As students at the College of William and Mary, we often become so wrapped up in the campus community that we forget how people outside the College view us. I have recently begun volunteering at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions once a week, talking to prospective students and their families while they wait for campus tours. These interactions have made me think about the College’s reputation, both on and off campus.
I am fairly certain that the admissions office would cringe at my encounter with a shockingly large tour group of football recruits on Kappa Delta’s Campus Golf day. I hate to think what the poor parents thought as they watched me galloping across the Sunken Garden, dressed as a dalmatian and trailed by a crew of firemen. “Just another Saturday at the College,” I wanted to explain. Ironically, while the parents were probably horrified at the public display of (ahem) “happiness” that is rampant on days like Blowout and Campus Golf, the prospective students were likely delighted at the idea of participating in such debauchery for the next four years.
These episodes remind me of what non-William and Mary students must think of the College and its proximity to Colonial Williamsburg. When asked by one particularly charming mother at the admissions office what living “next door to a theme park,” was like, I naively assumed that she was referring to Busch Gardens. I took this as a cue to brag about the College’s discount day at the park and the advantages of living a mere 10 miles from such a renowned amusement park. I was dismayed to realize that she was, in fact, contemptuously referring to CW as a theme park. I suppose she equated colonial reenactors, horse-drawn carriages, masses of elementary students and the occasional fireworks show with the makings of a theme park. As this realization dawned on me, I grew defensive of what I consider to be America’s historic playground and assured her that most students do not consider CW a mere amusement park. She simply scoffed at my response and held fast to her opinion that living across the street from historical recreation was an undesirable and simply ridiculous thing to do.
Following my conversations with the high schoolers and their parents, I began to reflect upon the college tour that I had taken as a junior in high school. I certainly hope that I didn’t seem as naive as this year’s applicants, although I have a sneaking suspicion that college students regarded me with just as much, if not more, frustration and pity. I vividly remember taking tours of colleges up and down the east coast, hearing the same, predictable questions over and over again. It was always the parents, usually the mothers, demanding information about the average SAT scores, the number of campus organizations and the quality of the dormitories.
In retrospect, I realize that no tour guide or admissions officer in their right mind is going to provide totally honest answers to these questions. When asked how I have liked my dorm rooms over my past three years at the College, I diplomatically respond that they have been of the highest quality and comfort level.
I refrain from sharing the fact that, as a sophomore, I was lodged in a basement room the size of a small storage closet. Nor do I mention that this room was kept at a constant of 90 degrees, or that I had the company of approximately 35 friendly cockroaches throughout the school year.
It is right that we should downplay these issues which, in the scheme of things, are secondary to the real substance of college life. Looking back, it seems that touring a college campus on a day when hoards of students are dressed as the Spice Girls, Tetris blocks, the founding fathers or characters from “Cool Runnings” would have been by far the best indicator that this college was the place I wanted to be. After all, it is much more than just the dorm rooms, the hundreds of clubs and organizations on campus, and the colonial village across the street that make the College the place that it is.
__Emily Walker is the Confusion Corner columnist. She sincerely hopes that all parents of prospective students refrain from reading this article. If her boss at admissions asks, the description of the dorm rooms was an exaggeration and in no way accurately reflects the condition of housing at the College.__