At Bryn Mawr, they are trying to get super-serious students to have fun, fun, fun.
By Kady Ashcraft
All work and no play makes for an unhappy student body — and an incentive to improve the social life at Bryn Mawr College.
School administrators became increasingly aware of the lack of a thriving and enjoyable social atmosphere on campus during the last school year. There was a sharp increase of student visits to the health center’s therapist along with what seemed to be a general depression across campus.
Students also noticed a tired and unenthusiastic attitude spreading amongst their peers.
“Everyone seemed to be in a funk,” said junior, Caroline Herman. “There wasn’t much excitement on campus.”
Adding to the monotonous atmosphere was the difficulty to get off campus. Most students do not own cars and rely on public transportation if they want to travel into nearby Philadelphia.
The Paoli-Thorndale regional rail stops about a block from campus and can get a student into the city in 25 minutes. There is also the option of the Norristown high-speed rail, which is further from Bryn Mawr’s campus, but is less expensive than the regional rail.
A trip on the regional rail can cost up to $10 round trip if the tickets are not bought beforehand. The Norristown rail, a three-quarter
mile distance from campus, costs a little over $5 roundtrip.
Purchasing tokens and transfer stubs was unfamiliar to some students, as well.
“It’s a confusing system,” said senior, Julia Ryan.
While Philadelphia is a center for fun and adventure, students at Bryn Mawr felt removed and isolated from the city. Like many small, suburban schools, students often found themselves trapped inside the “Bryn Mawr Bubble.”
The bubble can be a comforting thing, but also restricting and alienating.
“As an upperclassmen, I kind of know everything about the campus,” said Ryan.
The increasing desire to make college life more fun — outside The Bubble — reached the school’s administrators, namely Bryn Mawr’s deans, who then decided to take action.
Halfway through the summer an email was sent out to students with the title “A Letter to Returning Students.” The innocuous subject line could have easily been overlooked, but it contained big news.
The Dean’s office announced it would be issuing free Septa passes and tokens for the Norristown high-speed line as well as the regional rail. Along with the announcement was a long letter explaining the hope that students would begin to feel more engaged in the world around them. In other words, go out and have fun.
Dean of the Undergraduate College, Michele Rasmussen, wrote that she wondered if “work harder, play less” is the ethos that ends up being adopted when students get bogged down with the incredibly high academic standards they set for themselves.”
This isn’t a “fun requirement,” Rasmussen continued, but an initiative “intended to make the road to fun a little less of a hard slog and more of a hop, skip and jump.”
But did it work? Are students taking advantage of the free train passes and are they alleviating stress?
Most people seem to think so.
“The other weekend one of my favorite artists, Hennesy Youngman, had a show,” said senior, Michelle Smith. “I wouldn’t have gone if I didn’t have the free passes.”
“It doesn’t make sense to go into Philly if the train ticket costs more than the show or thing you’re going to do.”
The one requirement for requesting the tickets is that the trip is for fun. Students are not allowed to request tickets to get into Philadelphia for class or work. Though there is not a strict monitor on that, most students abide to the guidelines.
“I took advantage of the free passes a lot in the beginning,” said freshman, Michah Dornfield. “But now that school is catching up, I don’t go in as often.”
Dornfield and Smith both agree that even if they are not using the passes every weekend, it is nice to know they are available.
“It has been a huge improvement,” said Julia Fahl, a senior. “A friend once said that Bryn Mawr was like a library that you slept and ate at, but Dean Rasmussen has bothered to learn about the community and make it more social, rather than just a learning one.”
Liana Donahue, a senior, has not noticed much of a difference, and does not think any initiative will make much of an impact.
“I feel like there will always be a general depression on campus, because we value high grades more than we value having a good time, “Donahue said.