a film week dedicated to them where all Xavierites are encouraged to attend and contribute. They're all for a holistic education. This just means that students, their parents and professors at Xavier's always expect and contribute more than what is stipulated. Every activity/talent at Xavier's is encouraged at some form or another. There are various clubs for film studies, theatre, photography, the Indian Music Group and even social work with there being a tangible goal every club works to towards the end, like a festival of sorts. Perhaps one of the biggest of these events is Malhar, the annual college festival of Xavier's with colleges from all over India participating and some from abroad. This is one of the biggest 'mixers' and icebreakers that Xavier's kids have since each vertical recruits in the beginning of the college year. Xavierites are also active participants in other college events and more often than not winning accolades and other merit. Students are encouraged to be a part of AISEC and the Mumbai chapter of the MUN. Xavierites play every sport imaginable and the gym is always buzzing with activity.
Every class is allowed a Khadala trip, to the Xavier's villa at Khandala to conduct a 'seminar'. This is significant especially for first year students because this is where they actually get to know each other better and settle down as a class picking friends who they'll spend 3 years with and most often stay friends for life with. Another event is the rural camp which the Social Service League (SSL) organizes.
Apart from this they have exchange programmes with foreign colleges. They also have tie-ups with local NGOs where students are expected to undertake 60 hours of voluntary social service as part of their Social Involvement Programme (SIP).
One of the main enduring images of the culture at Xavier's is the building with its Gothic architecture and rough stone walls. Every arch and gargoyle is dear to kids studying there even years after they pass out. Shobha De, an alumnus of the college, speaking at the 140th anniversary celebrations said, "the very edifice and rock of Xavier's, apart from the memories, is why we hurry back whenever there's an opportunity. To see the lives we celebrated here, our glorious years, the walls now resound with 140 years of stories and whisper it to us when we listen closely."
Sitting in a high-ceilinged, wooden floored classroom as a fan spins lazily overhead while students intently listen to or discuss in class is what most people remember about the classes.
In terms of physical spaces, the foyer, woods (ironically with 2 and a half trees), the arches, library and chapel are places where the kids spend free period or 'hangout' after class. This is where they interact with each other, not just people from their class or department. The foyer is a hive of activity and is where most of the eating takes place.
Oddly enough, so is Father Terry's room. Father Terence Quadros is perhaps one of the luckiest priests on campus. This on campus counsellor is who most of the women (and some men) on campus turn to to pour their heart out, sift through their troubles or just take a nap. His 'office' has cushions, rocking chairs, lazy chairs, blankets, medicines, soft toys and a willing ear.
BEHAVIOURAL & PSYCHOLOGICAL
To be very honest, Xavierites have an air about them. They're not necessarily snobbish but as Pearl Fernandes, a Third Year Mass Media student, puts it, "We feel we have a right to act the way we do because somehow we feel superior. It isn't a superiority complex but we're cool like that." People assume that if you're from Xavier's that makes you automatically smart, socially responsible (fill in any superlative adjective).
Everything conveys this attitude, from the way they talk to the way they dress.
Xavierites are distinctly divided into groups irrespective of what they're studying. Each group dresses and behaves similarly but all-in-all they're coloured with the same Xavier's brush. You have the Jocks: kids who play multiple sports and have a fit, athletic toned body. It doesn't only refer to men but the women also. They usually dress in track pants (or shorts in the morning if they're playing) and vests. Then you have the cheerleaders. They're not really cheerleaders but they're size is in binary digits i.e. either 1 or 0 and they dress like models (actually some even are models). They are characterized by styled hair, manicured hands, a la mode dressing and perfect accessories and make-up. The drama-lit group are people who are part of the drama club and people who write irrespective if they're taken English lit or not. They usually congregate on the hostel steps and tree trunks to sit and discuss a new book, movie or play. They dress in kurtas and jeans and tote jholas. The women prefer having an 'Indian' look about them be it wooden earrings or a thick metal kada with their hair tied in a bun. Then there's the science group who're busy completing journals all through their break trying to stuff their mouths with something before another long session of practicals begin. They may or may not be wearing lab coats but in their bags they have all hokum pokum stuff like nichrome wires, vials of goop to test and petri dishes or something. Then there are the musicians. People who belong to a band either in Xavier's or outside or play an instrument are
part of this group. They're easily identified by their guitar or violin cases and in some situations even the odd synthesizer or drum-sticks. They're also trailed by their groupies who could also be part of the cheerleaders. These guys sit around the BCR (boys common room) practicing or singing or doing something musical. Then you have the Goths and sloths. People who've made crumpled clothes a fashion statement. They're fashionably messily dressed, mismatch day is every day and they're generally socially inclined. Another large group is the behenji group. These are kids (mostly women) who dress simple, oil and part their hair and behave like they're already 40. Then there are the dope-heads who more often than not also belong to the abovementioned groups (excluding the behenjis who'd get a heart attack if accused of such a thing). There are also the dancers who include the cool b boys, hip hop, contemporary dancers etc that win every competition and perform at every occasion. They look like they've just finished shooting for Step Up 2: the streets.
