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College confidential

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In exchange for anonymity, Arkansas college students talk about what it's really like at their schools. Read on for the straight dirt on partying, managing stress, Greek life and the ubiquity of Tinder, as told to Tom Coulter.

19-year-old male

Hendrix College

Freshman

My first year, I was immediately surrounded by people who loved to party. Because I came from a top 10 high school in the country, my expectations going in were I would crush it. Honestly, I was aiming for an Ivy League [school] but didn't get it, so I thought I would be one of the top students. I worked really hard in high school, but at soon as I came here, my life just really revolved around drugs and alcohol. I was already really big on it in high school ... then I go to college and kind of found the friends that smoked pot and drank a lot. It's really easy to reach out and smoke with people. It's kind of something I noticed definitely at the beginning of the year as a way to break barriers and make a lot of friends. Pretty much most of the people that I was around smoked pot, so that was a way we all came to know each other and build our friendships. That's how I know a lot of my great friends.

Procrastination is pretty big in college. You find so many people awake at 4 a.m., doing homework and recovering from smoking and stuff. I kinda messed up my freshman year, to be honest. I did a lot of drugs ... that's really how we handle anything. I think it's something that most people do, and for people that haven't, I've seen so many people try their first time. Something I noticed was that I played sports in high school, and I didn't play sports while I smoked pot. After school every day in middle school and high school, I would go straight to practice, come home tired, eat, do homework and sleep, like all my friends did that played sports. Then we discovered this entire world of people who didn't play sports and went home and instead hung out and smoked pot and all this stuff. The athletes discovered it, and so all these different cultures meshed and were brought together by smoking.

I can definitely say Hendrix has taken a lot of steps to raise awareness about sexual assault. Just by doing that, it's helping us out. The scene at parties, since it's a lot of people in tight spaces, a lot of the times it gets really intimate and people tend to overestimate their alcohol tolerance. I can't say with certainty that there's no sexual assault happening. I've definitely talked to girls who say they don't feel safe ... . For me, I've never found myself in a bad situation where I didn't want to be there anymore.

I would say dating is really just up to friend groups. I know a lot of guy groups that are way too scared to talk to girls and went their entire freshman year single with no attempt. There are other guys who meet up with people at parties, and a few of my friends have met their girlfriends at parties just hanging and dancing together. So that's one way, but another way is through athletics. The volleyball girls always talk to the football guys, and the soccer guys only talk to the soccer girls.

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Experiencing the amount of substances that I consumed and abused, which I never would think that I'd even consider doing before this past August ... I feel like I've learned a lot about myself, but at the same time, I'm ashamed. I'm worried for this entire generation, because people who do substances as often as me are out there. There's so many people that I know, so many groups in my generation doing drugs like this and deprioritizing academics. It's just so common and available everywhere. I'm really curious and nervous as to what's gonna happen when we're all going forward. Hopefully maturity plays into it and throws me out of this freshman-in-college mindset. My GPA is definitely salvageable.

21-year-old male

University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Junior

I really expected UALR to be a pretty dead campus. Not many people know about the opportunities that are here. I ended up going Greek, and that completely changed my life. I did it my first semester ... now they've pushed the dates back, but for me, our bid day was like three weeks into school. You're just kinda thrown right into recruitment and everything. I didn't think I was going to. I never saw myself as a fraternity guy, and no one else really did either. A lot of people were surprised I got a bid at that point. One of my roommates was a member already, and he introduced me to a lot of the guys. I saw it as an opportunity to better myself and have something to do on a campus that didn't seem to have a lot. The campus has a lot of individual communities, and I'd say Greek Life is one of the bigger ones. Everyone in Greek Life is pretty close together.

Because we're a smaller community, I think our school is 2 percent Greek, where you have other schools that are 60, 70 percent and all the chapter sizes are smaller. Most chapters are 20 people. You definitely have a closer connection with all the individuals, but with smaller numbers it makes events and finances a lot tougher. We can't do some of these big-scale things that, even though we have members who are just as passionate or more than big schools, we can't fulfill everyone's dreams.

