Hobart and William Smith Colleges
BackgroundInterview Date:February 2019
Gender Identity: Male
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2019
High School Experience: Public school in Pittsburgh, PA with a graduating class of about 300 students. There was a culture of going to college.
First Generation College Student: No
Majors: Double Major in Sociology and Africana Studies
Extracurricular Activities: I [have had leadership positions in] Model African Union, I’ve participated in theater on campus, I work for Writing Fellows, and I was a member of a fraternity and am not anymore.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience? In what ways?
Theater has been great in terms of taking up an artistic passion that I never thought I would be interested in. Writing Fellows has helped me be a better student and a better writer. It also helped me with figuring out how college works and how professors expect assignments and readings to be completed.
Did the fraternity have an impact on your experience?
Coming in I very much felt a pressure to join a fraternity because it does give you a certain status. I did meet people through the fraternity, but most of the friends I made through the fraternity I didn’t stay friends with after I left.
Can you describe the weekly coursework for your majors?
I have a lot of reading for both of my majors. We usually have two writing assignments per class per semester, sometimes more, and then a final, which can be an exam, research project, or a longer writing assignment.
Is there anything you feel your either of your majors’ departments do especially well or poorly?
The professors for Africana Studies are really engaged and are there because they really like the content. I think the issue with Africana Studies is funding, so that comes with issues of having enough courses and having to rely on other departments for cross-referenced courses. That just takes away from the major. With Sociology, again, the professors are really engaged and want to make you a great student and also a good sociologist. We do learn armchair sociology, but we also get in the field to do research and make us students that not just know sociology but can do it.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly collaborative or competitive?
The majority of students would not be competitive. There is a big gap between the students who are here to get the most out of their education and the students who are just here to be here. If you’re in the group of students [who are trying hard in their education], it can be competitive, but if you’re not in that group, then you can pass by. The students who are trying hard are competitive amongst each other in a collegial way and the professors look for those students and will make sure to teach those students.
How accessible are your professors?
Very accessible. There are open office hours. A lot of the professors I have developed personal relationships with. That part has been wonderful.
Do you think people are open to multiple schools of thought in the classroom?
I think they are. Most people who are in the classroom want to hear new ideas and learn new ideas, but I think the issue is that a lot of times people don’t necessarily feel comfortable expressing those ideas. It’s not because of the professor, I don’t really know what it is, but a lot of the time we’ll have discussions and students will play it safe.
What have been your favorite classes that you’ve taken for your majors?
For Sociology, it was Sociology 100. It was a tough course because the professor was very demanding. But, during almost every class, there was a moment where she would tell us something and everybody’s jaw would drop and it would be silent. It really changed the way we think and see the world. It was an amazing class.
For Africana Studies, a lot of the classes have been really great and I can’t just pick one. What made Africana Studies classes so great was there was great reading material and good discussions in class.
Why did you choose your majors? Are you happy with your choice?
I knew going in that I liked the social sciences, so Sociology was almost set coming in. I didn’t really know what Africana Studies was when I came here. My first year seminar had an Africana Studies professor and I really liked a lot of the material and it went hand-in-hand with my Sociology major while also giving a little more direction. I wanted to just minor in it, but because it’s an interdisciplinary major I realized I had so many credits for it already I was able to major in it. I tell everybody who minors in it to go into the office because you’ll probably realize that you’re close to a major.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Durfee Hall with one roommate. It was an all-male dorm.
Sophomore: Caird Hall with one roommate.
Junior: Medbery Hall with one roommate
Senior: Carr-McGuire in a single.
What was your favorite living situation?
Medbery my third year because, even though I had a roommate, we had two really big rooms so I essentially had my own room. I was able to set up a futon and it was central on-campus. The only issue with that building was that there weren’t any amenities in Medbery, there was no microwave and I had to go to another building to do laundry.
How was transitioning from Pittsburgh to Geneva, NY?
