Monday, February 17, 2014

Alone In A Crowd

Nobody noticed he was gone.

Nobody asked if anyone had seen Nicholas Barnes. Nobody knocked on his door or even so much as rattled the knob.

Until a foul odor wafted down the halls of the International House at the University of Chicago, student Nicholas Barnes was not missed. His body was discovered on the floor of his room after the nasty smell was traced there and the door was opened.
A typical room at U of C

The dormitory is a crowded place. The rooms are small and the student body large, but Nicholas Barnes was wholly alone in that crowd and nobody noticed that he was around. For days they did not notice. Enough days for decomposition to set in, for the stench to make things unpleasant in the dormitory filled with his fellow students.

He missed classes during those days after he died alone. Those he shared a classroom with didn't think anything of it. Or they had no idea who Nicholas Barnes was, so busy were they with their own course load and their personal pursuit of academic excellence.

Was Mr. Barnes a loner, so completely capable of isolating himself and insulating himself from contact? How is it possible for a person to go through two years at a prestigious university and not have any friends? Not mere acquaintances, but colleagues with a spark of feeling for another that went beyond the selfish interests and extended to a touch of concern for another.

Nobody noticed because nobody cared.

The University of Chicago is looking into the situation, but the administration will have to delve deep into the university's ethos to find an answer to the question. How could a student be so alone as to die and not be missed? How did it happen that a link on Facebook provided the news to other residents of the dormitory? Do none of them talk to each other, socialize or mingle, or are they all too busy in their own little worlds of study and scholarship? Do they see their Facebook friends as real people who care about them? Why go through the trouble of connecting with living, breathing human beings when you can click on a link and add a new friend to your collection?

And is this the sort of place that a parent would wish to send their child, especially one who might be gifted academically but socially retiring?

No comments: