For Spring Break this year, I decided to take the trip from my home state of Oregon to Indiana, where my sister goes to university. Her best friend Lily (who surprised my sister with her visit – how neat) and I both attend state schools with over 20,000 undergrads, so it was a bit of a culture shock to spend time at Marian University, a private, Catholic institution with a measly 2,096 undergraduate students (553 of who are Student Athletes).
It was wild wandering around this campus… well, wandering is a bit of an overstatement. At my college, there are more buildings than I can mentally count. At Marian, you can stand in the middle of campus and see every building that there is. Although it's nice that my sister can roll out of bed ten minutes before she has to be in class, it all seemed a bit too close together, and I found myself fairly eager to get off of this minute campus. My sister also informs me that you can walk into any one of the buildings and know someone, which is crazy. Lily and I were remarkably self-conscious walking about; the gravity of our outsider status was astounding, and it felt as though everyone just knew that we weren’t students there (this feeling was confirmed when a friend of my sister told us that he had been asked multiple times by multiple people if he knew who we were. Stranger Danger).
One thing that Lily and I discussed is the safety in the anonymity of a big school. You can blend into the crowd among 20,000 people. You can sit in a space and not have to worry about bumping into anyone. At Marian, lunch with my sister in the caf was extended an extra half hour because she ended up chatting with nearly everyone who passed by the table.
Another interesting thing about this campus is that everybody seems to plays sports. The Student Athletes make up a quarter of the undergraduate population, and the reason that most of them came to Marian is to play their respective sports. Sports! My sister is on the cycling team (D1. Very fancy), but she has friends who golf, who cheer, who play baseball, run cross country, play basketball, who cycle, and who come from all over the country to do so. Wild! One of the more humourous things I’ve found is that they refer to the non-sports playing folks as NARPS, or Non-Athletic-Regular-People. Love it.
The sports that people play here are their identities. Because it’s so small, and because there are so many people who are here exclusively to play their sport (or alternatively, to become seminarians, or to study through a Catholic scholarship), people just become known as the reason they are here. The smallness of the university means that it’s just easiest to make niches around interests. It’s almost like high school. Coming from a big school, where there are just far too many people to be as exclusive as that, this was just so crazy to me. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing inherently bad about this. It’s just different.
The community is easier to build because there fewer people on which to build it, but that also means that the business of a single member of the community can so easily become communal. Word gets around fast. Man, even irrelevant Oregon drama managed to branch its way out into Marian. There are only so many people a story needs to go through before it has reached everyone. It’s an interesting dynamic.
That said, the Marian community is tight knit and strong. There are so many ways that students get to root for their team, and there is a support system here that couldn’t possibly exist in a campus as big as the one I’m at. We can know the names of all of the D1 athletes here, we could eat dinner with them, we could have class with them, but that might never happen where I go to school. I’m a senior now, and I don’t know if I’ve ever even had a class with an OSU football player. Marian’s President meanders through campus, and everyone knows who he is. I’ve never even seen our President in real life.
So, a small school isn’t better or worse than a big school. Since I come from a big one, it’s hard for me to imagine going to a small one, and the opposite is true for my sister. There is no denying that this has been an interesting experience for Lily and I – this campus dynamic is so different that the ones that we are used to. Everyone knows everyone. The buildings are so close together. Social groups are so tight. It’s dense. I can’t tell whether or not I’d be able to live the small school lifestyle, but then again, it’s just hard to imagine anything so different than what you’re used to.
In any case, college is wild. I’ll tell ya.