Thanks To That Blonde Girl Riding A Pirate Bike
by Kat Owen, SU Student Ambassador
Southwestern was not in the forefront of my mind when I began the college application process; in fact, it wasn’t even on my radar. My plan at sixteen was to pursue a degree in fashion merchandise marketing, hoping to eventually segue into a career in fashion journalism. Idealizing the life of a burgeoning marketing editor or fashion writer at Nylon, W, or Marie Claire, I wasn’t paying much attention to in-state schools. I applied to Texas Christian University and the University of North Texas, both of which offered fashion-merchandising programs, but had my eye on LA’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandise (FIDM). But, along with the application process came a profound and gnawing nostalgia for a part of my life that wasn’t even over yet. So, during one of our late night I don’t know what I’m going to do without you episodes, my best friend, Ana, and I made a deal to each apply to one school for the other person; this agreement prompted my application to Southwestern.
Having never before heard of the school, I visited Southwestern’s website the following day, liberated of preconceived notions and biases—except, perhaps, for the knowledge that it lacked any sort of fashion studies program. But at this point, about three months into my senior year, I was making an effort to think more practically. I had ruled out TCU after visiting over the summer and realizing the campus was just too overwhelming in size. FIDM was still my choice school, but I had come to understand a career in the fashion industry didn’t necessitate a fashion-specific degree. Besides, the other half of my plan was to write, and I wouldn’t get much journalistic experience if I spent four years studying marketing. So, I logged onto the SU website that day with a more open mind, an authentic curiosity. I remember thinking, as I scrolled through photos of wide-eyed students riding Pirate Bikes with outstretched legs, that it didn’t have the cold, corporate feel characteristic of many other universities’ websites. But, what ended up selling me on a visit was the campus’ focus on sustainability, including their student-run garden. I had been a vegetarian for three years and was not looking forward to having to rely on a dining hall at a big, state school where my options would likely be limited to cheese pizza and whatever the salad bar had available.
To Southwestern Or Not To Southwestern?
It was barely a week after my FIDM admissions counselor told me I had been accepted into their Merchandise Marketing School that I received my acceptance letter from Southwestern. I sat at my kitchen table, Southwestern’s silver envelope open in my lap, sobbing uncontrollably. I was terribly conflicted, for a number of reasons. First, while tuition was about the same at both schools, Southwestern offered me a generous amount of scholarship money; I didn’t get a cent from FIDM. Another factor was my dad, who entertained my FIDM dream earlier on in the process but didn’t actually consider it as a serious option. He was hardly shy about being on Team Southwestern, and, truthfully, I was beginning to adopt some of his concerns. I had been so convinced, for almost seventeen years, that I was supposed to work in fashion; it had been such an integral part of my identity, and when I would share with people my plans to attend FIDM, they would say things like, “Oh, that’s so you!” But, a lot had changed for me in the past year—priorities, interests, values, relationships—and I became increasingly dissatisfied with such a finite self-concept. I began to crave the chance to explore my capabilities and challenge myself. I wanted to delve more into writing, and I was slowly discovering I had passions completely unrelated to fashion. I wanted to see where these could take me and I was afraid FIDM would be too restricting. At the same time, however, attending Southwestern would mean abandoning my comfortable plan. I was terrified by both options.
The Pirate Bike Girl
Visiting Southwestern’s campus with Ana and my mom solidified my decision. I wasn’t leaning toward one or the other on the drive to Georgetown; but before we even pulled out of the admissions parking lot to make the drive home, I realized there really was really no other option. It wasn’t a perfect tour. In fact, I had to separate from the group to find a restroom and I got lost trying to find them again, even though the central part of campus is just one big circle. I finally mustered the courage, after ten minutes of wandering around the mall, to ask for directions. I stopped a girl dismounting a yellow Pirate Bike who had her blonde hair in an intricate braid; she was obviously too cool for me and I seem to remember my voice cracking when I asked if she could point me in the direction of the first-year dorms. But, she didn’t seem at all bothered by my question and turned out to be unbelievably sweet. (In retrospect, I don’t know why that took me so much by surprise.) I thought Southwestern was beautiful and I felt positive vibes all around me, but I think my ten-second interaction with this girl had the most lasting impact; she was welcoming and encouraging and I loved the prospect of spending four years surrounded by people like her.
SU, A Liberal Arts Community
Unlike bigger schools, which are more degree focused and don’t take the same kind of interest in individual educational needs and aspirations, Southwestern’s liberal arts education allows its students to try thing out. I was a political science major as an incoming first year, but it only took one Comparative Politics course to realize, while I do find the subject matter interesting, I am not a political science-minded person. At most other schools with extensive general education requirements and rigid degree plans, I wouldn’t have been able to change my mind so easily. But because of the way Southwestern’s system is structured, I had time to sort things out.
I had initially dismissed the communications studies program because it lacked a focus in journalism. But eventually, Dr. Olson, my advisor and seasoned comm studies professor, wore me down and got me to sign up for Introduction to Communications Studies. I found out I really enjoyed critical media studies; and, when I took Media and Culture the following semester, I discovered I was actually fairly good at it. It was also in this class that I was introduced to feminist and queer studies. I fell into a pattern of taking gender-focused classes, soon realizing I had been a feminist all along. I declared my feminist studies minor just a couple months ago. I don’t imagine I would’ve learned so much about myself had it not been for the relationships I have been able to develop with my professors. The average class size is about 20, and outside of class, most professors do a fantastic job of making themselves available to students. It is thanks to brilliant, inspiring professors, not to mention brilliant, inspiring peers, that I have felt compelled to be experimental with my education.
Aside from a liberal arts education, one of the most outstanding things about Southwestern is that it continues to cultivate a close-knit, community feel among its students. It would be misleading to try and paint Southwestern as a school free of social conflict; but there is definitely an understanding of mutual respect and, as a friend of mine once described it, a common intellectual curiosity. I have met many like-minded people, a refreshing change of pace from my high school experience, as well as plenty of people that dare me to think about things in different ways. I have grown much more self-assured in the past three years; never have I felt more comfortable to be myself, whatever that means, and this is largely because of Southwestern.