campus encounters

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Reed College

REED COLLEGE (visited 7/19/13)

A piece of playground equipment near the student union

A piece of playground equipment near the student union

Reed students are often described as “quirky intellectuals.” Having visited campus, I see why. The students are “serious about academics but who don’t take themselves too seriously,” says Melinda Brown, Associate Dean of Admissions (a Reed alumna from Colorado). People care about their work, are zany, and are not bound by social constraints. They’re interested in building a playful space on campus (such as by turning couches into see-saws), and they form clubs like CAVE (Carnivorous Alternatives to Vegetarian Eating). However, I was turned off the students’ pretentiousness, as were several other counselors. They’re definitely smart and quirky, both of which are great; however, everything seemed to be about showing off just how smart and quirky they were. Intellectualism is highly valued, and they don’t want to let people forget it. One of the tour guides, when we asked what he would like to change about Reed said, “Sometimes the student body is a little jaded and act too experienced in order to fit in; usually this is the freshmen but they get over it.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like a lot of them have gotten over it.

A Graffiti Board about the Honor Code.

A Graffiti Board about the Honor Code.

Within the CTCL schools, Reed is the most selective and is considered one of the most academically elite. It’s a good school for smart but bored students who are emotionally invested in their work. Professors don’t let students coast just because they got in. “We’re a teaching institution that takes students where they are and ratchets them up to where they can’t get on their own.” They’re proud of their “very low grade inflation resulting in an average GPA around a 3.0.” Students get assignments back with extensive written feedback about how to improve, and grades are rarely (if ever) written on the papers themselves. They can find out grades online, but a student said, “If you put in the work, you don’t have to keep checking your grades.” Students are required to attend 30-minute one-on-one feedback sessions about their writing during their First Year Seminar. One panelist told us that he once said to the professor, “I feel like I’ve been hit over the head with a pipe” and the professor said, “Good, then you’re doing it right.”

The students feel that this system minimizes the “How did you do?” question; students rather say “How did you answer that question?” Enrique, a Junior history major, came here because he was impressed that people at Reed were interested in knowing what others THINK. “It’s what you think about and talk about that defines the student body. They aren’t so worried about how they look or how they dress. People will challenge how you think here. People will talk about the big issues and listen to opinions.” Students are happy here; 90-91% return for sophomore year. Enrique told us that Reed does not have the druggy culture of rumor.

Reed sculptureNot surprisingly, students love the academics here. Two of the tour guides’ favorite classes were Maritime in US History and Colonial Latin American Intellectual History. All students complete a final senior thesis (two if they double major; if they only want to complete one thesis, they create one interdisciplinary major). Every department gives students a qualifying exam taken in the Junior year to make sure they have the background knowledge. Some areas will let students qualify with conditions (such as taking an additional class in a weak area). Other areas (like History) have a year-long course to teach them what they need for the thesis, plus an exam. In the biology department, more than half of the students completed research before their senior year.

This is an undergraduate campus (although they do have a tiny graduate program of about 10 people) so there are no graduate students teaching or engaged in research. The current freshmen class is split almost evenly between men and women. About a third self-identify as students of color and 14% are first-gen students. The 1400 students are almost equally split into science, humanities and arts, and social science majors. Approximately a quarter of students go into business and industry, and almost another quarter go into education. Twenty-five percent also go on to get PhDs, putting Reed as 4th in the nation for graduates getting their doctorates.

Although Reed does not give merit aid, need-based aid is strong. “When I came here, I felt like I had gone to heaven because the Financial Aid Program here is robust,” said Leslie Limper, Director of Financial Aid. Reed requires the CSS Profile, and non-custodial parents must fill it out, but there’s a waiver when the non-custodial parent is not in contact. They do expect students to work; $1500 of work-study is put onto their financial aid package. There’s also a loan expectation with $2500 for the first year, increasing by $1000 each year ($16,000 total). They are need-aware in admissions, “We need to be responsible so we can be here in 150 years. We also don’t want to gap students; we want to meet the need of those people we admit.”

The pedestrian bridge connecting the two sizes of campus.

The pedestrian bridge connecting the two sizes of campus.

The campus is split by a lake. The older side of campus houses all the academic buildings and several dorms. The stone and brick buildings shown in Reed’s recruiting pictures are on this side, but there are new buildings, as well. The Theater Building opened in August 2013 and is the second largest building on campus after the library. The atrium is open to humans and dogs (dogs are everywhere on campus!). There are practice rooms that anyone can use (the Gay Man’s Chorus of Portland practices on campus) and there’s an Open Mic every Friday at 4 in the courtyard. Old Dorm Block is the biggest residence hall on campus and is one of the older buildings. “Mid Century Dorm,” a small dorm near the front of campus, has a Mad Scientist Floor and J-Dorm (Japanese Living community).

The residential side of campus.

The residential side of campus.

A long bridge stretches over a lake which takes students to the Residential Side of campus which feels very different. Instead of large brick and stone buildings, many were smaller, wooden, and/or had an institutional dorm feel about them. Many of the freshmen are housed here. Roommates are randomly matched; the only personality question asked is “what type of music do you listen to?” There are several themed living areas such as Fantasy or Art Appreciation. The Language Houses have native speakers here on a Fulbright. Starting in sophomore year, students can live in apartments and can have dogs.

Old Dorm.

Old Dorm.

Ren Fest is the biggest event on campus. Campus is closed to the public during this 3 day festival, held between the end of classes and reading week. It starts with a huge bonfire where seniors burn their notes/drafts of their thesis and run screaming in the library (the only time they can make noise in there). Over the weekend, there are a variety of activities such as Full-Contact Chess games (they wrestle the person in the mud), a formal dance, concerts, and more. Other big campus-wide events include a week-long Arts Week and Fire on the Quad (“everyone leaves covered in wing sauce”). There plenty of weekly activities (one of the most unusual is the massages in the library) but there is no Greek Life or Varsity sports. Students are active at the club and intramural levels in sports like rugby, women’s crew, and ultimate Frisbee. Students need to take 6 quarter-long classes of some activity which can be fulfilled with classes like back-country navigation, winter camping, Latin dancing, contemplative meditation, or juggling.

© 2013

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