The yoga space was gone. The badminton nets were missing. The basketball court had been annihilated, or at least removed out of sight. In their place were rows of wobbly, splintery desks. You know what I’m talking about, fellow Dalhousie student. It was exam time at the Dalplex, and only three hours separated me from summer freedom.
Roughly 900 desks are crammed into the field house each semester to accommodate the exam period. Look out across this space at 9 a.m. on a given exam day, and you will see close to a thousand students straining in the yellowy, filtered light to record their knowledge. The nervous energy of a thousand people pushes against the rafters. The walk from one end of the expanse to the other takes a full minute.
While this structure may be economically prudent, it ultimately fails as a place of learning because it is a dehumanizing experience. The factory layout of the desks, the black plastic bags, and the student card laid neatly on the corner of the workspace, all serve to support the feeling that I am a cog in the machine, plugging my knowledge into the orange booklet. I am not here to buy my degree on a piece of paper; I’m here to learn, and this is not the space that makes it happen.
Happily, the semester preceding this experience was conducive to education, thanks in large part to Dal’s ability to hire great professors. After she had passed out our exams, my prof went down the thin, beige line, handing out a couple of lifesavers to each student to suck on while we plugged ourselves into the exam-writing machine. This small act of thoughtfulness was enough to remind me that I was, in fact, a human being about to finish my second year of university.
Unfortunately, the feel-good vibe was interrupted by the announcer, who snapped at the masses to listen up when the chatter reached a crescendo. But why would we listen? The only thing distinguishing him from the rest of us is the microphone in his hand. There is absolutely nothing in that environment that is conducive to the dignity of the individual.
Rather than a place of learning, then, the Dalplex exam experience is an exercise in sheer, grit-your-teeth-and-do-it will. The architecture of the space destroys any benefit students gain from writing an exam; it is lost somewhere between the revolving doors and the end of the black corridor. Students spend the last twenty-five percent or more of their grade in a state of dull terror.
In the face of this procedure, Dal’s commitment to educational inspiration feels like a sick joke. The Dalplex is a great space to train the body, but it takes more than hiding the equipment to make it a welcome place for the mind.