So, about 2pm Thursday (6/18) my family – aunt, uncle, sister, and myself – packed into a rented car for the 4-4.5 hour drive up and over to Berea, Kentucky and Berea College. I’ll be honest, I had absolutely no idea what this college was, what it was about, where it was, what they valued, mascot – nothing. I didn’t bother loking anything up on the interwebs or any of that stuff; after all, I’m not the one who was going to be taking classes there in the fall. My sister is.
We get to the little country town. We pass the Wal-Mart just off the interstate, the Pizza Hut and KFC on the way down the main road, and eventually turn into the campus. Or rather, we end up on campus and turn into the lot that leads to the resident hall we were to spend the night in. Having lived in a dorm for four years and worked in Housing and Residential Life at MTSU, the dorm thing was old hat, nothing new, and nearly identical to the facilities on the MTSU campus. At this point, I was not impressed; in fact, the abundance of foliage and trees, combined with the compact nature of the town/campus, made me feel closed in. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful up there, but that wouldn’t be the place for me if I were looking for four year institution.
This morning, after a meh breakfast and boring introductions, our color-coded groups for the day were allowed to break off and do introductions. This was the last thing we did effectively as a group as our group leaders, current Berea students, failed miserably (in my opinion as a former campus tour guide) at the task of being, well, tour guides. We (as in the parents/guardians/relatives) were left to find our own way much of the time, and it wasn’t long before parent groups were mingling with other parent groups doing things on our different schedules out of order and in utter confusion. Regardless, the info sessions, while way too general for the most part, were informative enough to were one would leave knowing what to expect once fall comes around.
The school’s “Learning, Labor, Service” motto drives the school. Every student’s tuition is paid for by the school via private and federal grants, scholarships and the like. The only costs assessed directly to the students are those associated with room, board, books, other living expenses, and, in the case of upperclassmen (read: non-freshmen), extra educational opportunities – of which there are many. All students MUST work at least 10 hrs a week, and freshmen are placed in a labor postion their first year. The faculty per department is relatively small, but this is a very small school.
The thing that impressed me most was just how influential the school has been on the local community in its 150 year history. It was there first, the town was built around the school. The college literally owns the land the town sits on for the most part, from the north interstate exit to the south interstate exit on into the next county. The school controls so much property, I believe that it has heavy influence throughout the whole southern part of that county and parts of the surrounding counties. Until just recently, like in just the last 10 years, the college owned the utilities (water mainly) and the hospital; the only primary/secondary school was also owned by the university up until about the sixties. Murfreesboro, to me, was always the closest I had ever seen of a true college town. Berea IS the college.
After a long day in the humidity and the sun, we’ve returned home. I liked what I saw, and I think my sister will enjoy herself there, givien the time to adjust and all. She did seem more happy, or at least, more at ease about going after we left than she did before we got there…