WELLESLEY COLLEGE (visited 4/11/14)
I was surprised at what a sprawling campus this is. There is a lot of open space filled with fields, ponds, and wooded areas. I asked one of the students if she ever felt unsafe walking around, since parts of the campus actually have a very rural feel to it; she said it’s relatively well lit, but it can be a bit creepy at times. The rep added that the campus is located in a “very quintessential New England town with a lot of money; the town has small boutiques, Starbucks, and more. Although that certainly doesn’t preclude things from happening, it’s a safe area in general.”
There were lots of students walking around; I think partially because of the expansive nature of the campus, I didn’t see too many people interacting with each other. Most people were walking alone or with one other person, and it was rare to see anyone greeting others as they passed. I did see small groups of people in the student center talking and socializing, but mostly people seemed to just be going about their business.
This is a highly residential campus. 98% of students live on campus all four years. The largest dorm of the 19 options on campus is The Tower with 650 residents. All residence halls are integrated across grades; there are no freshmen-only or solely upperclassmen halls, although juniors and seniors do tend to have singles. Our tour guide said that there was a real sense of passing information down through the years; older students give advice about classes, clubs, and more.
Many of the buildings retain their original character, but they’ve built, added, and renovated as necessary. The Science and Math library is in the modern extension of the Science building. From a distance, it looks like they’re doing renovations on it, but as we got closer, I realized that the architecture just looks that way. They built onto the old building so the open, multi-level atrium is light and open with a wall of exposed brick. They also have an astronomy and physics library is attached to the observatory, a fine arts library, and a main library.
Wellesley has instituted a Shadow Grading policy for the students’ first semester. Although they get grades internally, the transcript just says P/F. They recognize that there’s an adjustment period, and they wanted to take the pressure off as well as encourage risk-taking. They also see that it creates a broad foundation of learning in which they gain skills and tools that help regardless of the field (how to research and write a compelling paper, present in class, argue or debate a point, thoughtfully participate, think critically about an issue from different angles). I asked if Grad Schools have a problem with this; because it’s a school policy rather than a choice on the student’s part, there isn’t an issue (and several other schools like Swarthmore, Olin, and MIT do this as well). Grad schools will know that it’s a standard process and not that the student has elected to do that.
About 40% of students double major. They have the option to cross-register at Babson, Olin, and MIT. The bus to MIT is free on weekdays, but there’s a small fee on weekends so they can use it for recreation purposes as well. The tour guide believes that their location and relationship with partner schools changes who they are and helps them stand out among other women’s colleges (although certainly there are other schools that have similar profiles). She doesn’t feel that there’s any sense of cloistering. Overall, it’s been a very positive experience for her. She said that people there just expect that women are in leadership positions (including 65% of tenured faculty).
The First Year Experience program includes seminars in which college-level writing is stressed. Our tour guide’s writing class was about women and gender studies; her seminar was “Play, Electricity, and Democracy” about Pre-K education in the US. Overall, classes usually run with 17-25 students. Some intro level lectures are 45-50, but often these are broken down to labs or discussions. Students strive to do well, but it’s a “self-competitive environment” rather than one in which students compete with each other. “It’s supportive in academics and socially, as well. It’s the nicest relationship I’ve had with other women my own age.” With a 96% retention rate, I imagine that others would agree.
Our guide said that “we love our traditions here! Lake Day is a secret celebration until you’re here. Dorms also often come up with their own traditions.” Flower Sunday is one tradition that several students brought up. Every first-year student is assigned a big sister, and on Flower Sunday, her older sister is introduced to her and gives flowers to the first year.