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A warm welcome at Willamette University Opening Days

image from willamette.edu We brought our daughter down to Willamette University this week and enjoyed a warm welcome during their Opening Days orientation program. I had written about our short tour of small colleges in the Pacific Northwest last March, which included Willamette and several other schools she was considering. Meg eventually applied to and was admitted to several very good schools, some of which included attractive scholarship offers. The overall package of education quality, campus life and scholarship offered by Willamette seemed to offer the best fit for her aspirations, and our experience at opening days only reinforced the sense that she had made the right decision.

Bearcat move-in squad TIUA move-in squad When we arrived at the Salem, OR, campus after our 4-hour drive Thursday morning, we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a group of Willamette Bearcats football players and students from Tokyo International University of America - which is affiliated and collocated with Willamette - who offered to carry Meg's stuff up to her dorm room. The football players have traditionally helped new students who are on the team move in; this year, Scott (second from left in photo to the left) said he thought it would be a nice gesture - very much in keeping with the traditions of community service at Willamette - to help all students move in this year. TIUA also has a strong tradition of community service. A collection of students from both groups came right up to the van, each grabbing an armful of stuff, and had all of Meg's things outside her room in under 5 minutes. This was the third time we've been to the campus, and each time we had a positive experience, but I have to say that this initial greeting made a powerfully positive impression on us.

image from www.willamette.edu After lunch at Goudy Commons, we attended the Welcome Program for New Students and Families, which included presentations by Willamette President M. Lee Pelton, VP of Enrollment & Financial Aid Madeleine Rhyneer and Opening Days Coordinator Emma Larkins. Among the things we learned was that this year was the first time that Willamette admitted fewer than 50% of its applicants; other statistics revealed on the welcome page for the class of 2014 include a median SAT score of 1870 (50 points higher than last year's class), a median high school GPA of 3.79, and over half (51%) ranked in the top 10% of their high school graduating class (a 10% increase from last year). We also learned that many of the Opening Days coordinators are pretty good dancers.

The students and their families were then separated, and Amy and I attended a session on Campus Life at Willamette. I had never heard of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) before - even though it was enacted in 1974, and so was in force when I attended college - but we learned that a student must sign a waiver for the university to release any information about any aspect of the student's life and work at the school. We also learned about a range of counseling and other support services available to students at the college.

Having been deeply disturbed by a recent NPR series on campus rape - an estimated 20% of women are sexually assaulted at some point during their college career, and even at the most progressive institutions (with respect to this issue) only 10-25% of men found guilty of sexual assault are expelled - I asked about the prevalence and policies regarding sexual assault on campus. Margaret Trout, Director of the Bishop Wellness Center on campus, said that the prevalance of non-stranger sexual assault at Willamette is consistent with the national average, and that a survivor can choose whether to press charges with the Salem police or through the Willamette judicial system; if they choose the campus judicial system, and the perpetrator is found guilty, that person will be expelled. She also said that the campus has trained student volunteers who serve as sexual assault response allies, and this has increased both the reporting and effective response to sexual assault on campus. On the one hand, I was reluctant to raise the issue in the session (or in this post), but on the other hand, I think it is very important that parents - and students - be aware of how prevalent this problem is, and how ineffective many schools are in dealing with it.

After the campus life session, parents and students enjoyed a nice picnic dinner while being entertained by the Los Palmeros Mariachi band. We discovered that a friend and former colleague from the Seattle area also has a son who is an entering freshman at Willamette, and that the son's best friend - whose older brother is a junior at Willamette - is also a freshman there. It was nice to reconnect with local friends and to discover that there is a tradition of siblings attending the same school (not that we have any preconceived notions that what is appealing to Meg will be appealing to Evan).

We then attended an evening session on Residence Life at Willamette, where Resident Assistants were on stage to answer any questions parents or students might have about living on campus. Willamette does not have any campus-wide policy with respect to "quiet hours", instead imposing 24-hour "courtesy hours", relying upon the discretion and judgment of the students to respect their peers, but also allowing individual dorms (and residences) to dictate specific rules if individual discretion and judgment do not match residents' expectations of courtesy. Other topics that were emphasized were the importance of locking doors, windows and bikes (the exclusive use of U-shaped Kryptonite locks was encouraged both in this session and the earlier session on Campus Life).

We spent the night at the Grand Hotel in downtown Salem - whose #1 rating on TripAdvisor is well-deserved - and enjoyed such a restful sleep that we missed the early morning sessions on the second day. However, we did attend the Opening Convocation at 10:30, with a keynote by Jonah Lehrer. That was such an inspiring experience in and of itself, I'm going to split that off into a separate blog post [update: I've posted my notes on Jonah Lehrer's Metacognitive Guide to College]. For this post, I'll simply note that I was also inspired by Dean Marlene Moore's opening remarks during the convocation, in which she invoked a metaphor of "curriculum as conversation", encouraged both curiosity and confusion (the latter being one of the best routes to eventual clarity), and emphasized the importance of the journey (the college experience) over the destination (the degree).

I'll finish this post by observing the synchronicity of Meg having bought Lehrer's most recent book, How We Decide, in June, before the convocation speaker was announced, and so the selection of Jonah Lehrer as the convocation speaker just adds more corroboration (for me) that Willamette was, indeed, the right decision.

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