Salem College (visited 3/17/17)
Salem is impressive and seems to have its act together. This historical women’s college sits in the middle of historic Salem (complete with people in period-costumes giving tours), minutes from downtown Winston-Salem. The Welcome Center is in the original building built in the 1700s by the Moravian Sisters who walked down here from Bethlehem, PA. Although founded on Moravian traditions, they’re no longer affiliated but hold onto some traditions. There’s a large Moravian Church adjacent to campus; they hold a candlelight Christmas service every year followed by a traditional chicken pie dinner for all students who want to attend.
“The diversity here surprised me,” said the rep, herself a recent graduate of Salem. “It’s not the stereotypical southern school.” She says that it’s “heavily liberal” and estimates that about 70% would self-identify as Democrats. About half the students come from NC with the highest numbers of out-of-state students coming from Texas (accounting for much of their Latina population), then MD, VA, and SC. They have clubs for all faiths and ethnicities.
Their Center for Inclusiveness and Diversity sits physically in the middle of campus “because why not put it front and center? We want it to be important.” They hold Round Tables and Open Mics on Wednesdays, discussing everything from politics to current events to ethnic relations. “It’s all about education and discussion,” said the tour guide. “They even did one on hair once.” It’s a safe space, and sometimes faculty aren’t allowed to attend so students can openly discuss issues. Other times, faculty will lead the round tables.
“A lot of women don’t want to come to a women’s college because they don’t want the drama. Of course, you eliminate the men which often cause the drama.” This isn’t to say that they’re living in a bubble. They’re in a city with other universities around (UNC School of the Arts is a little over a mile away, and Wake Forest and Winston-Salem State are also in town; add High Point and all the Greensboro schools, and there are huge numbers of college students within 45 minutes). “The drama here is about people coming from different backgrounds. People learn from each other. They grow because of it.” The rep told a story about initially having problems with a woman on her hall until she realized the behavior was from upbringing and just not knowing anything else; the two of them ended up talking and learning from each other and were in each other’s weddings.
The fact that Salem is so centrally located among other colleges means expanded opportunities. Students get free tickets to Wake Forest and some Winston-Salem State games and are free to join their Color Guards among other things. Almost 1/3 of Wake’s Color Guard comes from Salem, including their Drum Major for the past 3 years.
All students live on campus unless they commute from home or there are extenuating circumstances (medical issues, etc). There are some off-campus suites within walking distance that are college-owned. These are within easy walking distance (5-7 minutes according to the tour guide), but all students can have cars. Parking costs $60 a year and is relatively easy to find. They can also use bikes that they check out at the student center. Dorms have open visitation policies: in the freshmen dorms, males can visit 24 hours on weekends (until midnight during the week) with all-week 24-hour visitation in upperclass dorms.
Food rates a 7 on a 1-10 scale. The main dining hall is the traditional all-you-can-eat, but there’s also the Café where students can get sandwiches and other grab-an-go items. They get 4 meal exchanges per week that they can use at the café, no more than 1 per day. On Tuesdays and Fridays, the school brings Chic-fil-a sandwiches to the Café. “It starts at 11:30 and goes until they run out.”
Downtown is a 7-10 minute walk from campus giving students access to the Innovation Quarter, film festivals, all the businesses and stores. They do lots of internships in town including working in the Wake hospitals or labs. There’s also a ton going on on campus (including movies in the theater, often with popcorn. “Students bring blankets and pillows. It’s great!” said the tour guide. “If you’re bored here, it’s because you aren’t leaving your room.”
A favorite tradition is Fall Fest which serves as a type of homecoming (there’s obviously no football). The students get the Wednesday after Labor Day off (they don’t get that Monday off), and they hold a day-long competition between classes including skits, singing competitions, and more. The Freshman get their Big Sisters on that day.
Classes are actively discussion or hand-on based with classes topping out in the 20s. The January Term classes tend to be more experiential; these were the tour guide’s favorites. One of them focused on prep for law school and careers in the field; they shadowed people, had deans from law schools talk to them, went to court houses, etc. The tour guide’s largest class was 23 in an intro class and 7 in a seminar. The Honor Code allows them to self-schedule exams during the week-long exam periods.
Sciences are strong with the usual majors offered (bio, chem, biochem, and envi sci). Chairs in labs are built for a female body, taking into account the bigger hip ratio and shape of the back. The environmental, eco-friendly movement is strong around campus. For example, the confetti at graduation is all biodegradable, and students are given reusable coffee mugs when they arrive so they don’t throw coffee cups in the trash.
Arts are a big deal at Salem. The have a huge fine arts building; the bottom floor has greenhouse windows for light. The building is full of display spaces. Students can major in Art, Studio Art, Art Management, Design, and Art History with minors/certificates/concentrations in Historic Preservation, Interior Design, Architectural Studies, and Visual Literature.
May Dell Amphitheater is a central point on campus. Orientation and graduation are both held there (among other events in good weather). At orientation, this is where they sign the honor code. A couple years ago, they started a new tradition where students “get their daisies,” the signature flower of the school. “It’s a cool ceremony; I’m sad they started right after my year!” said the tour guide, a junior. “Students walk up, a little like graduation, and are handed a daisy by the president. The idea is that we get a daisy now and the diploma later. We come full circle at May Dell.”