I think many of us “normals” view college as a boogeyman of sorts; or maybe its more the legendary spectre of student loans that causes so much anxiety about furthering our education. At present, I’m on a mission to determine how one might complete a graduate degree without owing anyone a dime. Note that I said how- not if – anything is possible if you set your mind to it and learn how to improvise, adapt, and overcome. In October, I went on a tour of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the following remarks are my observations about some of the things not covered in the official informational brochure. I could talk about their strong Dominican traditions or the amount of students who move on to an Ivy league after, but all of that is on their website. Here’s some of the things that aren’t:
- This campus is more eco-friendly and progressive than your average hippie music festival. There’s not only recycling bins EVERYWHERE but bins to throw compostable materials and gently used items to give to Goodwill. All the disposables from the lunch and breakfast areas (napkins, coffee cups, forks, etc) are either biodegradable or compostable. There’s stations to refill your water bottles throughout the academic buildings so you don’t have to keep buying new ones. Our guide told us the compost is used on campus for a student-run community garden, which we passed on our tour, and it looks well-kept like someone (or many someones, I suppose) has been giving it care, love, and attention. Righteous, dudes.
- Class sizes: We popped our heads into several lessons-in progress, and I don’t think a single class had more than 25 students. Everyone was actively listening and engaged, like they actually wanted to be there. This is huge; in almost every class I’ve been in only one or two students are actually paying attention as opposed to doodling pot leafs on their notebook, covertly napping, or texting under their desks. People here actually give a damn about their future, and the teachers seem to enjoy their jobs. This is an environment where knowledge and learning thrive, and that’s a good thing for someone like me who isn’t shelling out tuition money unless they know they’re getting a good value for it.
- Bougie, naive WASPy people: Grand Rapids, (according to Wikipedia’s demographic information, anyways) has traditionally been a Republican stronghold. I had to stifle a laugh when one of the rich-looking parents (Bloomfield Hills, I checked the sheet because I’m nosey) asked about how safe campus was , and found out that security is more than willing to escort his daughter back to her dorm after late night classes (10PM being considered “late-night” here. Pfft, kay guys.). Aquinas College is last place on Earth one would expect to be mugged or raped, but these things do happen on occasion on college campuses. Still, as a kid who lived in Southwest Detroit for a few years and used to carry a knife in her boot, the idea of needing an escort for my safety was laughable. I still appreciate the thought, though, that the administrators take the safety of my fellow young ladies seriously- not everyone has needed to cultivate those “urban survival skills” (keeping your head on a swivel to be aware of your surroundings, always carry a weapon concealed on your person, keep money in your sock, dress like a homeless person, don’t be on your phone while walking past a sketchy trap house, etc).
- Smoke free campus, which (besides the cost of tuition) is the only negative about this school thus far. I understand not everyone smokes and wants to be assaulted by cigarette odor every time they walk outside but come on, guys. If I’m laying on a blanket away from the doors to any building, studying, minding my business, and happen to be smoking while doing it I shouldn’t be treated like a serial killer, especially when I dispose of my butts in a trash cash like a responsible human. A random student informed me of this policy in the douchiest way possible, and I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that condescending little shitheads are something I am going to have to deal with if I want to continue improving my socioeconomic status, since bougie areas are chock-full of these entitled little assmonkeys, and bougie areas are generally where the better employment and job opportunities are. I suppose the “Diversity and Inclusion” department or student-lead coalition or whatever have you doesn’t not welcome smokers. Cool. It is possible to smoke a vape discreetly in a bathroom and get away with it, so for those who need to medicate on occasion you have this option.
- Grace Haustien Library: It’s three stories tall, and each floor has different rules to accommodate everyone’s study preferences. There’s one area for complete silence, one with small meeting rooms for small groups, and a large, conversation-friendly area. The computers weren’t brand new, but close enough, and the most striking thing about this building was the hand-drawn etching the size of an 18 wheeler by a former Michigan State trooper done in pencil when you first walk in. It’s so detailed it’s literally breathtaking; I wanted to stay for a while and analyze all the little bits in the piece but the tour had to continue on schedule.
- Planetarium: There’s one on campus. We didn’t get to go in, but I love these places, not just for the amazing star shows but the occasional sync-up-dark-side-of-the-moon-to-the-wizard-of-oz-style light shows really tickle my fancy. We passed the construction site of a brand-new science building on the tour, and my inner nerd was already fantasizing about playing around in a state-of-the-art chemistry lab, because I’m a weirdo that gets excited by that sort of thing way too easily.
- The Dorms: We only saw one of the room options available, a co-ed dorm filled with freshmen. The floors are segregated by gender and there is a 24-hr front desk sentry you would have to walk by every time you want to get to your dorm (Pro: Nobody’s sneaking in to steal your shit if you accidentally left your room unlocked. Con: Harder to sneak alcohol in, rule No.1 of the dorm is “NO BOOZE,” but here at Planet Haley we live in the real world where most of us had our first drink around 14 and understand underage consumption is simply an inevitable part of the college experience for some students. I get it: this is the first time you’re away from your parents and their sheltered environment and want to know what that lean stuff all the rappers keep going on about is. So glad I got through my alcoholic phase in my late teens and early 20’s and think college parties are lame, unless we’re eating psychedelics and discussing political theory of course.) Each room is about the size of a typical Wyandotte bedroom in the older homes, fits two students somewhat snugly, and has modular furniture you can move around to your (and your roommie’s) heart’s content. Each two-man room shares a bathroom with another two-man room, so you’re not going to have to worry about icky community showers shared by the entire building. Also, each prospective boarder has to fill out a personality test and is matched with other students who have similar interests and sleeping patterns, which is unique since most schools select roomies randomly, with occasional disastrous consequences. The ballpark cost for a dorm room per year is around $10,000, so I’ll probably be parking a second-hand Winnebago at the local Wal-mart, or make some friends in the area through my music festival networking groups and throw them some cash to park it in their driveway.
Aquinas College is beautiful, historic, and from what I’ve seen the education quality is phenomenal. There’s many more things I do not have the space to cover in this article about the campus, from the community-building events meant to get students collaborating with each other, to the state-of-the-art fitness center. The best part of the day was being able to chat with the head of the Law and PolySci department for almost an entire hour about the programs and classes. (Also, Aquinas is one of three schools in the entire country who do Moot Court, which I’m not 100% clear on the particulars of, but I know will give me a huge leg up over the competition when applying to actual law schools.) I can see myself here, continuing to learn, grow, and be prepared to properly punch posteriors upon my full integration into our modern office workforce. The world is changing, and we’ve got to be ready to improvise, adapt, and overcome if we want to be successful. I’ll see you in two years, Aquinas; I’ve got a paralegal degree to finish and some tuition hustling to do.
In the comments section, discuss your favorite part of your dream college, or, if you’ve already graduated, I want to hear about the best part of your college experience and what made it so.
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