An anthropology professor at Northern Arizona University enrolled herself as a freshman back in 2002 to study the cultural phenomenon of freshman life (she had earlier studied natives on Tonga Island.) She published a book on her findings (hitting paperback next month) called My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student.
Anyway, from this piece in the NYtimes, a lot of what she found at NAU can be applied to Wesleyan. It’s a universal experience and as a sociology major I think her book is a credit to the genre (though, granted a 50+ year-old Ph.D is surely going to have a different experience and a whole different set of cultural insights, biases and filters than a 18-year-old gay guy, but still it’s nonetheless interesting).
From the article:
On the academic culture:
“Her book found today’s students “not as elite, not as prepared” for college as earlier generations, she said, and burdened with debt. “They’re more practical in their education,” she said.
Up close, she found that they could be intellectually engaged, but that rather than engaging in political or philosophical discussions, students were more likely to talk about how they pulled off specific assignments, often with a minimum of effort. They saw fitting in to campus culture as crucial, and purely academic or intellectual quests as only tangential to their education.
“I think people are more engaged than the veneer suggests, but there definitely was a push to show one’s disinterest in the academic side of life,” Professor Small said.”
Initially, the prospect was frightening. Her first night of orientation, Professor Small said, she took her cue from other students, many of whom packed up their pillows and went to stay with their parents in hotel rooms around town. She headed home.
“I was, like, panicking,” she said, slipping into college-student cadence. “It’s very disorienting to be out of your place.”
A la carte lifestyles:
She also found that the university had unintentionally fragmented the student body by offering a plethora of options on many aspects of student life. Everything from course loads to living arrangements can be tailored to suit individual tastes, but the results reduced the chances that undergraduates would mix with people unlike themselves.
“In her book, Professor Small wrote about the art on dorm room doors, which she sees as personal billboards, advertising the occupants as carefree, spontaneous, fun-loving and sexually adventurous. One door to a women’s dorm room had a sign up board for male classmates to say hi, and condoms for the taking.
On the women’s doors, there was usually a white message board, where notes from friends were seldom erased. Men would post affectionate or saucy letters from women. Each was a way of broadcasting the popularity of the person within, Professor Small said.”
“She found the students were highly practical, with friends calling on one another for shopping trips, meals and lifts to classes.”
And she noticed that most friendships were forged early in the freshman year, so that she, living among upperclassmen, made friends mostly among other outsiders, including transfer and foreign students.
A lot of what she writes about can be applied to any college in America, including Wesleyan. It’s an interesting work to look back on as an upperclassmen and see just how er, not unique we were and for up and coming frosh for a glimpse at what’s coming.
I recommend taking it with a grain of salt that this how all freshmen act and thus you should act accordingly. I’ve made some good friends my freshman year, but I’ve made some equally good friends my sophomore year (with students I never met before, transfers and even foreign students, omg).
Yes, the cell phone thing is true and after every class, you will see the flip phones flip and hear “Where are you? Seriously? Yeah? What? Yeah?” Or now the iPods go in the ears and everyone returns to their own little worlds of one. I recommend you break that habit before it starts and make an effort to talk to people walking out of your class (perhaps about the class?) or keeping your head up when walking across the campus green and saying hi to people.
Be social and you will be liked (by most people; some people are just cranky assholes and don’t like anyone). Also, drop Nat Webb‘s name into any conversation. “I saw Nat Webb riding a stuffed lobster down Foss Hill last year when I visited” or “Nat Webb has a pet hawkmoth named Bojangles.” Seriously. Do it. DOOO it.