Is your complaint a want or a need?

The two most common complaints on a college campus are:

  1. There’s not enough parking.
  2. The food isn’t good enough.

University administrators tend to ignore these complaints, for good reason. Why?

  1. There’s actually plenty of parking, but some spots aren’t as close as we’d prefer. We’re just complaining about a five-minute walk.
  2. The food isn’t world-class, but it’s certainly good enough. When colleges invest in expensive food, they don’t invest in something else. When that something else is money for needy students, it becomes a social justice issue. Malcolm Gladwell recently took Bowdoin to task on this.

Most of our complaints are wants, disguised as needs. They warrant a conversation, they warrant understanding, but they probably don’t warrant significant action, because they’re not significant in the first place.

Significant numbers of students in the United States don’t have enough money to eat by the end of the semester. After the price of tuition, fees, and books, they rely on food banks and granola bars from health centers for sustenance. Some nights they don’t eat at all.

That’s a need.


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