We Didn’t Tell You The Whole Truth

Debunking Claims On Washington and Lee’s Website

Victoria Ernst

“Incredible opportunity for those with incredible potential.”

That’s how Washington and Lee’s website markets the university’s culture to high school students. Although I would agree that this place is incredible, I do not believe that every aspect of the website is entirely accurate. Over the course of my first year, this school has academically and socially defied my expectations as set by their advertisements

The University’s website promotes our school’s small size and low student-to-faculty ratio, allowing students “to find mentors and develop personal relationships across campus.” I have a love-hate relationship with this aspect of campus. I love having small classes (most are even smaller than my classes from high school), as I feel like I can thoroughly engage with the material and receive more personal attention from my professors. This aspect fosters trust between students and their professors and especially helps students when they cannot attend class or need an extension on an assignment. Half-asleep students who sit in the back of ginormous lecture halls in the Big Ten Conference do not have these luxuries. 

Sounds great, right? 

Not entirely. 

My friends from home, who study at larger colleges, often talk about their low class attendance. Don’t think you’ll get away with that at Washington and Lee. There’s no such thing as routinely skipping class; participation counts toward your grade. Unfortunately, no matter how useless you deem a professor’s lecture, you have to show up. 

There’s also bad news if you’re bad at public speaking. Because you are in such small classes, you will most likely have multiple presentations every semester- a feat that students who go to big state schools will never experience. (Yes, you’ll be better off in the long run, I’m just warning you prospective students now).

You couldn’t register for a class you wanted? Why? Because all of the seats were filled? Yup, it happens all the time; students scramble and often have to overload their schedules in order to meet the requirements for their major. Or, worse, they have to completely switch their major. This unlucky, yet rather common circumstance occurs due to the shortage of professors in popular departments, such as the journalism department. Though we are lucky to have a hefty $1.4 billion endowment, these students either do not benefit from its allocation, or this number is simply not enough to hire more professors. 

But what about taking a summer course to catch up? Good luck with that one; Washington and Lee doesn’t offer summer courses. The University Registrar also doesn’t offer sympathy with transfer credits, so your chances of finding a course at another school are low.

Oh, and if you had a bad experience with a professor, I’ve got news for you. If you’re going to major in the department, you may have to take a course with them again. 

Washington and Lee’s website also claims that our campus has “the best backyard”, referring to the beautiful landscape of Lexington and Shenandoah Valley. The unfortunate truth is that with W&L’s rigorous academics, it’s unlikely that you (especially if you’re on a sports team or involved in many clubs) will have time to appreciate the outdoors. Most school days you’ll catch a glimpse of the stars as you trudge back from Leyburn at midnight. 

But don’t worry, Washington and Lee assures you that “dining venues offer fresh, local and healthy options and wellness programs help students maintain healthy lifestyles.” 

I chuckled as I read that massive hyperbole. While the Salad Bar, Deli, and Chef’s Table are generally safe options from D-hall, I rarely step foot online for Lex Grill or Daily Dish. The meat, especially the chicken, is often undercooked and of egregious quality. The oil-smothered vegetables will clog your arteries.The third-year dining venues, Fieldside and Foodside, supposedly offer “better” meal options, but freshmen have to use their Flex if they want to eat before D-Hall closes. In addition, the $225 worth of Flex seems to vanish halfway through the semester. I look forward to eating Foodside’s acai bowls on the weekends (which shockingly compete with the ones from Long Island), but I wouldn’t touch their chicken after spending five days with my head over the toilet due to food poisoning.

When alumni and prospective students visit campus, D-Hall coincidentally serves edible cuisine! At these times I venture to Lex Grill and the Daily Dish. Under any circumstances other than these, don’t expect to get a home cooked meal. There is some good news: you won’t gain the dreaded freshman fifteen.

“Community matters. The quality of our community is evident in our Speaking Tradition, which encourages students and faculty to greet friends and strangers alike.”

The Speaking Tradition will exist during orientation week then quickly die. The “heys” will turn  to smiles, to awkward smirks, to head nods, to eventually looking at the sky or ground in utter avoidance. The only people you will say hey to in the long run are your friends and professors. Or, if you’re like me, you will at least smile or say hello to strangers walking alone, but you won’t always get a response. No, not every encounter with peers is as such, but the vast majority are; perhaps we have COVID-19 to blame for our aloof behavior. You’ll even notice that the alumni rarely say hello when they return to Lexington for reunions. However, that’s not a flaw of our school. That’s a flaw of our student body. 

Most Washington and Lee faculty would describe our campus as a “close-knit community”. I would agree that we are close-knit due to our size, but close-knit does not mean affable. The warm, welcoming atmosphere of the fall slowly fades as the freshmen find their niche groups within clubs, sports, and Greek life. This phenomenon is inevitable; it’s human nature to surround yourself with people with whom you share similar interests. However, this tendency should not discourage human decency, respect, and common courtesy. I understand that many students, especially those involved in such groups, value their personal and collective pride in those organizations. But if you think you’re the best, how will you ever learn from anyone? How will we progress as a society? Ultimately, it’s up to the collective efforts of the student body to decide whether we want to relive highschool. 

With these few criticisms, I would like to acknowledge that my freshman year has been so different from what I could have ever imagined. Yes, our school has some flaws, but I’m sure that for each flaw we have, every other school has ten times more. Washington and Lee offers several exceptional and unique experiences that the administration does not outwardly advertise on the website. To understand exactly what I mean, you’ll just have to visit or enroll (or wait until I run out of ideas for stories and write about them).