Everybody at Xavier's in highly sociable and talk to each other but there are clear cut definitions of who will talk to who. Like the dancers would never talk to the behenjis who would never talk to the dope-heads who would be ignored by the cheerleaders etc. like every organization, Xavier's has it's own pecking order and politics is rampant.
Peer pressure has a huge impact on the way people behave at Xavier's. At this age, friends are everything. People won't date someone their friends don't approve of etc.
The 'Holy Trinity' i.e. the CP, and 2 VCPs of Malhar are treated like Gods. They're the most coveted positions in all the land. Student council be damned, people pray to be elected to the top 3. It's almost like being president and ruler at the same time.
One weird custom that Xavierites have is when they're hanging out in the foyer and a glass bottle breaks they all clap. Shuba, a third year Microbiology Student says, "no matter how stupid you think it is in your head, when the bottle breaks all your snobbishness goes out of the window and you clap just like the rest, grinning all the while. It's fun."
VALUES, SCHEMAS & MEANINGS
Xavierites, on campus, are highly disciplined. They have this ingrained discipline bone that doesn't allow them to be truly disruptive. Not to say that they don't toe the line or don't rebel when they feel it necessary, they do. But catch one of them driving drunk or brawling in the street. It hasn't happened yet. There's an unwritten code of ethics that no one need tell you. You just feel it when you're initiated as a student.
Another sort of common understanding is that no one plays any game in the first quadrangle (1st quad) during college hours. It isn't forbidden by the admin but the kids realize that the first quad is surrounded by classes and it might get disrupted.
The kids also have a no littering policy and kids who litter soon learn they have to obey the norm or peer pressure will see that they conform.
The kids are also highly intolerant of extremist ideologies or inclinations other than Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and Gossip Girl. They respect people's opinions but won't have it thrust on them. Which is also why poor little Aditya Thakeray finds himself friendless and alone after his protesting debacle.
Its mission proper is its dedication to research, teaching and the various forms of cultural service, as the indispensable horizon and context for a genuine preservation, renewal and communication of knowledge and human values, to strive for an intellectual endeavour that focuses on critical and creative thinking, with the aim of social transformation.
Functional Aspects of St. Xavier's College
St. Xavier's very particularly follows the 75% attendance rule for each subject as dictated by the Maharashtra board of Education & the University of Mumbai. Attendance is strictly taken by the professor in charge at the start/ end of each lecture in order to ensure that no proxy attendance is given. At the end of each month they come up with a black list of attendance defaulters as a warning to those falling short of attendance. And at the end of each semester they come up with a defaulters list which includes the names of students who have defaulted on attendance throughout the semester. Such students are then requested to meet with the principal of the college and are also required to call their parents to college for a meeting with the principal. So strict they are about their attendance that many defaulters of attendance at the 12th Grade in the college are refused admissions to the degree college at St. Xavier's.
2. Beyond the Text Book:
In line with the research inclination that St. Xavier's possesses, even students are encouraged to seek knowledge beyond what is achieved from the prescribed text books. For this they have in place an "Honour's Programme"- a one of its kind programme which isn't offered by any other college in the city of Mumbai. Here students are encouraged to engage into small scale research studies, do paper presentations, attend seminars and lectures organised by the college for which the students are given credits. Thus this gives the students an opportunity to learn beyond their own specializations as credits across verticals can also qualify the student for the Honours Certificate. Thus St. Xavier's is an organisation that greatly emphasizes vitality and growth
3. Cultural Activities:
St. Xavier's College, Mumbai has been judged the best college for all round development by many surveys conducted only because of the attention it pays to extra-curricular activities like performing arts & literary arts. It also plays hosts at Malhar- the oldest and most popular under graduate college festival where it encourages students from other colleges to participate in the various events that take place during Malhar. The college also gives a platform to students who are interested in theatre to display their talents during the theatre festival -Ithaka. There are numerous opportunities provided to the students to display their talents both on and off campus. Active encouragement and financial support is provided to the students for the same. Students are provided platforms to display their managerial abilities by organising Malhar, Ithaka & Jan Fest- the annual classical music concert held on campus each year. Thus St. Xavier's contrary to popular belief doesn't incline itself only to
western values and art but encourages its students to be sensitive to other cultural and traditional forms of art. They have a strong sense of purpose which is excellence in the fields of academics and beyond.
