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gothic_architecture_two_by_jacklovesallys-d3kxkvf

After addressing the auditorium filled with parents of perspective students, the President of the College said, “It’s your turn now to ask us questions that you have about our college.”

A man in a beige and green striped polo asked, “Does campus security carry any handguns?”

I thought that was an odd question.

“No,” the Director of Campus Security said. “They can’t because they’re not commissioned officers.”

“Well, then,” the same man asked, “is there a lockdown procedure in place?”

“All college campuses have that,” the Director said.

The man looked like he was processing another question, but before he could articulate it, a woman in front of me raised her hand. “I have a few questions about students who have internships in New York. When they’re in New York, do you have anyone from the college with them?”

“No, we do not. We have no control over what happens in New York.”

The audience went silent.

Then the woman turned and asked the Director of the Health Center, “Do you have psychological services for the students?”

“Yes, we do,” she said. “We look out for our students. That isn’t to say that we watch them 24/7, it’s just that this school is small enough that if a student missed a couple of classes we would hear about it.”

I found myself almost shaking my head in disbelief. Why are these parents so worried about security and mental health? What about academics, social life, athletics and job placement? I had heard parents ask questions about safety on other college visits, but they weren’t the first to be asked.

Then I realized that we were only an hour’s train ride away from New York City, not far from what was once the World Trade Center. I remembered what my daughter told me about her friend’s mother, who teaches at a high school in New Jersey: twenty of her students lost a parent to 9/11. Twenty kids nearly the same age my daughter is now, facing horrific loss. I can’t even imagine how that would feel. This was the audience I was sitting with—a post-9/11, anxious, fearful group.

A text came from my daughter. “I don’t want to go to college here.”

“Wow,” I thought. She must not be having a good time on the college tour. In the past year and half, we’d been to at least ten colleges, and I’d never gotten a text like that before.

“Let’s meet at the car,” I texted back.

When I saw her she said, “The students I talked to didn’t seem to know that much about the school.”

“I noticed that too,” I said. “The girl who took us on the parent tour told me when we walked up to the auditorium that she had never been in the building. I thought that’s not a good sign. I mean aren’t there any performances or events that go on in there?”

“A couple of the students talked about ghosts,” my daughter said, “and how the school has ghosts that roam a couple of buildings and scare the students.”

“Somehow that wouldn’t be a selling point for me,” I said. My daughter and I laughed.

“It’s funny,” I said, “but I’ve had a bit of a creepy feeling ever since we arrived on this campus. Maybe it’s the ghosts.” We paused and looked at the gothic architecture surrounding us. It was a sunny day, but I could picture the buildings in a dark storm, spooky and untamed.

I’ve heard parents tell me that their child could step foot on a campus and say right then whether they’d like to go to that college or not. I used to think that was ridiculous, but I get it now.

That feeling definitively happened here for both of us. It was a relief to be driving away, leaving the ghosts behind us.