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