- Class: Freshman
- Major: Anthropology
- Gender: F
- High School: Columbia High School
- Transfer Student: N
The best thing about Macalester is its size. It embraces being a small liberal arts college in so many ways. Class sizes are remarkably small, and are ALWAYS taught by professors (or visiting lecturers). Professors are accessible, to the point of inviting students to their homes for dinner, which is something I always thought was just a stereotypical college guidebook comment. The campus is a manageable size, and though it's in a city is in a quiet residential neighborhood, so it's really the best of both worlds. Even better, and something I did not anticipate, is the way the school almost seamlessly blends into the neighborhood, in the sense that surrounding area is full of students, alumni, faculty, and people who are just generally friendly towards the school and the people who go there. When I tell people where I go to school, most of the comments I get are about how cold the winters must be. They are. But for me, that was fairly irrelevant - I bought a winter coat and kept going. The administration, to the best of my knowledge, is fairly tame. They make themselves very visible, which is good...but they also seem to beat the dead horse about their favorite brochure phrase, "global citizenship". To their credit, the campus is legitimately diverse in terms of having students from around the world, especially since it's a small school in the midwest. Something unique about Macalester is the "Veggie Co-op" - quite literally an on-campus group of vegetarians and vegans who live in converted loft-style rooms under the stadium and share a kitchen where they cook meals together. They throw the best Halloween party every year, make delicious food, and are generally an interesting group of people. You have to apply to live there, but from what I hear, its way worth it.
With the exception of a few absentminded professors, every class I've ever been in the professor has known my name. Lectures are never bigger than 60 students, and if they are, they aren't really taught as lectures - small group discussion, and opportunities for class interaction with the professor is constantly provided. Macalester in general has a good way of melding the intellectual with the social, and I would say that students find ways to have intellectual conversations in contexts that don't make them seem nerdy - discussions about current events abound, as do those about more heated class discussions. My favorite class was my first year course, People & the Environment, an anthropology class about environmentalism. It was specific without being obscure, the professor assigned large amounts of reading but was always quick to explain his opinions and ask for ours, and the size of the class allowed for almost constant discussion of issues both in what we read or learned, and in current events. The professor invited the class to his home for a lunch of authentic Sri Lankan food, which he cooked himself. The size of the school does mean that some departments end up being smaller than others. However, this in my experience has NOT deterred from the quality of the classes, nor the breadth of topics that are taught each semester. Sure, at a school of 40,000 you might have 50 times the amount of classes to choose from, but somehow each semester when scheduling comes around, I manage to be incredibly conflicted about what to take. Certain majors seem to lend themselves to being more "workplace friendly" (economics, computer science, etc) but the emphasis is on learning for it's own sake, which I find slightly idealistic, but also am very appreciative of. The school makes up for it with its HUGE career development center, which arranges a litany of internships (which can count for credit, work study, or neither).
I am constantly amazed by the LGBT friendliness of the campus. Coming from a very LGBT-friendly area, I expected less openness and tolerance, perhaps because of the school's location in the midwest. However, I misjudged both the school and the twin cities. What is especially refreshing at Macalester is the lack of novelty with which people approach those of other sexual identifications or orientations. Where some student bodies may react to a transgendered student by treating them like a curious exhibit, students here aren't surprised by much. Recently, a dorm was set aside as being "gender-free," so that students can have an environment where their gender identification does not have to affect their living arrangements. It had very widespread campus support. There is a huge lack of socio-economic diversity on campus, which especially in recent years can be attributed to the school ending need-blind admissions. Most students here are middle-class and above, and while most people I know are not necessarily wealthy, the school is not very accessible for working-class students. Another problem I see is the divide that occurs between international and domestic students. This is not based on race or ethnicity, but on the fact that the international students all come for their own orientation, at least a week before other students arrive. This means that they meet each other and become close friends before the domestic students arrive. This happens in the dining hall, although the cafeteria is small enough and the tables are close enough together that it's not very noticeable. People are certainly friendly, and hang out in larger groups that are mixed, but as far as close friends are concerned a divide certainly exists. Students are generally very politically aware, and range from slightly left of center to very left. Students to either side of that are in a minority, but there are enough of them (and enough students who don't pick friends based on political opinions) that it's not the end of the world. Sometimes the liberal rhetoric and Obama lovefests get a bit tiresome, but perhaps that just my cynical beyond-left approach.
The Best Things
The size. The professors. The location. Getting gmail as our school email system. Having an intellectual social life. Oh, and the vegan chocolate chip cookies in the cafeteria.
The Worst Things
The football team?