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The people I hang out with do a lot of studying, so it helps that the people I surround myself with are trying to achieve the same goals. I don't get stressed out working harder than I have to, but there's a lot of events that campus throws that are fun and a good away time from studying. Last year was the first year that Greek Life has had to follow all the rules for registering parties for a few years. There was a huge transition last year. Before then, you would have these huge 500-people parties, which for a big school isn't huge but for UALR it is. You would have these parties with 40 gallons of punch there. Starting last year, we registered all of our parties, with the school's police force at our parties helping with security. Now it's a really fun, safe environment. I haven't seen any sexual misconduct or heard of any reported cases around my group of people. For our fraternities, we all have sober monitors, so per so many people, we have them watching parties and ensuring nothing happens.

I haven't known there to be a big use of anything more than marijuana on campus. There's probably more, but the people I associate with ... . I haven't heard anything beyond that. I do see a lot of Adderall [a stimulant] deals in the library.

There's a lot of serious relationships on campus, and probably because there are such small circles. Once you date someone and y'all break up, there goes a fourth of the people you know that are just off the market because they're close friends. It can become difficult to date on campus, just because everyone knows everyone.

A lot of people use Tinder and Bumble as a joke ... well, not really as a joke, but a "let's mess around and see who's on here" kind of thing. I definitely don't think people use dating apps for trying to find their next husband or wife.

When I was coming here, I was honestly dreading it. This was my last-choice school, and I just didn't get the money from everywhere else. They gave me money here. I kinda went with it, and then I fell in love. I'm glad I went here. I wouldn't have chosen anywhere else.

22-year-old female

Harding University

Recent graduate

Going to a private school was a bit of a different experience. I went to a really big high school, so it was kind of a culture shock going from this massive high school that's bigger than my college and coming to a small, private, Church of Christ school.

I lived in a dorm my freshman and sophomore year, and the dorm life was fun. It was interesting, because Harding has these rules. Like, your freshman year in your dorm, you have curfew, which is midnight on weekdays and 1 a.m. on weekends. I wasn't normally one in high school to stay out super late, so I didn't think the curfew was a big deal when I heard about it. But it was kinda just the idea of it being enforced. I was never used to having to be home at a certain time, because I never came home late. Now knowing that I was in college and had to come home at a certain time, that was the most interesting part. Because your RAs come in every night and make sure you're in your bed.

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Growing up in California, I wanted to go somewhere else and experience a different culture, and so I came in contact with my coach at Harding and went on a visit and fell in love with the campus. I thought it was beautiful, and I loved the people. I love Arkansas culture. I think people are super friendly, and that's honestly what hit me like a ton of bricks. Whenever I come home, I'll hold doors open for people, and they don't say thank you. No one's nice. When I go to Arkansas, people are so friendly. That's one of the reasons I really loved Harding.

I got a full scholarship to Harding, and one of the other main reasons I picked it was because it was one of the few schools where I had the ability to graduate in three years and get an MBA from the same university while being able to still play. I cleared that with my coach right off the bat, so having a master's degree paid for was very nice.

Harding is kind of its own little bubble, and I think my perspective changed a lot on going back and forth from home to Harding. They call Harding the marriage factory, because ... like two weekends ago I knew eight people getting married that I had gone to college with. It feels completely different from reality, and having to go back and forth between friends at state schools that party and do this and that, then I go back to Harding and have three wedding invitations on my fridge.

Dating is different for an athlete than it is for a regular student. I'm not Church of Christ, so I didn't come in with the idea of "I'm gonna leave Harding married." It sounds extreme ... but if you don't leave Harding engaged, I know girls who are just distraught over it, just devastated. I distinctly remember having a conversation with one of my suitemates after we graduated. She and her boyfriend had been together for about six months, and she's like, "If he doesn't propose soon, I don't know what I'm gonna do." And I was like, "Well, you've just been dating for six months." And it's just that pressure, and I don't even know if it's from the university or from peers, but I've never seen that anywhere else.

I've been on Tinder once in my Harding experience, and it is hilarious. I've matched with a few people who are like, "You're in my Bible class, don't tell anyone." I feel like Tinder has such a bad connotation with it. One of my good friends at Harding actually met her now-husband on Tinder, but they will not tell anybody that's how they met. So, yeah, people definitely use it. Harding students just try to stay on the down-low about it.

