We’re in Santa Barbara, and yesterday we visited our alma mater Westmont College. We stormed the campus like we owned it, and while nothing was the same, everything felt similar. Here are a few notable things about my college experience.
1. Westmont has a capped enrollment. With only 1200 kids on campus and about 100 kids in off-campus programs, its culture is one where kids are known. The largest class size I recall was about 50. And the smallest I had was 3. Imagine studying British Novel at your professor’s house over crumpets and tea.
2. Over 77% of students live on campus. That number is skewed because of the off-campus programs (urban, Europe, IBI, consortium, American University, etc.). Most students live on campus. The school owns one apartment complex, but it is small and doesn’t house many kids. Those that live off campus are mostly seniors.
I could expound on this a lot, but obviously a culture is very affected by being tucked away together, almost everyone living on campus, such a small college, in the hills of Montecito. Everyone knows everyone. We all eat together. We live together. We take classes together. We attend chapel together. This has its pros and cons, but there was a sense of feeling ‘on an island’ together, and this afforded a level of community and intimacy that is hard to match in most college experiences.
3. 99% of students are full-time. They’re focused, committed, actively pursuing college and getting through in 3 or 4 years.
4. Christian liberal arts. Lots of great discussion about God, spirituality, community. You attend class and learn a new thought, and discussion continues in the dining commons thereafter, and in the dorms in the evening, and in the lounges after hours. And the thread of God moves in it all.
5. The people. This is where I met my husband, and where my faith became my own, and when I learned critical thinking–in academics, in faith, in friendship. When I consider the tuition, I was paying for more than the academics (which are stellar). I was paying for climate and culture and people and the staff. The average GPA of entering students is 3.8. 65% acceptance rate for applicants. I recall my freshman year living on a floor with several valedictorians and feeling quite inadequate in my smarts. But they sharpened me.
6. And this is what I love to mention most: the faculty and professors. I can think of three occasions at Westmont where I was pursued by staff. My freshman year I struggled. I had been in an accident the summer before college that left my head and heart gaping with questions. My friend died. And the Christian Doctrine prof (Dr. Wilson) invited me to engage with him about any spiritual questions I might have. And I did. I came to his office and would talk to him, and he reminded me of my dad, wise and perceptive and kind. Another occasion of great pain, after a friend’s accident, the Dean of Students (Jane Higa) invited me into her office to see how I was, to engage with me and check on my heart. And finally, my English advisor (Heather Spears) pulled me in her office around that same time, and when I completely lost it in her office and broke down in hysterics, she began to weep too. I will never forget this tender moment we shared.
I’m not saying Westmont is the only place you can receive these things. But this is why I love the school. And how it changed me for the good. And what makes it memorable to me.