On My Mind by Michele Tolela Myers, president
What are our students like, what do they worry about, hope for? How do they spend their time, what do they think about the world, about the political process? I am often asked about Sarah Lawrence students. Our reputation as a college that is different from most others makes people curious about the kind of individuals who choose us.
This fall, we sent a survey to the entering class that could be answered electronically. The questions, like most good Sarah Lawrence questions, were open ended. Nearly 70 of the students responded. Will they surprise you? Take a look.
What do you hope to get out of your education? One student wrote, “I would like to learn extensively and intensively about subjects that interest me; the college degree is just an added bonus.” They use phrases like “broad and deep knowledge”; they speak of learning about other cultures, of learning about themselves, of their ability to survive and be true to their art, of becoming a more complex person, of growing, of understanding better the larger world so they can be effective actors in it. Some discuss gaining the knowledge and skills to get into graduate school, and to get jobs, and most write about pursuing that which they are most passionate about.
What do you worry about? Money dominates. Not having enough of it now, running out of money to pay for their education. One wrote, “money is a big worry, having it, not having it, needing it, not being able to get it, and failing ties into money, wasting money because I failed.” From another: “I’m worried about how my mother is going to pay for all this.” Many are worried about whether they will be able to get jobs and make a living.
They’re also worried about not being smart enough, hard-working enough, good enough, about not doing well enough in their classes, making friends, handling the workload, failing.
What are your hopes? To change things, “to find an area that I really love that I can spend the rest of my life being passionate about.” They want to meet smart, interesting people and form lasting friendships, and be prepared to give something back to the world. Many say they hope to find a job. They also hope that people everywhere learn to be tolerant and accepting of others. One writes, “To grow and grow as a person... to be filled with curiosity and have hope in youth... I hope this country will miraculously use its power for good some day.” Another writes, “I hope I can reconcile my education with the life I left behind. I hope it's not a zero-sum game.” They hope they will do well and be happy, and that they will make a difference in the world and find a way to do what they love and to be of service to those in need.
Who are your heroes? Aside from Ghandi, mentioned three times, and Jane Austen, twice, the names were all over the place. However, the big winners for that question are mom and dad. They get mentioned consistently-particularly the moms!
What do you think about politics? Will you vote in the next election? Overwhelmingly, they will vote. Most responses are critical of the current administration’s policies; most say they have an obligation to participate in the political process. One writes, “I strongly believe that our constitution and governmental system are among the best in the world. The way our leadership has begun the process of slowly chipping away at our fundamental values is appalling... I plan on voting in the next election and I am confident that our government can recuperate from its flawed state. Hopefully.”
How much time do you spend each day on the Internet? Very few answered they spend an hour or less, and most at least two to three hours a day-some much more. They send e-mail to friends, family and teachers, they visit Facebook, do research, manage several message boards, talk with friends via AIM, read articles, read the newspapers, shop and buy, read blogs.
What do you most like to do when you have free time? The dominant responses: read, write, hang out with friends or with girlfriend/ boyfriend. Many swim, go to the gym, do yoga. Some play music. They also watch movies and spend time on the Internet. There is no mention of television. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is no mention of drinking; the word “beer” was mentioned only once.
What in your view is right about the world, wrong about the world? On the right side: family, love, friendship, compassion, peace, music, art, literature, freedom, equality. The beauty of man's diversity. Scientific thought. People courageous enough to change what's wrong. People who care about others and humanity and succeed in touching others. The love of creativity and beauty. Ice cream.
On the wrong side: war, hatred of any kind, inequality, torture, deforestation, drilling for oil, tarnishing the wilderness, killing animals. The lack of social equality in the U.S., the wackiness of the media. As one student puts it, “This world is mad.” The economy is lopsided. Selfishness, indifference to suffering. Intolerance. Football. Losing reverence for the human mind. Apathy.
Would your responses be different? We're looking at a group who are bubbling up with fervent opinions, with hopes and dreams, with worry and love and the feelings that drive us all. At Sarah Lawrence, we like to say to our prospective students, “You are different-so are we.” Now I wonder, how different are they, really? And how different are we?