Independent Means

Month: August, 2011

What do I know?

I was asked to write a piece advising first years on school. Naturally I have little advice to offer that’s appropriate for a “university sanctioned” publication. This is what I managed, (though I was forced to lose “dissipation” for “recreation” and “Good luck. Be careful this weekend. Security will be watching for you” for “Good luck. And don’t get too carried away this weekend”). I suppose we all have to make sacrifices for our art institutional writing.

Hello first-years. You’ve made it here. Stop. Look around. Appreciate your surroundings for a second. Gloat. You are no longer in high school. Celebration is appropriate. The next time you see your younger friends from home you will have an indisputable claim to superiority.

Here are some things that are cool about college. Your friends here will be less than 15 minutes away, with almost no exceptions. (The downside is you also see all of your friends almost every day. You also may end up living with them. Think about that for a second.)

Also cool is the fact that most people really can’t tell you to do things. They can only make strong suggestions and imply consequences. Your parents will no longer be around to harass you to feed the dog or empty the dishwasher. This is one of the reasons my father and I now have a much stronger relationship.

This freedom from chores, however, has a price. For example, unless you are willing to pay to go out to eat, no one really cares what you think of the food in the dining hall. You have to make do with the choices offered to you. Similarly, for the first couple weeks of school, the food in the dining hall will be pretty good and you won’t be sick of it yet. Savor this.

But your ability to govern your own life is pretty nifty. America was founded on the model of self-determination. So here you are. Self-determine. If you want to spend your first semester in dissipation, then go for it. If you’d prefer to spend all your time in the library, you can do that too. I advise trying to find a happy medium. This is difficult. I don’t quite have it down yet but I’m working on it.

In terms of concrete advice I have little to offer. I would advise that you join a couple student organizations. The involvement fair is cool. You will give up your email address to way too many people, and you will be spammed. I have found that I am able to devote my time to about two or three things while still managing to spend a lot of time finding cool stuff on the Internet.

If you do actually commit to a student organization, you will get the added benefit of having friends, or at least people who must be polite and can’t protest too much when you go to sit with them in the dining hall. These people also will be able to advise you in terms of what courses and professors to take, etc. etc.

The other thing that’s cool about Denison is that the professors/staff are actually here to work for you. They will take time out of their (maybe) busy day to talk to you about getting a job, or who you have to talk to for some paperwork to fill out. This is a good thing. Learn who to talk to get things done. It will make your life easier in the long run.

All in all you will be overwhelmed with pretty much everything. All of the clichéd advice people give you is probably good, and you probably won’t follow it because you, like me, probably believe in learning things the hard way.

Good luck. Be careful this weekend. Security will be watching for you.


Dept. of Good Stewardship: Student Housing or Trees & Houses

FIJI House in the 1930s. An elegant building.

The current administration, willingly subverting itself to student demands of apartment housing and perhaps in the name of progress itself, seems to have set itself on slapping a couple of boxlike apartments on the back of the historic and unique house.

A friend of mine who works for the University dug up these photos of Denison from the 30s to the 60s… and I figured it’s an appropriate time as any to see from whence we came and to where we’re going.

As a school Denison does have one thing going for it: history. It has been a place where young men (and since the 20s and 30s) women have gone to learn how to grow comfortable with power and money. Three fraternity houses are especially powerful examples: the houses of Beta, Sigma Chi, and FIJI.

As I look around the campus, there is so much worth preserving and so little of it is being preserved. The school seems desperate to foment “community” and yet it shortchanges the physical spaces that all of this community necessarily happens in. This is not to say Denison has been entirely derelict in its treatment of the campus: Bryant is a useful, well-designed building. But that seems to be the exception, not the rule. Maybe trees just don’t foster community like open space does?

Trees on the Quad 1930s

Another look at the FIJI House. Notice the well tended hedges, now gone.

And to as casual observer, this would be true. But Denison hasn’t shown great fidelity in maintaining the charming and authentic parts of the campus. Chapel Walk around Swasey is no longer real brick; the railings on Bryant Morgan Arts Center are aluminum, instead of cast iron. Denison is not a cheap school. It is not a cheap campus. And preserving it cannot be done cheaply.