Look, Scripps. I think we both know things haven’t been good for a while. I just think we’ve grown apart, become different people, you know?
Like a lot of your students (and, yes, there are many), I must admit that you were not love at first sight. But my family and my friends from high school counseled me they told me that even if I hadn’t chosen Scripps, it had chosen me. During my time here, that chosenness has meant less and less, as I’ve grown to realize the ways in which Scripps has chosen students like myself only to abandon efforts to build an academic community for us.
Last week, I pulled a late night with a couple friends in Pearsons Hall, home to Pomona’s Philosophy and Religious Studies departments. I was surprised, perhaps to an embarrassing extent, at the ease with which my Pomona friends swiped into the building at 11:00 p.m. They made themselves some coffee in the building’s kitchen before spreading their papers and books across the tables in the lounge area.
They stopped their work every once in awhile to sing along to music or microwave popcorn, to unabashedly take up space in a pretentiously decorated room that looked better suited for students with graduate degrees. But I was less distracted by these interruptions than I was at my own inability to access spaces like these on my own campus.
For an institution that centers “active participation in a community of scholars” in its mission statement, Scripps does not structurally prioritize academics. The college has three academic buildings on campus – four, if we want to count the Performing Arts Center which is primarily home to Garrison Theater and Boone Recital Hall.
We have, on the other hand, eleven residential buildings. Eleven.
That half of our main campus consists of residential halls speaks volumes about our institutional priorities. The admissions office markets residential life as, by far, one of the biggest perks of attending Scripps. They flaunt our #1 ranking for “best college dorms” by the Princeton Review (although, what I’m sure they don’t flaunt is our housing crisis: due to overnerollment and despite the addition of NEW hall last fall, the college has relegated dozens of first-years to off-campus apartments at Claremont Graduate University).
I’ve seen the faces of prospective students and families light up during the residential life portion of their Scripps tour, and I don’t blame them. It’s hard not to swoon at the lush courtyards, the tile floors, the antique furniture, and the Mediterranean-style arches. But, practically speaking, the heart of an academic institution does not, and should not, reside within its dorms.
Unfortunately for Scripps students, our college has designed itself, first and foremost, as a place of comfort and luxury. Our administration invests so much concerted effort into making us comfortable. We must live in lavish dorms with fountains and stained glass windows. We must have a multimillion dollar field house (what does that even mean?), complete with yoga, zumba, and kickboxing classes and a pool fit for a country club. Our dining hall must have brand-new patio furniture reminiscent of a locale from some beachside locale.
It is no coincidence that we are both the token women’s college in the consortium and, as most students, professors, and families will remark, the most beautiful campus. “Beautiful,” “gorgeous,” and “pretty,” however, do not allude to this institution’s intellectual histories and academic reputation.
The physical structure of the campus reinforces this disparity: our academic buildings are, and have to be, multipurpose to a fault. The Edwards Humanities Building houses classes in politics, economics, math, biology, chemistry, and psychology. Unlike Pomona and many other elite liberal arts colleges in the country, we dedicate no individualized space to our academic departments.
In addition, virtually all academic classrooms lock when classes are not in session. Our learning within the academy’s walls is, therefore, entirely dependent on our professors: we lack all opportunity to claim academic spaces as our own.
This is the way in which the college consequently confines students to the domestic sphere. The only communal spaces we have to study and socialize in, besides the Student Union – which is a small, out-of-the-way space often occupied by clubs – are browsing rooms that function as strictly quiet study spaces in the dorms.
Some would argue that Seal Court substitutes as our student center. However, after the sun sets and the temperatures drop, this space is entirely outdoors and not at all conducive for socializing or studying.Besides those in the dorms, we have no lounges and no enclosed hub of campus that serves the exclusive purpose of providing students with a communal space. We, therefore, have no place to study or socialize that isn’t completely open to other students in the consortium.
The lack of communal spaces on this campus, both academic and recreational, has resulted in my inability to relate to the majority of this community. There exists a culture of contentedness at Scripps that I simply cannot participate in anymore. The weather is nice and virtually the same all year round. We can have a hand-tossed salad any time we want. And the new class of white, upper-class, cishet women that arrived at Scripps only a few months ago already resemble, to a horrifying extent, the scores of oblivious women that preceded them.
The students of color here continue to make demands for this institution to change; they continue, like my friends that night in Pearsons Hall, to claim and thrive in spaces that were never intended to be theirs. But there’s an extent to which the physical spaces at Scripps are structurally built to suppress, to limit, and to exclude – all under the guise of comfort and domesticity.
There’s something about this campus – and perhaps it has yet to be named – which increasingly makes me feel unfree.
I’m moving through my last days at Scripps as if, perhaps in some dream, I’ve already lived them. I find myself going into office hours religiously and gushing desperately to professors about how much I’ve loved their classes, how much they’ve changed everything about how I think. Acquaintances come up to me, insisting we grab a meal “sometime” before I leave, and I know – we both know – neither of us will reach out to one another, at least not in time.
There’s a strange finality inscribed in these moments; I struggle to find words of gratitude that last them, that exist past them. I can’t help but think about the people in Claremont who will never know the love and admiration I have for them. And although there were times last year when I wanted nothing more than to start over, in some new place and in some new time, there’s a sense in which Scripps defined quite thoroughly what I didn’t want in my next institution.
This is all to say: I’m sure we’ll drunk text once in awhile, Scripps. And that’s okay. We should acknowledge that this isn’t going to be easy for either of us. And hey, maybe a couple years down the road, we can even grab a matcha sometime. Whenever you’re ready, of course, no rush.
What’s that Notebook quote I saw on some white girl’s door? The one I’m thinking about as I head into my last week here goes a little something like: “The best love awakens the soul and makes us reach for more.”
I guess this goes without saying, then. But thank you, Scripps. Thank you for making me reach for more.