Things I wish I considered when deciding which college to go to

17 04 2009

Because it’s April and a lot of high school seniors are touring colleges they got accepted into and these past two days have been April Open House, I have been thinking a lot about things I wish I considered when deciding which college to attend.  These are things that I couldn’t possibly have even thought of back then as a high school senior, but these are things I now know and would recommend that high school seniors now take into consideration when making their decision.

1. Diversity on campus

We’ve blogged about this before but diversity is more than just having friends of different ethnic/racial backgrounds.  It is more than eating lots of different ethnic foods.  To truly understand diversity one must factor in institutionalized power differentials between racial groups that enfranchise some while disenfranchise others.  One must be especially mindful of the way racism plays off as “natural” or “just the way things are”.  Just because racist stereotypes and remarks are so ubiquitous and normalized does not mean that they are acceptable or not worth questioning.  Overlooking and ignoring them just reinforces and perpetuates them even more.

The high school I went to was not diverse at all.  It was a small school and most of the students there were white and Jewish or Asian.  Most of my friends were upper-middle class white, heterosexual Jewish people, and this was something so normalized to me that I never questioned why I didn’t really have friends of other ethnicities.  When I came to Tufts and started getting to know people of color and queer people, I found that I was more able to question what I was blinded to because it had been so normalized, and have more meaningful conversations about issues like racism, sexism, classism, etc.  

2. Feminism on campus

How feminist is the campus?  I know that the f-word turns a lot of people off, but by “how feminist is the campus?” I mean: how much support is there for Women’s Studies, Queer Studies, and the cultural studies like Middle Eastern studies, Latino Studies, Asian Studies, etc?  Is there institutional support for these disciplines (as in enough funding, enough classes, enough dedicated professors and enough administrative support) as well as student support (is a good percentage of the student body interested in and taking classes in these departments?  Do they take these disciplines seriously instead of just writing them off as “fake majors”?)

One thing I take issue with at Tufts is that the Women’s Studies program (it’s fantastic, and I love being a Women’s Studies major) is narrowly called “Women’s Studies” instead more encompassing like Gender/Sexuality Studies.  Furthermore, the Women’s Studies program here struggles with funding for classes.  WS 92: Rape Crisis & Recovery (or Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence) was in danger of not being offered this semester because of insufficient funding.  

Moreover, what is the school’s sexual assault policy like?  Are there good prevention measures instituted?  Besides having one freshman orientation program (like In the SACK), is there continued education about sexual assault?  Do students know the sexual assault policy and resources available to them if they ever need them or if a friend needs them?  Does the school administration support student survivors?  Generally, most colleges and universities lack comprehensive sexual assault policies, and sexual assault is something most schools sweep under the rug.  However, sexual assault occurs more frequently on college campuses than schools disclose.

3. How accessible is the school administration?

Many school administrations can be conservative and resistant to change, even when it comes from pressure put on them by the student body.  One important thing to keep in mind for student activists who are trying to improve things on campus is the relationship between the administration and the student body.  How accessible is the administration to meet with and talk to students?  How willing are they to listen to students and how much do they value student input?  

At schools with fairly liberal students, the administration can be quite reluctant to budge and improve policies or enact changes students want to see.  At Tufts this does not only apply to things like the sexual assault policy, but also making the endowment transparent.  It can be frustrating for student activists trying to effect change on their campuses when they are up against a resistant administration.


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