Op-ed: Adrianne Ramsey '17 worries that SLC lacks a sense of community

comic by Thomas Ordway '17

comic by Thomas Ordway '17

First-year students were catapulted into their new life at Sarah Lawrence by participating in orientation week. Throughout orientation week, students participated in a variety of activities, experienced their first college parties in Hill House, and bonded on the North Lawn. Students were given the illusion that Sarah Lawrence was a tight community—a gimmick that did not last long. 

The Sarah Lawrence Activities Council—SLAC, for short—is supposed to organize events to build a sense of school spirit. But as the days passed, SLAC’s involvement faded, parties cooled down. Now, the North Lawn lays empty, covered with snow.

Many first-years have expressed worries about the lack of campus events and the waning sense of community. “There are plenty of people who attend SLC who are warm, welcoming, and foster a sense of community in smaller group settings,” said Faith Smith  ’17. “Then there are large chunks of people who are open and welcoming without judgment; however, I do think there are times where individuals feel a lack of community in the larger scheme of things. Sarah Lawrence would benefit from having all-campus events. Getting the masses excited for a big occasion raises morale and gets people talking to one another.”

Students complained about SLAC organizing the same events every week: a dance at the Blue Room on a Friday or Saturday night, Open Mic Night on Thursdays, and a film screening on Wednesday and Saturday nights. There are occasionally different events such as karaoke, Casino Night, and the Christmas tree lighting, but those events do not get much attention. “There are a fair amount of activities on campus thanks to SLAC, but not that many people attend the events. This may be because of a lack of interest,” says Vanessa Massel  ’17.

In traditional American universities, athletics and Greek life play big roles in creating a strong community. Sarah Lawrence is proud of their “unique and quirky” outlook and has few athletic teams and no history of Greek life. However, the school is growing a stronger athletic department since it became an NCAA Division III establishment. The school prides itself in being progressive, but simply stating that something is “not the Sarah Lawrence way” is anything but progressive. For athletics to gain popularity and Greek life to become a reality at Sarah Lawrence would simply mean that Sarah Lawrence is evolving with students’ growing interests.  

“Traditional Greek life at SLC would not necessarily work because there is not a large enough body of students. However, a club adaptation of Greek life where students could be a part of a strong group of people that believe in a particular issue and do things together such as community service and putting on school events would be great,” says Isabelle Campbell ’17. “It would not have to be ‘typical Greek life situations,’ such as parties and asshole guys. You run the risk of exclusivity, initiation, and hazing in any group of people, not just Greek life. Also, Greek life was established so that people who have similar interests can be in a group together, learn about life, and how to be a good person.”

With the continued lackluster advertising for events that are still repetitive in nature, and upward turns of the nose at the question of Greek life, Sarah Lawrence is closing itself up to change. The Sarah Lawrence slogan used to be “You are different. So are we.” If this were true, we should not stigmatize Greek life as unhealthy. By refusing to evolve, Sarah Lawrence students are being judgmental of a lifestyle that appeals to many. Not all Sarah Lawrence students are the same, and we cannot categorize all of our students as “different” if we are not willing to cater to the needs of different types.

by Adrianne Ramsey '17

CORRECTION APRIL 10, 2014: This piece was originally published in our Editorial section, and thus was assumed to be an editorial piece expressing the viewpoint of The Phoenix staff. While some members of staff do share many of the opinions expressed in the article, this piece is an op-ed and thus expresses the viewpoint of the author and quoted students. It has since been labeled as such.

Is the lecture replacing Sarah Lawrence's seminar-system standard?

The Donnelly theater in the Heimbold Visual Arts Center hosts numerous lecture classes and screenings each week.  Photo by Ellie Brumbaum '17

The Donnelly theater in the Heimbold Visual Arts Center hosts numerous lecture classes and screenings each week.
Photo by Ellie Brumbaum '17

Large universities such as UC Berkeley and Yale University have courses that typically range from 500 to 700 students. The humongous class size can make it nearly impossible to find a seat and cause little to no student-to-teacher interaction. Sarah Lawrence College believes in smaller, more personal classes with a 10:1 student-faculty ratio. Students are required to take a total of two full-year lecture courses or the equivalent prior to their senior year. Lecture courses are typically capped at 45 students but if demand is higher, the class size can be as high as 60 students. While in comparison to bigger universities the size of a Sarah Lawrence lecture is very small, because Sarah Lawrence is such a tiny school it is considered “a big deal.” 

 “As the lecture requirement was originally described to me by my Don, it is in part to free up space in seminars. Given that seminars cannot really function with more than 15 people and we have a growing student body, lectures help us maintain small seminars. The 4-semester lecture requirement is certainly doable,” says Ari Jones (‘14).

While Sarah Lawrence’s seminar system is not necessarily losing its touch, students have their own learning styles, which causes some of them to identify with the setup of a lecture course more than the one of a seminar course.  “I took lecture classes first and second semester because I like being in big classes with a lot of diverse people,” says Schehrezade Rahim (‘17) “I am also really scared of speaking up in class, so I wanted to learn the other side of not being in a seminar.”

Lecture courses may be growing in popularity because they do not require mandatory conference project. Because there are so many students in lectures, required one-hour group conferences (which can be likened to a seminar) are substituted for one-on-one conferences. This does not mean that there will not be any work; most Sarah Lawrence lectures have a final project or paper that is no more than ten pages. “It makes more sense that a lecture course would not have a conference project because the subject [being taught] is broad and not as focused as subjects covered in seminar. I like this because it is a lot less work and stress put on me,” says Isabelle Campbell (‘17). 

However, a professor teaching a lecture course has the right to assign a conference project. For “Trauma, Loss, and Resilience,” Adam Brown asked every student to write a 20-page conference paper to turn in at the end of the semester. Despite the amount of work, “Trauma” is one of the most popular Sarah Lawrence courses and has a current enrollment of 60 students. To those who think they have tricked the system, make sure to read the syllabus carefully before signing up for a lecture class.

Even though the number of lecture courses has increased, they are not “taking over” the Sarah Lawrence course curriculum in any way or form. Small seminar classes remain a key reason why students enrolled at Sarah Lawrence in the first place. “I have more strongly enjoyed and had more powerful academic experiences in seminars. However, I think the experience in any class depends on the teachers and students. Lectures at SLC give some teachers the opportunity to really just teach material they are experts on, and students a chance to get a broader overview or one clear perspective on a topic,” says Jones (‘14). “I think it is ridiculous for SLC students to avoid seminars their whole time at SLC because they are the cornerstone of a Sarah Lawrence education. You come here to have in-depth and personal conversations and relationships with professors, which are really only possible with the seminar-conference model.” 

There will always be students who feel uncomfortable with speaking up in class or take longer to resonate with the seminar system. But the reason Sarah Lawrence prides itself on its seminar system is because it is truly stellar, there are very few other colleges in America where students will receive the individualized attention Sarah Lawrence offers them. While some students may add a lecture course to lighten up their schedule and workload, it is important for all students to immerse themselves in the seminar system and take advantage of every opportunity the system at Sarah Lawrence has to offer them.  

by Adrianne Ramsey '17