Newcomers agree: "There's never a dull moment at New College"

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Life-threatening alcohol poisoning hasn’t exactly been a ‘one-off’ in the first few weeks of the New College fall 2012 semester. Public nudity has been on full display. Students came together and called an emergency, community meeting. A Kiss Your Crush-themed Wall led to a strep throat outbreak, not to mention a few awkward morning-after interactions. After only a couple of weeks, New College has presented its best and worst. But for the most part, the school’s newcomers are taking it in stride.

“There’s never a dull moment at New College,” first-year Brennan Kent explained with a chuckle. Few newcomers would disagree with this statement – the argument starts and ends with the context in which the statement is taken.

After first-years sent their families home and were left to experience their first night as college students, they were in for a very Novocollegian grand opening: a food fight followed abruptly by a line of streakers dashing through the dining hall. First-year Kay Saffe, who went to a private high school in the Miami area, characterized the introduction as “awesome,” explaining that, because of the strict nature of her high school, she “never saw [streaking] actually happen, except in movies.” While some first-year and transfer students chose New College because of its distinct social atmosphere – nudity included – others came for academia, and left the opening night of orientation a little unsettled. First-year Marisol Diaz summed up the opinion of many, quite succinctly – “I’m not comfortable with nudity.”

There are several other features unique to New College that students carefully paid attention to in the application process; they include the LGBT-friendly campus community, the “healthy” drinking & drug culture, the relatively small student population, and the expectation of personal responsibility from the moment one arrives on campus.  Many students were uncomfortable with one or two small aspects of the campus’ culture, but found overall it remained the ideal choice for them.

Christian Morris, a first-year who doesn’t drink or do drugs, admits to having “felt peer pressured” in terms of drinking or using other substances since arriving on campus. Despite this, feels that New College remains the perfect school for him. While he occasionally feels put off by the drinking culture here, he clarifies “no more than I think I would anywhere else,” and “even in high school, I felt isolated because I didn’t choose to drink.” Morris has found his courses here to be more “open” and “important,” and finds himself participating and getting involved in ways he never previously felt comfortable.

Like one would see at any school, certain students have had trouble to adjusting to certain components of the New College way of life – drinking and nudity among them. First year Annie Kresek expressed vehement dislike of the ‘free table’ – a table in Hamilton “Ham” Center on which students place the remainders of their food in order to be enjoyed by the public – by proclaiming “oh, it’s disgusting. You can quote me on that.” First-year Carolina Shin admitted “dorm life has been a hell hole,” pointing to inconsistent air conditioning and broken appliances as examples. First-year Cole Ingram, meanwhile, takes issue with the New College Forum.

“You lose respect for people who you see day-to-day, because when they’re on the forum, they think they’re behind the screen and it’s like a mask, despite the fact that their name is right above everything they say.”

Discussing first year and transfer students’ problems with New College is necessary, but also wildly misleading. Despite minor grievances here and there, the fact of the matter is that in just a short amount of time, new students have felt embraced by the college, and already feel like they are at home and a part of a very special community.

“I was used to being the outcast, and the ‘loser’ and I was used to being alone. But now I come to New College, and I’ve found that I’m not a loser, and I’m not an outcast anymore,” first-year Marisol Diaz proudly explained, “it’s given me a lot more self-confidence and it’s really helping me like myself a lot more.”

Despite a bustling social scene, more-introverted first-years have found themselves accepted as a part of the greater college community. First-year Andrew Quintana has always struggled to meet new people, stating “meeting new friends has always been difficult for me because I’m just an introverted person.” However, Quintana has had experiences inside and outside the classroom that helped him through the first few weeks. He enthusiastically proclaimed “My teachers are actually nice to me…I feel like I can participate more.” Moreover, he’s found the accepting environment at New College, as a gay man, extremely comforting.

“Usually in high school, you’re super into Lady Gaga – you’re trying to associate yourself with something to find an identity,” Quintana said. “Here, people don’t really prance around or have these identity-defining things. They’re just who they are on a very basic human level.”

Gay or straight, incoming students have universally embraced and appreciated what they consider the open, judgment-free atmosphere of the New College campus. Kent does not identify as LGBT, but she “would have felt really uncomfortable in a place where anyone was repressed.” She continued, “Some of my closest friends are homosexual, and it thrilled me that no one here would say anything to upset them because they are who they are, and no one has the right to determine if that’s true or not.” Kent does not exactly view herself as outgoing, stating “I’m trying to put myself more out there than I normally would. I’m normally a really shy person, so orientation was a week where I forced myself to be more outgoing.”

Three weeks in, when asked how she would characterize her time so far, Kent couldn’t help but smile while declaring it “thrilling.”

“Thrilling” – it’s a tame word when one considers the action that has taken place during the first few weeks of the fall 2012 semester. But is “thrilling” always a good thing?

Saffe, who admits to having “overdone it a bit during orientation,” doesn’t think so. “I feel like more people need to be careful – especially first-years after the incidents that happened with the hospitalization.” Saffe referred to episodes on the nights of August 31 and September 1, the weekend during which three students were hospitalized with severe alcohol poisoning. She added “the first-years have gone a little crazy, but that happens every year I’m sure.”

Does this really happen every year, or is there a reason to worry? An emergency town hall meeting was called – an action not taken on an annual basis – to address concerns of overcompensation and a general lack of personal responsibility taken on by incoming New College students. Ingram believes “a lot of the first-years in college aren’t quite used to the freedom that New College presents, and are kind of taking advantage of it.” He shares the opinion of many in that first-years are, in fact, overcompensating. Shin, who similarly has let loose since arriving here, quietly admitted “I just lost control” after drinking too much at a few walls. She’s one of a few to admit it, but one of many to have done it.

Alcohol-related immaturity aside, new students nearly unanimously agree that the campus’ response to the issue – a student-run community forum – epitomizes why New College has so rapidly established itself as a true home for them. Saffe summed it up nicely, proclaiming “I felt like it brought us together to really reflect on a problem, to see what we can do to mediate it.” While critical of the meeting in terms of talking points, non-drinker Morris felt very good about the fact that “there’s a much higher level of community involvement,” compared to other universities. It’s fair to say that even when things go awry, new and returning students alike feel as if they are in a community where they are cared for, looked after and respected all the same.

It can be overwhelming – in addition to the bizarre, intense New College social scene is a rigorous academic program some first-years and transfers are struggling to adjust to – but newcomers don’t seem to care. Every Novocollegian has their personal reasons for which they chose New College, and despite the plethora of personalities spread across the wave of new students, it always seems to come down to something along the lines of “I made the right choice” no matter what they really like or particularly dislike.

When Andrew Quintana was asked to identify which parts of New College he’d fallen in love with, he didn’t mention community, or acceptance, or individualism.

Instead, he laughed, smiled and said “people are just really fucked up here.” He didn’t need to say anything else.

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