Every summer, each incoming freshman receives in the mail a purple sheet of paper with eight questions to answer. The one-page questionnaire is what the housing office uses to try to match compatible roommates. Because there is nothing a freshman dreads more than the prospect of an undesirable roommate, students faithfully fill out the form to avert the chance that by mid-semester a line of tape will be placed, either literally or figuratively, down the middle of their dorm room.
This year’s housing questionnaire also reveals much about the class of 2008. There are many more night owls in the bunch, for example, than early birds—no surprise to anyone who has phoned a groggy student at 11 a.m. And while today’s eighteen-year-olds might seem permanently attached to their MP3 players, most say they prefer to study in silence, not with music playing.
A mere 8 percent claim they wouldn’t mind living with a smoker, but that does not necessarily mean Marlboro has succumbed to the antismoking lobby. According to housing office staff, students have a long history of answering that question less than truthfully. Perhaps they fear Mom or Dad is peeking at the form?
This year there are 1,434 freshmen. According to the admission office, the group includes more women than men and more would-be scientists than artists; biology is their most popular concentration choice. And geographic diversity is a hallmark: for the first time in years all fifty states are represented, as well as thirty-seven nations—from Austria to Nepal to Uzbekistan (see sidebar for more details).
The entire class, early and late risers, smokers and nonsmokers alike, wandered together through the Van Wickle Gates and over to the Green on the day after Labor Day. There, President Simmons officially opened the academic year, welcoming the entering class, as well as the 415 new graduate students, 108 transfers, seventy-six new medical students, and seven Resumed Undergraduate Education students. Revisiting a theme she has stressed at previous Convocations, Simmons urged students to listen to those with whom they disagree. This time, she put the message in the context of the presidential election, observing that in such a divisive race everyone will meet people “on the wrong side of the issue.”
Kay Warren, the Charles C. Tillinghast Jr. ’32 Professor in International Studies and a professor of anthropology, delivered the Convocation address. Describing Brown classrooms as magical, she wished students luck as they shopped for courses. Try out new fields of study, she suggested: “Be omnivorous, flex your brain, see what classes match your goals and challenge your ideas.”