There's definitely still a party scene; it's just very quiet, because if you party, you get kicked out. You have any sexual contact of any kind that they find out about, you get kicked out. Harding's like any other school, girls are going to get assaulted. Anybody can. I think it was bad for a while because girls couldn't come forward about it, because they were so afraid of getting kicked out of school. But about a year ago, they did change the handbook so if you've been assaulted, you can go and report it to the university without fear of being kicked out. I commend the university for that. We had a chapel specifically talking about it. I don't remember who led it, but he was just saying that Harding is just a college like anywhere else ... and we want girls to feel like they can come forward and say something. That's everywhere, too. Girls are afraid to come forward because they're afraid of being judged and won't be listened to. I think Harding did a good job of saying they'll listen.

I feel sometimes Harding from an outside perspective can get a bit of a bad rap. Everybody has a different experience. I wouldn't rate my Harding experience as being extremely positive or extremely negative, but I think being in such a unique environment was incredible. There's not a lot of places where you can pray with your professor or coach or confide ... like I had a female professor I was really close to who one time I was just having a bad day, and she came and picked me up and took me for a ride in her convertible and rolled the top down and was like, "Sometimes people just need this." I think you can't get that everywhere, that that's kind of a Harding thing.

21-year-old female

University of Arkansas at Fayetteville

Junior

I'm from a really small town, so I definitely wanted to get away from home like most college students do. UA was far enough away that my parents wouldn't bug me so much, but also close enough so I could still be close to them and go home when I wanted to. My first impression of the campus, I was very impressed. It was a really big campus, very clean, very pretty. I kinda wanted to see what the big-city feel was. Well, it's bigger than my little town of 700 people. So, definitely a big change. Mostly I just wanted to get away and see what was out there.

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Academically, college was much harder than high school. I expected it to be harder, but I didn't expect it to be a punch in the face. Eventually I got the hang of it. It was definitely a time of learning how to manage my time better and be more responsible. I lived in the Honors freshman dorm on campus. The rooms were small, but it was one of the most recently renovated dorms. Very modern, had tons of study rooms, TV, community bathrooms, which I was hesitant of at first, but it was fine. It all turned out great ... my dorm was a good place to meet people since we were all freshmen.

I didn't join Greek Life. Outside of Greek Life, the Honors College helped me a lot since it helps to find other people to socialize with. A lot of people in the Honors College are also in Greek Life, so my friends are kind of a mixture of those in Greek Life and those involved in other things.

All of us are under a lot of stress pretty consistently. In my opinion, we handle it well. I will take a night off from studying and just have a night to myself and watch Netflix or read a book or something I want to do for myself. That helps me deal with my stress. Oddly enough, I work well under pressure and under stress, so my academics don't suffer very much from that, only my mental state. I would say there's a good support system on campus. We have counseling and psychological services for anyone who needs someone to talk to. I think most students on campus just talk to their friends. We're all in the same boat, so we kind of understand each other and understand what we're stressing about. I think just talking to different friend groups is how most of my friends and I deal with our stress.

Out-of-state tuition was definitely a consideration when I chose Fayetteville. I knew it would be cheaper, and I didn't want the financial burden. Luckily, I have scholarships that pay for pretty much all of my college, so my situation isn't as stressful as others' may be. I did have one friend freshman year who had to transfer to a different college because he was running out of money to stay at Fayetteville. Really, that's the only time I've seen money be a barrier. Of course, we're all poor college students trying to save every dollar we can. Everyone has a job they're working to help with finances.

There's a pretty good mixture of serious relationships and hook-ups. Tinder is wildly popular. ... I actually don't have it, because I recently just got out of a long-term relationship. A lot of my friends use it and think it's hilarious. I've also seen people my age get engaged, which surprised me, honestly. Makes me feel old! But there's a good mixture of both.

Going to Fayetteville has definitely made me more liberal politically. I wouldn't say I was a conservative before, but I was more conservative than I am now. It was mainly because my friends ... . My time at Fayetteville has been great. It's been some of the best years of my life and given me a lot of growth.

