campus encounters

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Bryn Mawr College

Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA (visited 1/25/12)

This is another college that made me want a do-over! Even on an overcast day in January, this was one of the most beautiful campuses I have seen. It has a very gothic feel (and is the first college I’ve seen with Cloisters!); the buildings, mostly built of gray stone, were spaced out on the rolling hills. The buildings are kept traditional on the outside but are mostly modern on the inside. The dorms still have the traditional, old-building feel inside, as well, with high ceilings, a lot of wood, and big windows.

The honor code is a huge deal on campus. I saw the first concrete example of how it plays out in real-life was in the dorms: shoes were left outside doors, laundry detergent was left on shelves by the washers, bathroom supplies were tucked into cubbies near the doorways of the bathrooms. No one touched other people’s things. This goes into the academic side of campus, as well: if a professor leaves students’ assignments outside the office door, the students will only look at and take their own work; they will not take other people’s graded work. There were many more examples of the honor code on the academic side, as well. Two aspects of the Academic Honor Code stuck out in my mind: first, students don’t discuss grades amongst themselves. Part of the culture is that they compete only with themselves. Also, finals are self-scheduled; during finals week, students know the time frame in which they have to finish their exams, but when and where they take each one is up to the individual student.

The traditions are well-established and my tour guide spoke highly of them. Her description of passing on the lanterns was spectacular. She said one of the best parts of campus was the sense of community. People looked out for each other, and the administration looked out for the students. In the dorms, RAs and other Residential staff regularly held “teas” (the generic term for an organized activity) that bring people together. 97% of the students live on campus which is impressive and speaks well of the residential program, the feeling of community, and the culture of the campus. Academic departments also regularly host Teas which happen at least once a semester, and often much more frequently than that. Classes have an average of 14 students, and my tour guide said that the professors really get to know the students and care about their success. The administration also listen to the students, who are active in student government and highly out-spoken about what they would like to see changed on campus. The food has been changed to provide more options and create less waste. The newest library is open and light, two things the students wanted in a learning environment. Because light is not good for the longevity of the books, the designer took both needs into consideration. The library is 3 stories high and can be entered at the top or the bottom (people suffering from vertigo should NOT enter at the top!). Half the library is open from floor-to-ceiling with sky-lights and lots of open study spaces, and the stacks are tucked under the other half there the sunlight won’t hit them directly.

Students have to take classes in Areas of Inquiry which act like distribution requirements, and there is also the 360 program which is a yearly thematic approach to classes. Right now, the theme is Education in Sub-Saharan Africa. Two classes that my tour guide particularly liked during her time at the college were “Biology and Mental Illness” and “Women in 17th Century Spain.” The college thought through all aspects of facilities to provide education consistent with its mission, including calibrating science lab benches and stools to the average height of women. How cool is that?

(c) 2012

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