I often elicit curiosity from peers when they discover I am from New York City but decided to trek to Virginia for college. The simple answer is that it is easier to roll out of bed and get to class in five minutes than it is to take a bus and a train, neither of which will ever, within the wide expanse of time and space, ever arrive on time, and there is never a guarantee of a seat. Commuting back and forth each day to my last college in Brooklyn was exhausting. I often took a nap shortly after arriving home. After two years at Sweet Briar, I have grown used to living away from home and appreciate the ease of getting to class.
Apart from the travel, there was also the community. Each college has its own unique culture. My last college was very laid back and casual, and few tended to stay on campus if they were done with classes for the day. I met most of my friends at the office for students like myself with learning disabilities. It was the one place on campus I could call my home away from home. I’d hang out and study there between classes and take my finals there as well. I’d go there for advice and a shoulder to cry on. At a midpoint of two Brooklyn blocks, this place was my safe haven.
My last college was also newer and was founded in 1965. It was established in the memory of Civil Rights activist, Medgar Evers. The community of Medgar Evers College is primarily Black, and represents many in the Black diaspora. Writing across the disciplines was emphasized so each class I took was writing intensive. Even greater than strengthening my skills in academic writing, African and African American literature, history, and viewpoints were treated as equals among Eurocentric viewpoints. I read British literature from 800 AD to the 18th century, but I also read "Dream on Monkey Mountain" by Derek Walcott, a Saint Lucia poet and playwright and "Ruined" by Lynn Nottage. My classmates often shared firsthand experiences of the issues present in the plays and novels we read.
One of my favorite experiences was in my Creative Writing/Playwright class in spring of 2013. It was the one in which I read the aforementioned plays. After weeks of writing our one-act plays and reading the plays of notable playwrights, we had table readings. If I can recall correctly, we table-read three plays each class for two weeks. The professor, wanting to draw attention to the parts she found, worked well on how our individual background shaped what we wrote. One woman in the class wrote about a post-apocalyptic world in which one of her characters wrote poetry on the walls to cope with the bleak reality. Another play had two settings most of the play, a bench and a payphone. The gravity was in the dialogue. My play, the polar opposite, had many settings. In the class, I learned when the dialogue is written with care, it can make off-stage events stand in for additional scenes. Pacing was not my strong point, and to a lesser degree now, it still is not.
Sweet Briar has a drastically different culture in many ways because most students and faculty live on campus. My last college was a commuter school, and Sweet Briar is very much a residential college. My sandbox became much larger. I feel more comfortable diving into new experiences because women pique my interest in new activities and subjects, and encouragement is always present. There is also a plethora of extracurricular activities available that are not present at Medgar. It was part of my decision of leaving. I am a woman that becomes restless and easily bored. In my first year, I rode, took voice lessons, started a club and went on a hike. I also became very exhausted at my new school but it was the kind of exhaustion that is punctuated with renewed vigor. The verdant campus and the ice cold misty air at 2 a.m. after a long night of studying in the humanities building Benedict is the most pleasant thing to walk through rather than the sound of early morning delivery tucks vying for room on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway as I make my way out of the 24-hour Dunkin' Donuts.
Each place has its own baseline, Virginia a little lower, but the experiences I’ve had with others have been far more meaningful. New York’s baseline doesn’t span more than a beat. There is convenience to living in New York City, many options I could choose from after a day of classes. Options I could walk to but there was often wasted time and opportunity, the wasted time looking for something good and usually fattening to eat or a movie or shopping trip and the missed opportunity for deeper human connections. Going away to college, if one does not spend too much time in their room, affords opportunities to connect to others. I’ve spent more time than I care to mention talking with my peers in the dining hall and more often than not it’s academic. The city lights have not been as invigorating as a prolonged conversation with classmates since I began school at Sweet Briar.
Sweet Briar is a hidden gem that many people I know had no idea existed when I began my sophomore year in August 2014. Sweet Briar is predominately white, very different from Medgar in a lot of ways because of that. The biggest is that the continent of Africa is often neglected in most courses in both the English and history department. On the cultural side, I honestly do not understand preppy clothing for the most part, or pearls, though many of my classmates are convinced it is a wardrobe must. I border on hipster, and most of my clothing is navy, cranberry, forest green and black. There was culture shock in the first few months. Strange looks were thrown my way when I said I did not know what puffy paint was.
Honestly, those are the small things. Humorous but, not at the root of what was most difficult. The hardest part in acclimating was finding myself all over again. I did not fit the Suzy Sweet Briar type and initially, it made me feel like an outsider and brought on intense loneliness. What made me feel a part of Sweet Briar were the traditions. In my sophomore/ first year I was assigned a senior to give a gift each month for their impending commencement date. The tradition is called Secret Sophomore, and you reveal yourself at the end of the spring semester. The woman was in my Education 103 class, and we also carpooled together for our field experience. The tricky part was to not let any of her gifts align with what we talked about on our weekly car rides and stick to the email. In my toughest weeks, putting together baskets and painting for her made me feel more connected to her and Sweet Briar. The traditions, many much older than my mother, my grandmother and myself, send the message that we are part of something much bigger and have inherited something much greater than differences that lie on the surface. Despite how different Sweet Briar and Medgar Evers College is, both places shattered preconceived notions I had about others and have made me a more educated person, both academically and personally. My path, although different from many of my Sweet Briar sisters, has made me who I am, and I would not change anything.