William Peace University, visited 3/15/14
WPU is nestled on a pretty campus not too far from downtown Raleigh. This had been a Women’s College under the name of Peace College from 1857 (its founding) through 2012 when it went coed. There was controversy with this move, and some students and professors left. However, it’s also attracted many more students: enrollment has grown from just under 500 students in 2011 to almost 850 in 2014 with a current freshmen class close to 350 students. They’re already at 35% men, several of whom entered as transfer students.
The university was started by William Peace, a Presbyterian minister. Today, although loosely tied to the Presbyterians, there are no religious overtones other than the original chapel still located on campus. There are no required services, but they are offered for interested students. Part of their distribution requirements includes 5 classes under “Critical Thinking about Culture and Society,” one of which is a religion class, but there are several options that will fulfill this.
Our tour guide was Brendan, a sophomore psych major from Harlem. I asked him how he learned about WPU; one of his friends had already applied and was talking about it. The friend had come to visit and told the admissions rep about Brendan; the rest, he says, is history. He loves being in Raleigh: “It reminds me of Times Square without the neon!” Transportation around town is easy; students can take city buses or the NC State shuttle if they have a State ID (given if they take any classes, even a 1 credit gym class, on campus).
Housing is currently the biggest problem. Dorms are spacious and well maintained, but with the recent growth in population, they’re struggling to provide living space. The freshmen and sophomores must live in dorms or university-affiliated housing, including Wolf Creek (an option for sophomores, juniors, and seniors) which also houses students from Shaw, St. Augs, and Meredith colleges, giving students a unique way to expand social circles and creating more of a college community in Raleigh. Since students can also cross-register at these universities (as well as NC State), students are more likely to take advantage of this opportunity because they already have friends on other campuses. They can take up to 5 classes at other campuses towards their majors; after that, the credits count towards electives.
I asked Liz Webb, the admissions rep for my area, what types of classes students often took on other campuses. One example is not many languages are offered at WPU so students often go to State. ROTC is also offered there or at Shaw. There are some chances for students to join Greek life at State, as well, since there are not any Greek options at WPU, but this can be more difficult since it’s such a social thing and the students often don’t get to know people there well enough to rush.
There are several new buildings on campus, but they’ve also maintained the historical buildings. The original building is a beautiful 4-story structure in the middle of campus (on a historical note, it used to be a hospital in the Civil War). Rumors say that the fourth floor is haunted. “I’m not sure I believe it,” said Brendan, “but I stayed there last summer, and if I heard weird noises at night, I definitely didn’t go investigating!” The library is another older building. It’s small but conducive to studying. They rely quite a bit on online journals and other sources, and with the easy accessibility of other university libraries, not having an overwhelming number of books on site isn’t much of a worry.
Two unique majors are Simulation & Game Design and Criminal Justice with a forensics minor being added this coming year. Liz said that she would love to see more programs added, especially in engineering. They offer a BFA which is also unusual for a school this size. They have two beautiful theaters (regular and blackbox), and there are several practice rooms available for musicians. We spoke to one of the girls in the program who was friendly, outgoing, and more than willing to share her experiences. She loves the professors who are active in their fields and get the students out and about in the music and theater worlds; they also bring visiting lecturers in who will do workshops. Students get a lot of experience with auditions before having to head out into the “real world.”
The largest lecture hall on campus seats about 85 students. Brendan’s largest class was his biology class with about 80 people; his smallest had 9. All freshmen have a Common Reading summer assignment. His was Wine to Water by Doc Henley; he came to speak to the students (as other Common Reading authors do). He loved the book and liked having the assignment: not only was it interesting, but it also gave people something to talk about.
I asked Brenden what he would like to see changed about the college; he had to think for a minute, but he finally said, “I wish more people knew about us. We’re not very popular; we don’t win big sports tournaments. It’s a good school, so I’d like people to know our name.” They have the standard sport offerings, and are adding lacrosse next year. Brendan liked that the school was willing to listen to what students wanted in terms of new programs.
The average accepted student has a 3.0 GPA and a 900 CR&M SAT or 20 ACT score. The admissions team looks for students “who want to prove to themselves that they can do what others said they couldn’t.” Liz says, “The students really appreciate being here.”