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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Questions asked on a Carleton campus tour

Blanketed by darkening rivets of cloudy translucence, the day unfurled in front of Scoville like a mysterious, silky web. Enshrined within the newly-renovated stone, the Monday morning campus tour, comprised of four adults, two bright-eyed prospective students and a sleep-deprived tour guide, had finalized in congregation. Weary from an arduous religion essay, only the tour guide, a junior American Studies major, noticed the worsening weather. With a silent sigh, she lead the group out the mahogany doors and down the imposing steps. 

The footfalls—momentarily implanted on the stretch of cement between Scovillege and Sayles—had scarcely begun when the first question arose, cheerfully and without self-reflection amidst the chilly skies. “How much are you paid to be a tour guide,” questioned a middle-aged man in a Patagonia vest and dark-rimmed glasses. The junior from Arizona answered, with a slight smile, that the position was on a strictly volunteer basis and, without perceptible hesitation,  continued her backward stroll. Before the group’s slow ascension up the aged Sayles steps, a middle-aged woman, adorned with a matching Patagonia vest, wondered aloud if the college had a “sufficient endowment” to add “beautifying”  rhododendrons along sidewalks. The tour guide chose not to acknowledge the snide comment.   

Following several minutes of blissful lecture-like guiding, the woman and man—now holding hands—turned to their underwhelmed daughter and remarked, rather loudly, “Do you think Carleton students are attractive?” The daughter, with a face of both delight and pity, only smiled in response. Looking down at her worn flannel and unmanicured cuticles, the tour guide chose not to acknowledge the snide comment. 

As the group continued its advancement, now en route to Musser, the tour guide began her typical commentary on residential life at Carleton. Halfway into a sentence about the various housing options, the middle-aged man—hair greying almost by the minute—asked if legacy students were selected for higher-quality housing. Turning toward his wife and daughter, he softly added that “surely our annual donation should be taken into account.” The tour guide, noticeably confused, responded that such inquiry ought to be directed toward the Admissions and Financial Aid Office. 

A few minutes later, as the group began to depart the sample dorm room on 2nd Muss, the thin man walking in the back—silent until now—asked why the decorations were “unpleasing to the eye.” Forcing a subdued laugh, the tour guide agreed that Admissions should invest in some redecorating. The forced laughter echoed eerily off the graffitied, yellowish bricks. 

The tour continued toward the Weitz, first passing Dacie Moses and then Nutting House. Without looking up from his phone, the Patagonia Man asked how much “your president makes every year.” Visibly annoyed, the tour guide answered, with honesty, that she did not know. Seconds later, the Patagonia Woman, noted “probably not as much as the president at Swarthmore.” The daughter flashed a sly smile toward her parents. 

Several feet inside the Weitz, the tour guide began her practiced remarks about the history of the building. Interrupting the description about the modern architecture, the thin man in the back, with a slight rise in intonation, asked if the Weitz was large enough for students to get lost in “while perhaps inebriated.” Worn flannel scrunched within her hand, the tour guide responded, almost naturally, “ummmm, I don’t know.” The tour guide did not bother to point out the dance studios on the group’s left. 

Minutes later, now passing by Wade House, the group had fallen into an uneasy silence. The junior almost felt relieved. And yet, without any underlying rationality, a stream of questions flew into the air: “I was wondering if Carleton had plans to update its alcohol policy” and “Do you think Oberlin has a better music department than Carleton?” and—the guide’s personal favorite—“How often do you drink? My older son transferred because of the drinking culture here.” The precise origin of the questions did not matter; the guide, calmly and without emotion, responded that such questions are too difficult to accurately answer. 

Reverberating off the chapel’s high ceiling, the discussion of religious life at Carleton was nearing its end when the Patagonia Woman, her hand now a ghastly pink from the force of her husband’s pressure, demanded to know the size of Carleton’s atheist population. Kindly, the tour guide asked why; in response, the woman noted that greater levels of atheism directly correlate with a more intelligent student body. In angry defiance, there was no reply.

As the cloudy sky continued its gradual darkening, and the sun ceased in appearance, the group moved past Olin and then Goodsell. Until now, the tour guide had consciously forgone asking, “Any questions?” 

And yet, somehow, the words slipped out instinctually. “Yes, actually” came Patagonia Man’s reply. “So my daughter has a comparison. I was hoping you could tell us the colleges you applied to, especially the ones that did not offer you admission. College admissions is so competitive now!” Avoiding direct eye contact, shielded behind wafts of blonde hair, the guide conveyed her disinterest. In the blackening horizon, she could almost see the safe haven of Scoville.

Deciding to skip the Libe, the tour guide had only just started her description of Leighton, when the woman astride the thin man nervously rose her hand, inquiring if Women’s and Gender Studies was appropriately named. Without hesitation, “Yes, it is,” came the curt reply. 

Upon the group’s arrival in front of Scoville, the tour guide handed out her information cards, thanking the group for visiting Carleton. Even as relief settled upon the guide like an unexpected burst of bright sun, the final question rung out as if emanating from the Willis clock tower: “Is it okay if my daughter doesn’t apply here?” 

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