Senior Scare Tactics

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In mid-October, while riding in the shuttle from Bronxville back to campus, I overheard two seniors discussing our campus’ safety. “Yeah, someone was assaulted on Kimball.” “Oh I didn’t know; did you hear about the latest sexual harassment thing?”

A freshman in the van seemed bewildered–apparently she hasn’t figured out how to check her SLC email address yet. When she asked, for clarification, one of the seniors said, “Yeah, Sarah Lawrence seems to deteriorate every year. They’re letting different people in so they can make more money.”

Students love this refrain: “Sarah Lawrence is changing, the school is losing its ideals, the endowment is the problem.” Seniors especially disparage the lower classes–they’re always shockingly “normal,” reducing Sarah Lawrence’s inherent eccentricity. The seniors in 2010 said it about my class, and now we’re taking our spin on the shit-talking merry-go-round.

It’s funny that this petty outrage continues, proof that while incoming students might seem “normal” when they arrive at Sarah Lawrence, they always develop a sense of superiority as they rise. We shave our heads and get to know Foucault. Everyone else is basic by comparison.

I caught up with the first-year when we got out of the van. I told her seniors are jaded–I experienced the same scare tactics my freshman year here. I told her not to worry. She looked relieved and thanked me.

We didn’t receive any emails notifying us of sexual assaults during fall 2010, my first semester at Sarah Lawrence. There was no cop car on the corner of Kimball. We still operated in an environment of uncertainty–I looked at Brown’s transfer tab more than once. But unlike with an Ivy League or state school, you don’t stay at Sarah Lawrence because you should (too prestigious not to) or just because you can (cheap). Those of us who are seniors are not here by accident.

Just as it was a choice for us to stay, it will be a choice for the talented, eager individuals that make up our current freshman class. That makes the assaults on campus this year all the more frightening; they will scare this class away.

What will keep them here are the relationships and the culture they’ve found in the midst of the unease. When this year’s freshmen go home for the holidays, they should have more to recount than the harrowing series of assaults our campus has faced.

We have all produced plays, exhibited sculptures, thrown parties, presented pitches. We are small in population but we are productive. Maybe more importantly, our quarters are close. We attend classes where students of every grade gather, and those courses total 15 people. As we work, we have ample opportunity to connect across class lines.

It’s time we stop blaming the first-years for making Sarah Lawrence “normal.” They are not, and they certainly won’t be after late nights in Heimbold and repeated Blue Room exposure. Of course our campus is changing, because every year we welcome 300 new people who shake up the status quo (a Sarah Lawrence tendency, after all). We can stay supportive and continue championing our incredible education if we can better consider our classmates. It is the first-years especially who keep Sarah Lawrence living; let’s take good care of them.

Image by: Hortense Lingjaerde ‘16

Ella Riley-Adams (Founder, Editor-in-chief) comes from a small town in Southern Oregon. She enjoys champagne, soccer and swimming in ponds. When not immersed in Sarah Lawrence affairs, Ella works for NYC marketing and tech blog The New York Egotist and The Faster Times. Follow her on twitter @ellarileyadams.

8 Comments

  • Reply November 18, 2013

    Ari Jones

    Three cheers for this article from a senior.

    But also it’s okay for some first years to be scared away, so long as they’re scared away by what makes Sarah Lawrence great (classes, radicalism, size) and not by surprising, uncharacteristic events, like the recent sexual assaults.

    • Reply November 20, 2013

      Beverly Jens

      This article seemed a bit bias… I think that it’s generalizing to say the freshmen class is too ‘normal’… it’s a large class. That’s a lot of assumptions but more importantly I think it would be nice if older classmen could be more inclusive and friendly. I remember as a freshman being sandwiched in between a lot of older student housing and feeling like I was already on my own in a city apartment building… not exactly an expected dorm experience!

      More importantly I think we should take the assaults seriously (you mention the cop car on Kimball and I hope you don’t mean the entirely empty cop cars that stay empty all day long… weird choice of security detail, but ok!) and even point out that SLC is changing and it needs to be able to really IMPROVE! It’s true! The campus safety isn’t the only problem but it’s a significant one.

  • Reply November 18, 2013

    Stephen Ira

    This campus has a sexual assault problem. It’s become clear in recent months that the campus, or at least the surrounding area, also has a serious problem with violent homophobia. (Go back and check through your security alert emails.) Talking about these problems is not a “scare tactic,” it’s just being a good community member who’s aware of what’s going on around them.

    This article fails to address Sarah Lawrence’s recent substantial changes in admissions policy. From my perspective as a senior who worked in the admissions office for two years (I was also working for them at the beginning of this year, and recently quit), the statement that “they’re letting different people in so they can make more money” is absolutely true.