22-year-old female

University of Central Arkansas

Recent graduate

My first semester I actually went to U of A. I'm from a small town and I ended up going there mostly just because I wanted that big-school feel. It ended up not being really what I wanted. I felt kind of lost. I had a couple of friends who went to UCA, and UCA was my second option anyway, so I went to tour it and ended up really liking the feel of it. I transferred second semester, and I guess as a freshman you're still trying to figure out where you fit in, kinda like starting high school all over again. But, yeah, it's tough to figure out friend groups, organizations I wanted to get involved with. I didn't have to deal with a whole lot my freshman year. I hung out with those two friends from high school every now and then, and mostly just focused on school. I ended up going home probably more than I should have, I guess, but it wasn't bad, and I felt a lot more comfortable at UCA, just kinda that homey feel. But trying to figure out the campus, especially as a new student transfer, I just kinda felt like, "Dang it, everybody already knows each other," even though no one really does, you know?

One of my friends from high school was in a sorority, so she had met people through that and would introduce me every now and then, like, "Hey, you guys would probably get along." I would also try to branch out in classes, which I always found kinda hard for some reason.

Being in a sorority was probably a big thing, too. I ended up rushing my sophomore year, and so that was like you're around so many people all at the same time and they all want to be friends super fast. That's how I met a lot of my really close friends.

Greek Life is a lot different from Fayetteville or a big school like that. I think if I'd stayed in Fayetteville or another school like that, I don't think I would have rushed. It's kinda hard to explain. It's ... I guess more welcoming is a good word. Of course, everyone at first wants that certain [sorority] because of maybe something you hear. There's always gonna be those stereotypes, but then once you're in it, it's like you've made your friends and it doesn't really matter which one you're in. And even if you're not in it, I think the big thing is that it doesn't really control the campus. You may not be in it, but you don't feel excluded as much as at other schools. I was in other organizations, and I felt like I didn't even have to mention being in Greek Life at all to anyone in my classes to feel like I had to fit in.

Late junior year [of high school], all I thought was I wanted to go out of state for sure. But then, I was just, like, realistically for undergrad I might as well be smart about it and go to an in-state school. And I definitely looked at scholarships and things like that, grants so that I wouldn't have any loans. Just being more realistic about it and my situation, but now I just graduated, and I can go out of state. I'm debt-free, and so now for grad school, if I do have to get loaned out at least it'll be the first time.

I can see race being something that maybe divides us into groups. The Panhellenic and fraternity associations are mostly white. We just got a Latino sorority and fraternity on campus, so we've been trying to provide more options. It's very diverse, but I can still see there being division.

Freshman year and sophomore year, frat parties are kinda the big thing everyone does. Then once you get a bit older and figure out your friend group, you don't have to go to big parties. It's more house parties, things like that, or there's this bar right off campus and everyone goes to that. It's kind of a cool thing, because Conway isn't that big and there are not a whole lot of options, so everyone is forced to go to this bar. It's cool because you see everyone, and everybody is always like, "Hey, glad you're 21 now and can get in."

I've always felt pretty safe. It's always a little bit unsafe. It's unfortunate, I think, you get into college and might not know your exact limit of drinking. You're new to the campus and may not have the closest friends yet or know anyone at these houses yet. It's just a bad situation to be in. It's sucks you have to feel like that, too. As I got older, it was nicer because I knew a lot of the people at these houses, but it was never my favorite thing.

I've noticed a lot of freshmen come in with high school boyfriends or girlfriends, and then it doesn't really work out for the most part. I made friends with some freshman girls this past year, and they would either go home all the time or not want to go out at all. I was like, "You're missing out on a lot of things." With dating in general, there's a lot of dating in the organizations that you're in because you're around the people the most. Honestly, just meeting people at parties [is how people start dating], which is kinda interesting, because you're probably all drinking. It's just funny you're gonna meet people like that. I haven't noticed many people meeting who start dating in class. People just go in, get their notes, and leave, and that's it.

I don't know if I could start a real job right now. I have several friends who are teachers now and starting their jobs in the fall. Props to them, that's awesome. I need to learn how to adult a lot better. I feel like grad school is gonna be a lot harder in a good way, so I'm excited for that and being really on my own and figuring things out by myself.

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