Davidson College boasts some of the highest retention rates in the country. More than 96% of Davidson students decide to return after their first year. Yet, even in the face of high retention rates, students still transfer.
Many of students who transfer leave for good reason. But Davidson doesn’t ask or record why, which means that the stories of many transfers are forgotten. Many believe that the community should listen to and learn from transfer students and use their stories to make the institution stronger.
Ten interviewed students were asked to share their stories on why they chose or considered transferring as well as their class year, racial/ethnic identity, sexual orientation, nationality, and gender identity. Seven of those stories are presented here.
The first student, a member of the class of 2019, expressed a desire for a more diverse campus. This individual racially identifies as African American and his or her sexual orientation is heterosexual.
“After spending my freshman year at Davidson College, I have learned a lot about myself and the type of environment where I believe I would thrive. Unfortunately, while I am challenged at Davidson academically, I remain unchallenged in areas I feel are important in the college experience.
“My hope is to transfer to a school where I can excel academically, as well as creatively. In my current setting, I am met by homogeneity and a lack of resources that I believe are important to my development as a student and person in today’s world. The school’s lack of diversity is robbing me of the opportunity to broaden my horizons and experiences outside of the classroom. When I say ‘diversity,’ I do not only mean in the areas of race or ethnicity. I feel that Davidson is lacking in diverse ideas, expression, and backgrounds. Once I recognized this shortcoming, I did my best to explore paths that might lead me to the creative challenges I crave. However, I have learned that opportunities for expression and the exchange of idiosyncratic ideas are few and very far between.
Artistic resources that had been advertised at the school are limited and inaccessible. A combination of personal experience and speaking with former students and administration has led me to conclude that Davidson does not provide an environment conducive to creativity.
“The culture shock of rural town life and Davidson’s island-like qualities have resulted in confusion and discomfort. There isn’t much activity in the town itself, and while Charlotte is advertised as an attraction, it is largely inaccessible to anyone who can’t afford a car of their own as a college student. Also, Charlotte isn’t really that cool of a city, in my opinion. It’s spread out, and it seems like the only way to enjoy it is if you get to know the city well, which I don’t really have time to do. Without the means to acquire a car, I have been left with nothing but what the immediate campus can offer me, which is not much. Davidson College definitely has a ‘type,’ and I don’t think it’s a place where people who don’t love Vineyard Vines, Bean Boots, and Barbour jackets can thrive without tearing their hair out on a daily basis.”
The second student is currently a first-year student and identifies as Asian heterosexual male. He wants a campus with a larger student body, but hasn’t made a final decision to transfer.
“My decision to apply to leave Davidson isn’t all necessarily related to my experience here. When I applied to colleges out of high school, Davidson wasn’t really on my radar and I ended up here as a result of not getting into a lot of other schools. Basically, I wasn’t expecting to end up at a small liberal arts school – I knew it wasn’t the fit for me. So my decision to apply was basically predestined – and advocated for by my parents. I have gotten used to the short walks across campus and the small classes, but I knew I wanted a larger school with a different environment.
“In the fall, I remember spending consecutive weeks where I would just hide out in [the basement of the library] and leave only for food and class. I just feel like the combination of the rigor and the small student population (which makes for a pretty claustrophobic social scene) made it clear to me that I wouldn’t really love four years here. However, the spring semester has been a lot different from the fall. I’ve met amazing people here and I keep meeting more – it makes me realize that Davidson’s a pretty weirdly special place. Older kids have told me that they were adamant on transferring before they got here and during freshman fall, and most of them would back out in the spring. Davidson’s really growing on me, I’m getting used to the sleep schedule and the schoolwork. I’m just not sure if the pros and cons balance out…and that’s the dilemma I’m in now.
Student three, a member of the class of 2018, wants to transfer to a school located in a large city. She identifies as a heterosexual Asian woman.
“There are some great things about Davidson that drew me to the school in the first place from small class sizes, to the honor code and the Africana Studies major, which isn’t offered everywhere. However, I have found many negative things about the school that are making me question my ability to remain here for another 3-4 semesters. I grew up in a large city and have realized that while the college-town vibe is great, it also gets very boring very quickly. While I have tried to go to Charlotte, it is much more difficult than was advertised on my tour and can also get expensive since bus routes only run at certain times, forcing the use of other transportation services.
“Also, the atmosphere of stress at this school is incredibly exhausting to deal with, particularly when there are few opportunities to get away from it. Everyone seems to talk about stress and work at all hours of the day, and while working hard is important so is a balanced life, which few students here seem to realize or care about. I also think that the mentality of remaining ‘inside the box’ (in terms of dress, social groups, attitude etc.) is something that many students here subscribe to that adds to the monotony and constraining atmosphere that I feel here.”
The fourth student has had a negative experience with the Honor Code. He is a member of the class of 2019 and identifies as a heterosexual, Mexican-American Male, but did not submit applications to other institutions.
In his story he refers to an incident as “Pizzagate.” This is the name for an Honor Council case, which took place last semester. It involved a student who purportedly used coupons that were not his own to buy pizzas for his freshman hall. The trial created campus-wide conversation on the purpose and jurisdiction of The Honor Council.