4. Sensitivity to the less fortunate:
Being an institution run by Jesuit priests, St. Xavier's has been very actively involved in the upliftment of less fortunate people and others with special needs. They have a number of social societies on campus like the social service league that undertake blood donation drives and visits to old age homes on a frequent basis. This develops a sense of sensitivity among the students to those who aren't as blessed as them. In addition to this, St. Xavier's also houses the Xavier's Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged (XRCVC) which provides equipment and other aids for the visually challenged students to learn and make the whole process of learning, reading and writing easier. St. Xavier's College therefore is an institution that believes that world class education is the right of people even with physical handicaps and undertakes efforts to minimise the discomfort they may experience in a setting where everyone else does not face the problems they do. St. Xavier's College has the Social Involvement Programme (SIP) which is a mandatory prerequisite to be eligible for the Honours Certificate at the end of Degree College. Under this programme students have dedicate a certain number of hours per week working at non profit organisation or undertake any other form of social work and maintain a diary with their learnings from the same. St. Xavier's College therefore makes its students realise that for all that they are gaining from the society; they are liable to give back something to it as well. Thus St. Xavier's tries to emphasize growth not only in externally and mentally, but spiritually as well.
There is an informal mentorship program in place for all students at St. Xavier's. No faculty or admin member is inaccessible to the students of the college. There is constant guidance given from various people be it spiritual, career guidance or even counselling. Students are constantly made aware of newer career opportunities and are encouraged to hone their skills in various fields. They provide guidance not only during the time they are in college but also after they pass out. The areas of discussion are not related just to academics and careers but also move beyond them like relationships and families. Professors behave more like friends rather than teachers. The aim of all round development of the students trickles down to the lowest level of the teaching hierarchy, which is the aim in almost every student- teacher interaction. Thus there is great tolerance for expression which is reason they believe that it is central to all round development of each student.
Dysfunctional Aspects of St. Xavier's College
1. Lack of transparency at the time of selection of volunteers at Malhar.
The hierarchy at Malhar is such:
Vice President (Conclave)
Vice President (Management)
Vice President (Events)
At the presidential and vice presidential level, appointment takes places after the faculty members interview potential candidates. Selection therefore takes place on the basis of merit after considering the achievements and credentials of each candidate. However as one moves lower in the hierarchy, selection is up to the discretion of the people just above them. as a result appointment to the OC, OG and volunteer level mostly takes place on the basis of favouritism. Malhar therefore for quite some time has had a bad name for the politics underlying the selection procedure as there are no set rules, guidelines or standards for selection into the various verticals. Therefore sometime students are left pretty confused as they have no reasons as to why they did not get into the departments of their choice. It is a little bewildering for the freshers in the college, especially because there is a lot of ambiguity in the selection procedure and they are not aware about what exactly needs to be done to get into the department of one's choice.
2. No hostel for girl students.
St. Xavier's College is a very popular college for many aspiring students all over the country. There are many students who do not belong to Mumbai but come from as far as the North East and Kerala. This includes an equal mix of both boys and girls. However they St. Xavier's College does not have provisions for a girls' hostel on campus. Even during the days preceding Malhar, when it is absolutely essential to have manpower on campus to ensure the smooth execution of the festival, permission is easily granted to boys to stay over on the campus, but not for women who are expected to look in the vicinity outside campus for accommodation. This is done because of some traditional and moral values that the Jesuit priests adhere to religiously. They do not encourage the intermingling of sexes beyond a certain point. And even though it may be troublesome for the girl students at times like these, they are quite unwilling to bend the rules.
