It’s the height of college selection season once again, and masses of prospective students are descending on the dining halls, quads, and libraries. Many of them will make up the UChicago Class of 2018, but for now they exist in a state of selective limbo. The April Overnights are another form of recruitment, just like an admissions brochure or mass-produced maroon scarf, and both the administration and current students understand this.
After back-to-back prospie weekends, I’ve noticed that many students don’t treat prospies like real people. As soon as a group arrives in my house lounge, a crowd of students delivering long monologues about everything that’s great about this school forms around them. I’m guilty of this myself—when talking to prospies, I find myself skewing my experiences to accentuate the things I love the most.
This fascination with prospies quickly subsides, however. As one of my housemates remarked disgustedly after a night of conversation, “The prospies are so boring.” When I look at the group of prospective students, I try to find someone like me. I see the quiet ones, the ones with Studio Ghibli t-shirts, or even the few from the northern Midwest. But then I realize that they are real people with real, complicated lives that don’t resemble ours. It can be somewhat disappointing—they become boring, or mainstream, or even annoying.
And yet, despite the ways they undermine our unrealistic expectations, we still treat them as an audience. We continue to present a ready-made UChicago identity to our perceptions of the ready-made UChicago student.
The point of the April Overnights is to introduce prospective students to campus life in a supposedly realistic setting (however flawed that concept may be in execution). Through events like these, the admissions office hopes to convince admitted students that this really is the right place for them, and it has every reason to treat the prospective students as an audience—a collective body filling out the same application, receiving the same information, making the same choices, potentially paying the same tuition.
But as hosts, housing residents, or members of the student body, our job is to treat prospective students not as an audience, but as individual people. This means treating them as adults with the agency to form their own (now potential) experience at this school, and acknowledging that our own experience doesn’t necessarily encapsulate that, or what UChicago is all about. And this is a job that, in my experience, we do little to attempt.
As students, addressing this problem means acknowledging nuance. It means realizing that the most honest answer to almost all questions regarding campus life is, “It depends.” This doesn’t have to mean abandoning all attempts to show prospies a good time—contrary to the cynicism of the student body, a good time is definitely some part of the experience here. But at the end of the day, we best serve these prospies by giving an honest and real impression of our lives both at, and within the greater context of, this school.
Ellen Wiese is a first year in the College.