    Last year, a new Dean of Enrollment was hired, Mary Beth Carey. She was hired for her skills with recruiting students. She did not have any context for a college like Sarah Lawrence, having not previously worked at a small liberal arts school with an experimental pedagogy. She left the college at the end of last year–the specific reasons for this have not been made public. She took the admissions department in a radically new direction, one which most students at Sarah Lawrence expressed dissatisfaction with. I can’t speak to how many of her policies currently survive, but I think knowing about her time here offers vital context to why so many seniors are frustrated and angry.

    The college is undergoing a financial crisis, and a large part of the solution the current administration proposes is to admit more students. That’s why the freshman classes keep growing, and we now also have a campus housing crisis with singles turning into doubles and doubles into triples. The administrative officials pushing this changes in admission policy along think that part of the reason they don’t get huge amounts of applications is not that Sarah Lawrence is a self-selecting institution (which is how it’s designed to work), but because our image is not “mainstream” enough. This is why we have seen an increased emphasis on student athletics, including prospective student athletes being given separate tours through Campbell by coaches and other athletic officials that do not offer the same amount of information about Sarah Lawrence’s unique pedagogy and academic approach.

    Lastly, and perhaps most importantly: I did not come to this college to study with a bunch of men. I came here to be surrounded by women. As a queer man and as a transsexual, I feel safer in woman-dominated and woman-centered communities. Now there are a bunch of men. This isn’t why I came here, and I don’t like it. I like plenty of these men on an individual level. That doesn’t change the fact that I came here to be in a woman-centered environment–instead of a man-centered environment, like most other colleges and also the entire world.

  • Reply November 18, 2013

    Stephen Ira

    also, it’s spelled “Kimball”

  • Reply November 18, 2013

    Katrina Walker

    From the moment I sent foot on campus, I knew I wanted to be here. It felt right. But there was a little voice in my head screaming “Are you sure?” The disparaging narrative of little social life, general stereotypes of students, and being “Sarah-Lawrenced”are not encouraging to a perspective student. But I persisted, and I am very glad I did. I remember a morning of piercing anxiety after reading articles on SLCspeaks, OverheardAtSLC and more. I began to doubt my choice, worried that maybe I would not like Sarah Lawrence as much as I imagined. I emailed a student that I knew, who is in the year above me, asking “Is this what it really is like”. She reassured me that it could be, if thats what you make it, but reminded me that there are lots of cynical students at any college. I am not thrilled with the changing male/female ratio, or the increased size, but that does not make the choice I made to come here this fall the wrong one in my mind. I was lucky, I made some friends with older students last spring when I was hear for admitted student’s day, and had mentors. I applaud upperclassmen who have reached out to me and other first years, becoming mentors. I went to a high school much like Sarah Lawrence in that it’s students quickly become jaded. I remember my mom asking me if I wanted to stay and I said “As long as I can find one thing to remind myself why I am there each day, then I want to stay”. I have found more than one thing everyday here, from bonding sessions with my roommate, or heartfelt conversations with my Don.

  • Reply November 19, 2013

    Anonymous

    I’d refrain from calling these scare tactics. As Stephen said, seniors are not trying to scare small first years with actual facts about the school. The school is having a problematic semester and discussion should be allowed.

    I agree though. There’s too much blame on the kids that seem misplaced here. They really shouldn’t be blamed, regardless of who they are. For a lot of kids this school was falsely advertised. They shouldn’t be made to feel uncomfortable to the point where they transfer, but they should definitely be made aware of what will and what won’t stand at our school.

    Very interesting article

  • Reply November 20, 2013

    Sonia

    Assault is not unique to Sarah Lawrence. It is a human problem. It really pisses me off that people are using this horrible issue as a platform to voice their complaints at the administration. I’m really glad I’m abroad so I don’t have to deal with these futile attempts of rallies and discussions about sexual consent. It’s not a problem that can be solved by administrative policies. Yes, they could work on building a better support system for victims, but they are not responsible for bringing rapists onto campus. Rape happens everywhere. It’s a malady of man. And for christ’s sake people, this isn’t Penn State. Academia and general well being are always going to come before athletics. As a member of a sports team, I can assure the naysayers that there are many queer athletes. Athletes come here because they both enjoy sports AND academics; the douche bags you knew in high school are still going to be choosing state schools. I should also add that in compliance with NCAA DIII rules, SLC’s coaches can’t really sway admissions decisions and the school can’t give athletic scholarships. And I for one am excited for a changing gender ratio. I’m tired of having female dominated classes and seeing my straight friends feel ugly and beaten because they can’t get dates. It’s not an issue of being more “mainstream”, I think SLC simply wants to be more well rounded. So here’s to change and growth; I hope to find more self-driven and curious first years when I return next year.

  • Reply November 26, 2013

    tadoe

    if i can prove you’re heterosexual, its fucking over

    i’m on the prowl with my composite bow

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