OPINION: My freshman year at the University of Arizona felt like I was in a vivarium


Olivia Malone

Old Main was the first building constructed on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson, Arizona. It served as the school itself, with classrooms, dorms and more until the campus expanded. Old Main remains today, now full of offices.

Olivia Malone

With my freshman year at the University of Arizona coming to an end, I think the best thing this campus could be compared to is a vivarium. A quick Google search will define a vivarium as “an enclosure, container, or structure adapted or prepared for keeping animals under semi-natural conditions for observation or study.”

I would like to place an emphasis on the word semi-natural. From my experience, a college is a place of newfound independence for most. Many of us are living on our own or with someone new. We are in charge of our diets, expenses and basically every moment of our time. It is said to be our first bit of time in the “real world.”

All of these things were to be expected, though it made them no less jarring. I watched myself and others struggle to learn how to pick a properly priced container of fruit, fix a broken light, deal with an intoxicated friend and learn our limits. Within my first month at the UA, I was perplexed by the politics of Greek Life, the frequency of parties and other aspects of a college town that make our time here so unique from living off of a college campus.

We are in our vivarium, a place that is as close to the real world as possible, but because of its unique purpose, placement and population, is subject to a degree of uniqueness. Aside from settling into my newfound independence and struggling with the tribulations of grocery shopping, I learned that although the UA feels like an island at times, it is not exempt from what is going on in the rest of the world.

One of the most difficult events in the UA community from this year was the killing of professor Thomas Meixner. The head of the Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences Department was shot on campus last semester, and a former graduate student is charged with the murder. According to the Gun Violence Archive, 5,778 people have been killed in gun violence in 2023 as of April 27. The fact that it happened on our campus is shocking, but not necessarily unpredictable.

I remember walking back from a lecture on gender and contemporary society and receiving the UAlert on my phone that a shooting had occurred. A cloud hung over campus for a few days, and then life moved on.

This was something I did not expect to happen in my vivarium, but upon thinking about it just a little more, I suppose I should have.

We were also faced with grotesque anti-abortion protests on the UA Mall, moving counter-protests and the repeated presence of an old man on the Mall banishing all queer people, Jewish people, etc. to hell because of who they are, sometimes just yards away from campus tours for potential new students.

Essentially, my freshman year consisted of a repeated cycle of feeling settled into a sort of utopia where I had menial adult responsibilities and lots of school work, and then being thrown back into reality by events I am used to seeing in the news.

As my freshman year progressed, I would find myself at times feeling more jaded. Throughout the year, I saw more and more of the things my adult parents told me I would experience in the real world, and each time I did, more of the cynicism I resent in adults began to come out in me.

I knew this was not an isolated experience either. One thing the semi-natural environment of the college vivarium gave me was a sense of community. We are all around the same age, all in a new environment. Most of us are fresh on our own, and many of us are still figuring things out. These shared traits are something I have gained great gratitude for.

As I see myself getting frustrated over an Urgent Care bill for my fifth cold or flu of the year, or feeling depressed when twisted events or people are present on my campus, I know I can turn to nearly whoever is right next to me and they will be able to empathize, whether we agree on certain things or not.

I entered the UA prepared for either a utopian land of parties or a hard taste of the real world, and, in the end, I got both. The UA is not exempt from dealing with serious problems that plague our society, but in the same way, the student body is able to help each other and in that way, they can help the world.

We are not as tired as our parents just yet, which I know because I have seen fiery counter-protests, passionate clubs and eager-to-learn minds in every corner of campus.

The vivarium is a unique place for our minds to grow, and I am leaving this year thankful for the semi-natural nature of the UA’s vivarium because it is nurturing passionate students who are becoming tired of society’s faults.

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Olivia Malone is a freshman at the UA studying law and journalism, and minoring in family studies and human development. She enjoys being outdoors, making music, and traveling.