To be honest, I was skeptical of the importance of the entry system before I arrived on campus. I had heard a few people rave about how the College’s administration had really nailed it when it came to integrating first-years. Still, I had my doubts. I was jaded – I thought four years of boarding school had prepared me sufficiently for the twists and turns of college life.
The first couple of days I couldn’t help but feel as though we were all trying a bit too hard, forcing small talk, feigning laughter. I thought my Junior Advisors (JAs) were merely pretty faces, or rather, placeholders who would have no real impact on my experience here. My entrymates? Forced friends. Coming into the first-year experience, I wasn’t nervous, but at the same time, I had grossly overestimated my independence. However, within the first week on campus, my preconceived notions slipped through the cracks.
Four months into my first high school English class, my teacher asked me why I had not spoken in class yet. I like to keep my thoughts and memories guarded; I wasn’t interested in sharing with my classmates because I thought, for some odd reason, they would not accept my ideas. Likewise, I think my initial resistance to the entry system stemmed from the fear of a new environment, fear that my entrymates would not accept me. Beyond simply that, I was uncomfortable with transitioning from a setting where I knew my direction and others sought me out for guidance to one where I would need the guidance and support from superiors and, most directly, my JAs.
The entry experience is like a marriage. At first, when you move in, your excitement is tempered by spurts of nervous tension. Then, you hit the honeymoon phase where everyone’s quirks are interesting and respective differences serve as fodder for discussion and revelry. As time goes on, we settle into the relationship. Likewise, the concept of the “entry” loses its traction; whether it be through sports teams, classes or clubs, we branch out and make friends outside of the entry. As this occurs, the entry becomes our unspoken anchor, our safe space but only when we need it.
I have spoken to my friends who go to other colleges about their dorm life. While some of them at other small, liberal arts schools share similar experiences, my friends at larger schools find that their dorms lack the same cohesion we boast. Their Resident Advisors, usually paid by the administration, look to get them in trouble and scold them for infractions. It’s far more impersonal, almost an every-man-for-himself system.
Three months into the first-year experience, I can genuinely say that the utility of the entry system is inarguable. With college comes the advent of new experiences, many of which I, as well as many of my peers, were ill equipped for. In that regard, the entry serves as a vehicle for shared learning, both inside and outside the classroom. JAs, between balancing their demanding schedules, are probably the most vital component of this shared experience. They mitigate the anxiety of being a first-year, they serve as role models and they’re there when you just want to have fun.
Of course, the system is not perfect, but it is what you make of it. Some entries are huge while others are miniscule. Some entrymates seem to be attached at the hip while others cannot stand each other. It’s few weeks into the year and people stop showing up to entry snacks or you see certain people more frequently in Schow than you see them in the entry. The charm of First Days wears off, and the entry that seemed so amazing just weeks ago becomes the status quo. What is often forgotten though, are the incredible moments like the one time your entry had a talent show at snacks or the time an entrymate filled half the quoteboard from a single conversation. Though we would all like to claim that our entry is or was the best, every entry has its own character and charm once you push past the simple highs and lows. And, at the end of the day, there is so much to learn from those around you; all it takes is a dash of trust and enthusiasm.
Meghana Vunnamadala ’16 is from Newport Coast, Calif. She lives in Williams Hall.