“There were several reasons why I seriously considered transferring out of Davidson. When I was convicted for violating the Honor Code because of Pizzagate*, I was very disappointed how administration handled the situation. Instead of the issue being solved promptly, it went on for about three weeks. This constant stressor affected me, my schoolwork, and my family, especially the uncertainty of it going from person to person, council to council, dean to dean, and I having no say whatsoever and relying on someone else’s ‘moral judgment’ to hopefully save me. I found it ironic how I was actually rewarded by the corporation, did not do anything illegal, yet was (in my opinion) harshly punished by Davidson under the Code of Responsibility, which I (and a fair amount of freshmen) had never even heard about, since all Davidson talks about is the Honor Code.
“In my eyes, I did not see how I got penalized that severely for what I did compared to other things that go on on campus, like underage drinking (which is after all, illegal) – that to me seemed like the school’s priorities were not straight. Another reason is some of the people I have interacted on campus. Having lived abroad for the last seven years, I have encountered various types of people in my life; yet never in my life, have I met people that are so competitive, argumentative, hyper-sensitive and hyper-politically correct than at Davidson. To me, this is a shock as I have never felt my freedom of speech to be restricted to any extent. In fact, I have almost had to seclude my opinions from others because I do not waste my time and energy into an argument, which some people seem to look for.
“Thirdly, I have some problems with the Honor Code. While I had to sign it to get into Davidson and there are great things about it, I think there are some negative repercussions that affect Davidson students. While great in theory, I believe that it has actually created a society of ‘snitches’ and paranoid people on campus, instead of a community of trust. After my case with the Code, I am afraid that I’ll do something else insignificant and get charged for another violation. It has caused me to fear it instead of trust it, which is partly due to the people who enforce it and their tendency to intertwine justice and their personal morals into deciding someone’s fate (at least from my case, which I learned I was judged based on morality instead of ‘law’, which is not how the real world works). These were the main reasons why I seriously submitted my transfer application to other schools.”
The fifth student transferred from Davidson last year because she wanted to attend a school with a larger music department. This member of the class of 2017 identifies as a straight, ChineseAmerican female.
“I had applied to three universities, two instate public universities, and Davidson, with the intent of pursuing a career in medicine (as a result of being pressured by my parents so hard that I believed in the lie). Davidson appealed to me. It ranked high. It had reputation. It had money. The high tuition gave a sense of prestige, like the Davidson education was worth paying for. In comparison, the public universities seemed too large and bureaucratic to pay me individual attention, not elite enough to impress my parents. Furthermore, as an East Asian student who internalized anti-Blackness I did not want an in-state school with students of lower GPAs. I connected this statistic to intelligence level, but I also subconsciously linked it with low socioeconomic status and non-white races, an association that has since been proven with many studies.
“I attended Davidson for two years. The first year, I lied to myself that I wanted to be a doctor. The second year, I faced my true desire to become a musician. I realized that transferring was absolutely necessary because Davidson’s music department did not have the teachers or facilities required for a competitive music education. I am currently attending a public university in my home state that I originally thought too mediocre (too non-white) to apply to. However, its music school is one of the best in the region. After attending this school for a year I can say that I am very proud to be studying here. There are many aspects of Davidson I miss, but I am glad that I left in order to find something that was closer to my true self. This transferring process has changed what I consider to be a good education.”
This first year student, who identifies as a white heterosexual male, feels isolated here at Davidson and would prefer a place with greater diversity.
“The reason I consider transferring stems primarily from a feeling of isolation from my peers. There’s a famous aphorism saying that reads something like: we don’t realize how important something is till we loss it. Living at Davidson for the past semester, I have grown to recognize just how much I value diversity. Reflecting on past experiences, I realized that I have grown and developed most as a person when I am around people with interesting backgrounds and experiences dissimilar to mine.
“The high concentration of division one athletes paired with the fraternity scene I feel divides Davidson’s students body in a negative way. I feel these groups greatly limit interactions between students. I think it is fair to say these structures form a symptom of a greater issue. Davidson severely lacks socio-economic as well as ethnic diversity. The Class of 2019 is supposed to be the most diverse class ever to attend Davidson. That being said, as one of its members, I truly am taken aback by how ‘diversity’ has been defined.
Change takes time, sure, but often it could and should be encouraged more. Diversity please.”
This student is a former member of the class of 2018. She chose to transfer because of the rigorous workload and identifies as a white, heterosexual, female.
“At 3 am I left the library, where my friends were pulling yet another all nighter. It was my third night in a row studying until 3am. I was exhausted; my face was pale and my eyes baggy. For weeks, my friends and professors commented that I looked ill. But I had an 8:30 class in the morning and an early lab the day after, so I knew I wouldn’t be getting a full night’s sleep for another two days. This was not how I pictured or wanted my college experience to be. It was only the fall of my freshman year, and I was burning out. Looking for encouragement, I spoke to my upperclassmen friends, asking if it would get better. Their response was ‘leave while you can.’ So I did. Although I miss some aspects of Davidson, I am much happier at my current school and grateful for the opportunity to transfer.”
See davidsonian.com for all ten stories.