When I applied to colleges in the fall of 2021, I looked for a small liberal arts college. Though this preference was different from most of my peers, I chose to go to Carleton specifically because of the fabled “tight-knit” community that it and many colleges of a similar size claim to offer.
Throughout my time here, this promise was put to the test, but I didn’t initially realize it. Even during the summer, when the only people I knew were from New Student Week groups, time began to fly. Suddenly, there was snow on the ground and the term was over — it was already week 5 before I even noticed the leaves changing color. With the pure stress of academics, it was a lot easier to presently accept the connections I had rather than think about how they came to be. So now that I have the time, I think it’s time to ask: Does Carleton really live up to its promise of a strong community?
I’ve always thought of community as a coin with two sides of equal importance. On the first side are the things that unite us: our similarities, our shared values, etc. Some of us (actually, many of us) complain about the barrage of biweekly campus announcements, but they allow us to try new experiences and reduce that initial intimidation that is often present in college clubs. Here, the clubs feel less like exclusive status symbols and more like organizations founded on genuine interests. It also helps that we have a variety of interests; I’ve never seen anyone pigeonhole themselves into only one hobby. The liberal arts motto of trying anything and everything goes beyond just academics, and it’s made this school a lot more fun, too.
I additionally find that the people here all share a motivation to learn and do well. Even the ones who swear they’re just trying to pass a class and the ones who say that “C’s get degrees” know that A’s also get degrees, and a better shot at a scholarship, too. No matter how much we may struggle, party or alternate between the two, we don’t shy away from our responsibilities as students. One time, my friend chastised me for playing “Minesweeper” when I was supposed to be working on my problem set. Because of that simple reminder, I felt compelled to work on the assignment until I finished it. It’s that type of honesty and culture of responsibility that pushes us to succeed and help each other on the way there.
A part of this culture also bleeds into personal connections, and finding friends couldn’t be easier here. You get to know the people in your classes and are likely to see them around outside of class, too. You’ll remember their names, as they aren’t diluted by the crowds and anonymity of a larger university.
The other side of community involves introspection. Personally, I feel like my identity as an Asian-American is represented on campus and respected by those from a different identity. At the same time, it’s equally important for our student body to be diverse, too; being in an overly homogeneous space would take away some of the best cultural experiences this school has to offer. While some may point out that Carleton is majority-white, the promotion and outreach that the school’s many cultural organizations have done is admirable. I didn’t have to look hard to find out about the Office of Intercultural Life in the first week of school, or the Japanese club that I currently frequent. Community is about finding that fine line between the right amount of diversity and the right amount of similarity. It’s feeling at home while knowing others are just as content.
However, Carleton does have its drawbacks. Being in a college town means that life in general revolves around the happenings of campus. If this isn’t to your liking, there’s not much else to do or many places to go. College life and its demands can become overwhelming, and the combination of being overwhelmed and unable to escape is a combination I wouldn’t wish on anyone. And with the school’s recent, much-documented response to student mental health, it’s clear that our institution has its shortcomings. We as a school need to do better, and I’ve heard that same perspective, sometimes with those exact same words, being echoed across campus. Perhaps it’s our culture of responsibility that compels us to hold the school accountable. Or maybe it’s our shared values that guide us to stick up for our classmates. Either way, I’ve seen Carleton to be a supportive, strong —and yes — tight-knit community, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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