3. Too much stress and few seats for desired specializations
St. Xavier's College is one of the best colleges for arts and science in the country. However the number of seats available for the most popular and in demand specializations is very few. Therefore there is immense competition and stress in order to get those coveted seats. The level of stress is very high during the second year of Degree College which is the most crucial part of the entire 3 year degree course. Students are expected to be actively involved in the department work, make paper presentations and excel in academics. A minor glitch in any of these areas may cost them a seat in their choice of specialization. Thus the level of stress is very high during this period. It breeds competition among peers and creates and unease which is only placated only after final selection.
St. Xavier's College being a catholic institution was built for the purpose of serving the minority Christian community. Under provisions made by the central government, educational institutions can reserve up to 50% of their seats for minority communities. Therefore St. Xavier's College also applies the same and 50% of the seats are reserved for the Christian community. This is a situation that is prevalent among most other educational institutions in the city. It creates an unfair advantage to those who belong to the particular community. In the same class there can be students who haven't done equally well in the same exam and have been admitted because of the reservation system. The level of achievement and intelligence is not the same among the students. And the same parameters are not placed equally for all students to gain admission to a particular course.
ACTIONS PLANS: 1. Lack of transparency in the selection procedure for Malhar:
a. Formalise a set of rules, procedures and pre- requisites essential in order to qualify for the various positions at Malhar.
b. Have an admin/ faculty member preside over each selection procedure after college hours.
c. Undertake a training programme to sensitise the students higher up in the Malhar hierarchy to the various nuances and aspects of the selection procedure. This would enlighten them on how to effectively select people who would be an asset to the various verticals.
d. Establish a punitive system or a watchdog or some sort of feedback system in place in order to ensure that the set procedures are being followed.
e. Conduct orientation sessions for the volunteers on the process of selection and the people to approach in case the procedures aren't being followed.
f. However it is essential that the students in the organising committees have some say in the selection procedure. There should always be room for them to use their own intuitions and discretion. Malhar shouldn't become a centrally controlled organisation as it has always been a student run body in the college.
2. No hostel for girl students.
a. firstly there is a great need to enlighten both faculty and students on the rationale behind the refusal to permit girls to stay overnight on campus.
b. a dialogue must take place between these parties putting forward their concerns and reasons their respective requests and demands.
c. the administrations must consider relaxing the rules under special circumstances when it is absolutely essential that the girl students stay on campus. For instance, the days preceding Malhar & Jan Fest.
d. The college must also have tie ups with various women's' hostels in the vicinity and must assist female student in acquiring accommodation. When a particular hostel is vouched for by the management of the college, the parents of these students are more likely to find them reliable and will probably not worry about the safety and well being of their children.
3. Too much stress and few seats for desired specializations
a. given the rising amount of stress and the consequences faced among students of standard tenth and twelfth, it has become imperative that the college increase the number of seats for the most popular and in demand specializations. No person should be denied a seat in any specialization since it is the question of their careers and marks obtained in an exam are too shallow a deciding factor in imposing a life changing decision on a particular candidate.
b. it is essential to have occasional briefing sessions on the progress of each student during the entire year and let him know his chances of making it to the department of his choice. He/ she should be told explicitly of what are the necessary requirements to get the specialization.
c. the teachers must be trained to identify signs of stress among the students and must seek professional help (which is available on campus) lest it get worse.
d. professors must consider reducing the burden on the students in terms of the number of assignments and paper presentation which the student believe are mandatory to get the specializations of their choice. Rather it would make sense to have an aptitude test and interest tests at the end of the second year of college to seek the people who have the most aptitude and interest in the specific area of study.
a. The college must refrain from having a reservation system in place as it does not create a level playing field for all aspirants into a particular course. If St. Xavier's aims to be a world class educational institution it must aim to seek the best minds in the country, which would only be possible if all the students have the same level of aptitude, intelligence and achievement.
b. Even if the college finds it absolutely essential to have a reservation system in place, in keeping with the purpose of establishment of the institution, it is necessary for them to make sure that there is a minimum cut off of marks obtained by the student in order to ensure that the best minds who are par with each other are interacting in class. It seems a little unfair when a student with 70% (as a result of the reservation system) is in the same class with the student who has scored 85% and has struggled to barely make it to the course. It would inculcate among the students a belief that hard work is essential when one aims to rub shoulders with the best in the country in a premier institution for humanities and sciences in the country.
c. It would also be beneficial if St. Xavier's had an independent aptitude exam that for all aspirants to the various courses in the college. This would reduce any discrepancy if any among people coming from various boards of education and among people applying under different quotas. This creates a level playing field for all aspirants and ensures that the college has selected candidates after putting them through an in house reliable aptitude exam.