Denison University (visited 4/13/12)
I drove into town expecting this to feel very much the same was as many of the other small Ohio towns I had been driving into. Instead, I was met with a quaint, very clean, very walkable couple blocks of “downtown” with almost a New England town feel. Traffic was light enough for me to cruise slowly down main street looking for a coffee shop and/or a place to pick up a sandwich; turns out I could do both in the same place. I took my stuff to go and drove around the block to the entrance to campus, at which point I had to wind my way up a large hill. Suddenly, I crested the hill and was on campus with imposing brick buildings and more winding roads forking off in a variety of directions.
The campus makes the university feel like it has a much larger population than it has; the 2,000ish students have access to a huge variety of resources (and as a new person coming on campus, I was hugely grateful for the very well-marked signs getting people around campus!). Most buildings are large brick structures which contributed to what I would describe as traditional-looking. I particularly liked that the college deliberately arranged the academic departments: classes for the department and the corresponding faculty offices occupy the same hallways so that classes, labs, and most importantly, the professors are easily accessible. The campus itself is set up around several Quads; academics and some residential units are mixed together (although this is not completely the case). For example, there’s an art quad way down the hill by the entrance to the university with dorms for upper-classmen so they can live close to the majority of their classes if they choose to do so; however, there is a nice mix of where people live so it does not have a feeling of segregation by major (self-imposed or otherwise).
Perhaps the coolest housing option I’ve seen so far is their “Homestead” which is an off-campus cooperative, alternative-energy housing option (and animals are allowed in this housing option). This is a student-run house which holds 12 students at a time who want to learn more about sustainability. Freshmen are housed in traditional-style dorms: double rooms with smallish bathrooms down the hall. However, the bathrooms have actual shower stalls with doors that close rather than shower curtains which is nicer than some other dorm bathrooms that I’ve seen. Only two dorms have more than 200 students; four housing options hold six students each. The university is in the process of building new apartments for seniors; all students are required to live on campus, but they make an effort to “reward” the upperclassmen with better housing that almost phases them into the real world. The apartments have kitchens and the residents are not required to have meal plans. There are two dining halls on campus which make it easy to get meals regardless of where students live or where they are for classes.
My tour guide described Denison as a bit of hippy campus, although it didn’t entirely come across that way as an observer. Students are definitely independent and go-getters, but also looked a bit preppy; overall, the students I saw walking around campus were a little more dressed up than students at many other campuses I’ve been on. People on campus engaged with each other, saying hi and addressing each other by name (this went for the professor-student interactions I witnessed as well). Students and faculty were all over campus for the duration of my time there, not just during the passing-times between classes. All of this backed up the community feel that the tour guide talked about. One of the things that she particularly liked about campus was the large nature preserve contiguous with campus that students use to hike, do environmental research, and even go camping in. She appreciated two other areas about the college that she felt were worth mentioning: one was that no class is bigger than 32, and she has had many classes with fewer than 10 students. The second was that she got to take Homeric Greek which she didn’t even consider until college and realized it was an option (they also teach Portuguese, French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic on a regular basis and some other languages as requested). Certificate Programs in some unusual areas such as Neuroscience, Queer Studies, Astronomy, and Geophysics are offered. Students interested in the Public Service, Political Science, or Government can join the Lugar Scholars Program (named for a State Senator who graduated from Denison in the 50s); the two tracks allow students to focus on American Politics or International Affairs.