It was definitely different. I didn’t feel too much of a transition. But, I should say that when you come to HWS you’re not really in Geneva. You can do all four years and never have any contact with the city.
Can you describe the level of safety you’ve experienced on and around campus?
I think it’s very safe. I’ve never felt in danger. I know that’s very different for a lot of the female students, but I personally have never felt in danger.
Pros and cons of being located in Geneva, NY?Pros:
(1) If you do want to get involved in the city, there is a lot of interesting stuff happening. It’s small, but it’s a very diverse city. There are a lot of programs and a lot of people trying to revitalize Geneva, so that’s a great opportunity for students who want to take them.
(2) The downtown area is within walking distance from campus and there are a lot of cool little shops popping up around the area.
(3) Lake Seneca is right there. Especially in the summertime, the lake is amazing. Being able to go down to the docks when the weather is nice is a great experience.
(1) If you don’t have a car, getting outside of the city is difficult.
(2) There aren’t a lot of grocery stores in Geneva and in one area there is actually a food desert. The grocery store near campus is a good 20-minute walk, so that can be a big disadvantage if you don’t have a car.
What kind of nightlife or weekend activities do you participate in?
That is very dependent on my time in my fraternity. When I was in a fraternity, the nightlife would be going to the fraternity house and then going downtown to bars. Nightlife on the campus can be very different depending on what year you are and if you’re in a frat or not. During the first year you never knew what you were going to get because a lot of times you wouldn’t be able to get into a party and then you’d have to figure out what you want to do. Also, a lot of people go downtown to the bars and first years [aren’t 21] so they can’t go. A lot of the times I was stranded back at the dorm because my friends were all going downtown.
Now, I don’t go downtown as much. I also know a lot of the seniors are starting to feel over the downtown scene. There are bars that can feel like they are very much for wealthy, White students and that can be uncomfortable and exclusionary for students who don’t fit. That is what we call the “Bro-bart and Smithie” culture.
What nights of the week would you regularly go out?
Usually Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Because fraternities dominate the social scene and I don’t really go to fraternity parties anymore, I didn’t fully understand how that would really limit my options for going out. Not going to fraternities can be very limiting because things circle around fraternities or off-campus houses owned by fraternities, so that can be very limiting. Now, I mostly stay on campus and hang out with friends.
How happy are you with the nightlife options at HWS? Is there anything you would change if you could?
Like all colleges, the school has cracked down on Greek life, but it’s punishing the students it’s not supposed to punish, it’s punishing the students who don’t want to buy a fake I.D. or don’t feel comfortable going downtown. There used to be a lot of parties at Theme Houses and The Barn, but those have more or less died out. If you don’t want to do the mainstream party scene, you have to find a good group of friends and figure out spaces. That is more challenging for underclassmen because if they want to just chill out, listen to music, and maybe even have a few beers, they might get hassled by campus safety.
How did you meet your closest friends?
Some of them were on my floor my during first year. We all branched out and I met guys through them. A lot of people I slowly became friends with because we were doing a lot of the same things on campus, like Writing Fellows and theater.
How would you describe the overall social scene at Hobart and William Smith Colleges?
I would say it’s very divided. Even though there are a lot of issues, students have made the best of it and there are a lot of students who have had fun going there for four years. We have a student body of mainly White students from New England and then Black students from New York City. Because there are two homogenous groups, there isn’t a lot of mixing. It is often said that there are two different campuses. [About 73% of the students are White and 6% are Black. Socioeconomically, 12% of students come from the top 1% and the median family income is about $161,000.]
To what extent do people of different races and sexual orientations mix socially?
I’m straight but I’ve talked to a lot of Queer students on campus, and a lot of them express a feeling of being very closeted, even if they’re out. They have access to spaces on campus but also have a feeling that they have less access than others. They have found their own spaces on campus and those spaces have good, but I know students have felt that they need to hide their identity.
