The Purple Lantern
By biconews On 15 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Kim Peters

What is it like for a woman in her 30s, 40s or even 60s to attend college at an institution geared towards the needs and expectations of students in their late teens and early 20s? More specifically, what is it like for McBride Scholars to interact with traditionally aged students at Bryn Mawr and Haverford?

Returning to college as an older student entails a certain degree of anxiety. For instance, many McBrides wonder if their professional skills will translate into assets in the classroom. Some women express misgivings about the need to juggle school with family or work obligations, while others worry that their academic skills are out of date or “rusty.” No matter the particular mix of excitement and trepidation that McBrides bring to Bryn Mawr, many of the women entering the program are apprehensive about attending classes with younger students.

A common concern is that a McBride will be thought of as the “old lady” in a class. Will traditional students be inclined to strike up a conversation with a woman who may be at least

twice their age? If so, will they have anything in common? Will a McBride be able to compete academically with men and women who have had no interruption in their education? What on earth will it be like to be the only older student in a class?

Once a McBride begins her career at Bryn Mawr, however, these concerns often shift. After waiting five, fifteen or twenty-five years to earn a bachelor’s degree, older students want to get everything they can from their education. A real hunger for knowledge combined with the desire to “get it right” this time around means that McBrides are often extremely vocal in the classroom. In general, they aren’t afraid to make mistakes. They ask a lot of questions and usually don’t hesitate to express opinions. Consequently, McBrides express concerns about dominating class discussions, especially when there are more than a couple of them in the same class: McBride Scholars also worry occasionally that traditional students find them overbearing.

Despite these concerns, McBrides value their interactions with traditional students. Many women come to Bryn Mawr after a recent experience at another college where communication between older students and their younger peers has been less than satisfying. As one current McBride says, “At my former college, the traditional students seldom spoke. There was no learning from each other, except in one class that was made up of mostly older students. Bryn Mawr is different, because the younger women speak up and discuss the topics intelligently. I feel very lucky to be learning from them.”

Some McBrides recently attended a college or university that has a more diverse student body in terms of age, whereas other women have not been in an academic environment for many years. Since there are usually only about 60 to 80 women enrolled in the McBride Program at any given time, these women are concerned about feeling isolated at Bryn Mawr and Haverford. Normally, the transition is smooth. McBrides find it fairly easy to fit into a community of younger students. Beverly Weiss, a new grandmother, explains, “I have been the only McBride in most of my classes and I have never felt separated from the whole. I am usually approached by one or two young women who are eager to be with me in order to share ideas, to talk about homework, and to sometimes have dinner. I feel so honored to be included as a peer with these young women, who are even younger than my daughter.”

Still, McBrides speak occasionally about tension between themselves and traditional-aged students. Although most women agree that being older is not a hindrance in the classroom, sometimes McBrides feel that because of the age difference that younger students do not readily accept them.

Mary Leasure talks about walking into a room on the first day of class and being mistaken for the professor. She always finds these instances flattering, yet adds that they are more likely to happen at Haverford where some students don’t know about the McBride Program. She emphasizes, however, that her interactions with traditional-aged men and women have been extremely positive. Leasure includes a two-week trip to Brazil with a pair of traditional students and participation in Hell Week among the high points of her time at Bryn Mawr.

Lisa McKay claims that the sole reason she made it through Latin was because of three traditional-aged women. One woman was her tutor, while the other two were fellow students, all of whom made two years of Latin bearable “even when a visiting professor made Genghis Khan seem like a really gentle guy.” Like many McBrides, McKay claims that both Bryn Mawr and Haverford students are an integral part of her college experience.

McBrides choose Bryn Mawr largely because they want to he challenged academically. Therefore, they value the quick minds and motivation of traditional students and are always delighted to connect on an intellectual level as fellow scholars. McBrides also welcome the relationships with younger students that go beyond the classroom. Most of the women in the program live off-campus and commute up to an hour in each direction between home and school. Friendships with traditional students can thus provide a measure of continuity, helping to bridge the gap between their personal and academic lives.

Amy Stanton, Shirleen Hancock and Bryn Thompson all agree that intensive Spanish is especially rewarding this year because of their relationships with the younger students. Recently, when the professor got stuck in traffic and had to cancel class, the traditional students used their guest passes to treat the three McBrides to breakfast. While most Bryn Mawr and Haverford students wouldn’t describe their ventures into the dining hail as memorable, the majority of McBrides finds that this kind of experience helps to make up for not being able to participate in the day-to-day non-academic life on campus.

One of the best aspects of being a McBride Scholar is that it necessitates pushing beyond the boundaries of convention. It is not possible to enroll in college as a mature adult and remain complacent, confined to a worldview that mirrors the attitudes of one particular age group. For older students, college provides not only academic enrichment but it also presents the opportunity to grow personally. Thus, connections with traditional-aged students are one of the

most rewarding parts of being a McBride Scholar. Perhaps more importantly, the women in the program cherish their friendships with traditional students simply because friends of any age are indispensable.

McBride Scholars have purple-paned lanterns for Bryn Mawr’s Lantern Night.

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