Salem College prides itself on its small class sizes, but what happens when the population dwindles too small? For the first-year class of 2019-2020, a vanishing class has become a reality.
Talking to ten first-years, the largest threat to the retention rate seems to be students transferring within the year, revealing the fact that students’ concerns are with Salem itself, not the general college experience.
When asked “Why are you transferring?” three answers typically float to the top: exclusion, dining options, and on-campus living.
“There just isn’t a feel of community,” said first-year Heaven Guilford, who claimed that the social exclusion was the biggest reason she was transferring.
Social exclusion extends to commuter students as well. Of the ten students interviewed, three were commuters, and each communicated that they simply struggle to feel included, as many school events are coordinated at inconvenient times for those who live elsewhere; this is especially an issue with mandatory events such as Town Hall.
Exclusion can take another, more serious form– exclusion of minorities. Although Salem launched the Center for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in 2017, four of the ten interviewed first-years feel that the less represented students of Salem face difficulties unique to their status as minorities.
First-year Kennadi Nester pointed out the lack of functioning elevators on campus, which can be a hindrance to those with physical disabilities or even those with short term injuries.
Another large area of concern for students is on-campus living. At the Oct. 22 Clewell dorm meeting, several students voiced their complaints with the lack of hygiene and noise disturbances in the residence hall.
“Honestly, people are disgusting,” said one First-Year student, who asked to remain anonymous, in reference to the activities on the third floor of Clewell.
Although these issues may reflect more on the students of Salem rather than the college itself, it could be claimed that the disrespect first years have in Clewell emanates from a lack of school pride, stemmed most likely from the concerns they have with exclusion and dining options, among other matters.
The first-year turnover rate can create a serious dent in the success of Salem College. To correct this before it’s too late, Salem needs to focus its attention on residence living, primarily.
“My recommendation is that they make special dorms… for example, Babcock could have a floor for studio art majors and a floor for music majors,” said Lilliana Howard, a first-year.
Designating specific floors in Clewell to similar areas of interests could help build better communities. This would be similar to Wake Forest University’s ‘Live and Learn’ community model, where students in the same first year seminar are housed on the same hall. By grouping first year students in Clewell by their respective required first year seminars, incoming students have a better chance to build a stronger community, and where there’s community, respect tends to flourish.
“I think it’s a really good idea,” said Bailey Nester, Clewell RA. She agreed that this model will build a better connection between first-years, but also believed it could have drawbacks.
“Salem already has a big problem with cliques… this could make it hard for people to branch out,” Nester said.
However, when asked if she could give a statement in response to the first-years concerns about residential living, Bailey made it clear that the RAs are always available and open to their concerns.
“As RAs, we are required to conduct ‘wellness checks’ to let people know we’re there, and we also have ‘intentional hours’ where our doors are open to talk.”