How do you like the size of HWS in terms of undergraduate enrollment? [There are about 2,200 students.]
I love it. I think it’s great. I know some students wish it was bigger, but I think it’s right where it needs to be.
How strong is the Black community on campus? How would you describe it?
It’s very strong. You know every Black student and you will speak to every Black student on campus. That’s something that I personally really appreciate because, even if I don’t necessarily know someone, I can still say hello when I pass them in the hallways or on campus. There is also a party space that is carved out for that community. We’ve had a recent divide because a Black fraternity joined campus, Alpha Phi Alpha, and that added a bump to the social life but created some of the same divisions that exist with the White fraternities. We’ll see where that goes.
To what extent do people in Greek life and not in Greek life mix?
It’s two different worlds. Coming from someone who was in it and is not in it, the people not in Greek life know what those people are doing, but the people in Greek life have no idea what people outside of Greek life are doing. Being one of them, I had no idea of the people who weren’t in Greek life. I’m still meeting people who are in the same class year as me. I’ve talked to guys who will say things like, “I would bet 90% of guys on this campus are in a fraternity,” and that’s the furthest thing from the truth. I hope what that shows is they believe they are the whole campus. I know a lot of guys who only socialize and are friends with people in their fraternity. When I left, and I didn’t leave on sour terms, I’m not connected with people in the fraternity anymore because of proximity.
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
I’m looking for jobs in Canada and they just don’t have a network up there. Now that I’m changing my job search to the D.C. area it has been a lot easier. If you are looking for a job in the Northeast, our career services are really great for New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston, and even New Hampshire and Philadelphia. Outside of those cities, the network can be strained.
What have you used the career office for? How helpful have they been?
In the beginning, I used it for resume workshops and interview workshops and things like that. I’m now using it to tap into the alumni network. If you reach out to them, they’ll set you up in a good place. I know a lot of students who got good internships.
Have you learned any computer programs or languages through your coursework that will be helpful to you professionally?
I’ve learned more through the clubs that I’m involved in. For my clubs I’ve had to learn how to use Excel for budget tracking and keeping track of members. For Sociology, we used SPSS last semester.
Have you used financial aid? If so, how helpful and accommodating is the office?
I definitely use financial aid. Everything has been pretty simple and I’ve never had any issues, which is what you want. I had one issue over a break and all I had to do was call them and they gave me a call back right away and we solved it.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about HWS before entering as a freshman?
I guess I wish I knew to see fraternities the way I do now and I realize how they can be damaging.
What is something a prospective Black student should know that we haven’t touched on?
First, they should know that there are a lot of wealthy White students from New England here who have not had a lot of conversations with Black people. Also, if you’re Black and not from New York City, that can also be kind of challenging because the school takes a lot of Black students from there and they come with their own culture and understanding of the world.
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
I think you need to visit on a weekday when the students are there because you get a real feel for life on campus and there is hustle and bustle happening. If you visit at a different time, it can make the campus feel pretty empty.
Reasons to attend Hobart and William Smith Colleges:
1) The professors. They are very engaged and dedicated to helping the students learn.
2) Because of the small campus size, you can get involved in pretty much anything you want to do. If it’s not there you can start it, and that’s wonderful. It’s also easy to take leadership positions in clubs because of the size, you’ll see sophomores leading clubs sometimes.
3) Even though it’s a small school, people recognize the Hobart and William Smith name.
4) If you really want to get something done, the school is great with supporting that either through funding or having faculty and staff get behind you.
Reasons to not attend Hobart and William Smith Colleges:
1) It can be very isolating on campus if you don’t fit into the typical student mold.
2) The nightlife options can be a negative.
3) If you don’t like small schools, the school can be too small for people. I knew people who were both good students and bad students who wanted to be a number in a classroom instead of being involved in discussions.
4) I also know students who don’t find the academics rigorous enough and transfer. [The first-year retention rate for 2017 is 86%.]