I chose to come to Sarah Lawrence with great enthusiasm and excitement. Needless to say, all that enthusiasm and excitement was promptly busted after my first depressing week in what I referred to in my diary at the time as a "beautiful prison."
After coming from a typical (albeit good) high school where grades were valued but not love of learning, where cramming for exams but not discussion abounded, I couldn't wait to attend this institution where learning for its own sake was the norm. For the reasons I decided to come here, Sarah Lawrence totally met my expectations: the campus was bucolic, students and faculty cared about learning, great discussions were had in class, and I read great books.
Unfortunately, while Sarah Lawrence was academically very good (although far from perfect--more about that later), it was bad socially. I graduated from Sarah Lawrence 8 months ago, and since then, I feel like I've had my real college experience doing a work/study program abroad for 5 months. I have more perspective now on my college life, and on myself. While I was at Sarah Lawrence, I kind of liked it, because I got used to it. But the place WILL take a toll on you. You will feel at times disconnected from reality, socially stifled and awkward, and even lost. You will feel that this is normal, because everybody else is that way, and this influences you in return. For example, I remember walking into the dining hall and when I wasn't with one of my few friends, I generally would sit alone. You simply weren't supposed to sit with people outside your small social circle, not even if you knew them from a year-long class! Again, the social interactions were unbearably awkward. People didn't know how to talk to each other. After college was over, socializing felt natural again because I wasn't around such weird people. My father came to visit me at school one time and as we were walking around the beautiful, silent campus, he said to me, "this place is like a nursing home!" It's true; there are sparsely-attended events that aren't very fun, and people usually stay indoors because it's too cold to go anywhere in the winter.
In order to cope with the miserable social life, I think people create and join various causes--usually revolving around endlessly-discussed "identity issues," whether sexual preference or racial. At least those people had a social life! Meetings to attend, like-minded folk. It brought them together, at least for a while. Although I would add that it is a little bewildering to have at least two African-American identity groups when the total number of African-Americans on campus is like, 5. The other thing was this constant mention of gender identity that pervaded the school: What is the gender binary? What is gender, REALLY? How ought it be deconstructed? If these questions tickle your fancy, you may well like Sarah Lawrence! If, however, they seem less-than-important and not worth devoting an entire week to (Sleaze Week, complete with "coming out day" and a "Genderfuck" dance)--then perhaps, not. Believe me, in the real world you just are who you are--whether gay, straight, or anything else--it doesn't matter so much. Why must you discuss your sexuality/gender identity ad nauseum? Why should school events revolve around it every year? I don't say this because I'm against gay rights, but because I don't understand why at this college and probably others, private issues always have to be publicized/politicized. And, I would add, complete with a large dose of complaining and whining. Everybody's a victim, everybody's a minority. And this is in a mostly white, female, and, yes--straight, school.
As I've mentioned, the academics here are really good. I got a really good education at Sarah Lawrence: I've read lots of the classics (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Dickens), I've written essays on often-difficult philosophy (Wittgenstein). I also had the pleasure of getting to know some amazing, inspirational professors. Sarah Lawrence has a unique structure that allows a level of intimacy with professors that you can't find in most universities. With the small seminar size (I've had classes with 5 regularly attending students, which isn't rare), and conference system (in most classes, you and your professor develop a thesis over the term which culminates in a final project or paper that you hand in), intellectual and personal bonds are common between professor and student. Once I was in a class that people loved so much, and we didn't finish the book yet, so the professor hosted regular summer sessions in her balcony garden. She wasn't getting paid; we weren't getting credit. This sort of thing is something that few other university systems encourage, but that thrives at Sarah Lawrence.
I took some great classes at Sarah Lawrence that influenced my thoughts and ideas tremendously, and almost everybody who attended the school would say the same. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of bullshit classes. Not bullshit as in, easy-A-without-trying. With these classes (and there are many), it's all about the post-. Post-modernism, post-structuralism, the critical theory, whatever. Post, post, post. You never really arrive anywhere with discussion, and it's easy to get lost in a maze of post-modern, highly abstract theory. There are classes every semester that sound like the professor's master's thesis rather than worthy of an entire class (e.g., "Spirits and ghosts in Japanese literature" was always offered, but Sarah Lawrence rarely offered very important intro classes or general classes, such as intro to anthropology or to philosophy, for example). Professors have their pet interests, some more interesting than others, and the system allows them to teach whatever they want. In a school without requirements, perhaps this seems reasonable to them, but don't they think that students would benefit more from having more available general courses rather than so many highly-specialized, post-modern-ish ones? This school is so indulgent, of professors, and of students, that I think sometimes it lacks common sense. But all in all, the academics are excellent and some professors (Ilja Wachs in literature, Nancy Baker in philosophy, Jeff Adams in history, Sam Seigle in Latin, and many others) are just above and beyond. These professors are so passionate and inspiring, and give a solid and through understanding of their subject.In sum: At Sarah Lawrence, you would have the opportunity to discuss great books and ideas with great professors and great students. You would also be lonely much of the time, and have a bad social life. If you're a girl, no matter how pretty or intelligent you are, you will have a hard time getting a date here (75:25 gender ratio), or mixing with many boys. Social and sexual tension runs high. I didn't choose Sarah Lawrence because I wanted to find a boyfriend, but now I realize it should have been part of my calculations. Just because you're an intellectual, doesn't mean you shouldn't have a fun and happy social life. And if you come to SLC, chances are, you probably won't.