When students teach

In the chaotic splendor of a fall semester’s first week at the College of William and Mary, it would be easy not to notice a small, yet dignified group of students known as Prime Tribers. They are transfer students, all over the age of 24. This year, the College welcomed nine more — five are parents and several are former members of the armed forces, all with their own experiences, passions and reasons for furthering their education. While Prime Tribers have much to offer due to their knowledge and life experience, their age difference can also create distance between them and younger students, which is why the College should do more to orient them and why both Prime Tribers and regular students ought to reach out to one another.

These students do not start their College careers with a vast freshman community of 1,500 students with which to surround themselves. As they are many years past high school, their jumping off points for acceptance into the College are also quite different. Thus, their needs as students may differ from the needs of traditional students. To accommodate them, not only should the College provide a more thorough orientation for Prime Tribers, it should continue throughout the year to provide them with a support system. This would allow them to talk about the unique challenges of attending college later in life and foster a community among potentially disparate students.

To get the most out of the College, Prime Tribers also need to reach out to other students. Often times, students may mistake them for faculty or visiting parents and may not approach them. Prime Tribers need to make it known they are students. They could get involved in campus organizations and activities or even be a little more vocal in class. One Prime Triber, Greg Skipworth ’14, fully embodies this mentality. Having served in the Navy for two decades and spent two years at Thomas Nelson Community College, he dove head first into campus life, joining multiple clubs and rushing a fraternity.

Additionally, Prime Tribers can teach traditional students things they cannot learn inside a classroom. And those students can help them, too, but only if they do their part to reach out. While a college education provides traditional students with extraordinary background knowledge and analytical skills they will draw on for decades, it fails to provide them with something that’s much simpler, but equally as fundamental: the ability to feel comfortable communicating with a person from an unfamiliar walk of life. Traditional students have grown accustomed to operating in a world composed almost entirely of 18 to 22 year olds, and that isn’t at all conducive to one of higher education’s most basic goals — broadening one’s understanding of the world and the people who live in it. It shouldn’t be the case that, for instance, a student feels more comfortable writing a bibliography for a research paper than having a substantive conversation with a 50-year-old.

The College cannot claim to be a bastion of diversity if it is not willing to embrace Prime Tribers. Imagine attending college for the first time surrounded by students half your age who are likely wondering what on earth you are doing there, and you can begin to understand the bravery of many Prime Tribers. Make them comfortable. Welcome them into your classrooms and into your hearts.


  1. I was very happy to find this—thank you for this editorial. I’ve just returned to W&M after having been away from the College on medical leave for about 11 years. I hadn’t heard of Prime Tribers until reading this, but perhaps I am one. I’m taking just one class this semester, and for my own reasons, that in and of itself is an adjustment for me which is a challenge. I’m not quite sure yet how to approach the idea of being part of the community at W&M; I still feel as if I slipped in the backdoor, and it’s quite a surreal experience. It’s a rather unceremonious return, but it makes sense that it would be. It’s an unusual situation. I had my orientation of course as a freshman back in 2001, but I was unwell and was absent from many of the experiences others had. I can’t say that I ever had the experience so many people speak of. And I don’t expect it now. I am very happy to be back taking classes. I’m not sure what else there will be, but whatever it is will be gravy.

    • Swingerofbirches,
      It’s very admirable to have made your way back to W&M. I’m sure a wonderful adventure awaits you. Sounds like you fit the bill perfectly, Prime Triber! I am sure they will welcome you aboard with open arms. May your cup runneth over, with gravy.


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