By Olivia Montes
As the 2021 fall semester unfolds in the midst of still-lingering uncertainty, the Washington College Class of 2025 has made an impact on campus.
Prior to their arrival on Aug. 23, many WC faculty and administrative members were already aware of the unique experiences and qualities several first-year students had throughout their respective high school careers. This included their commitment to social advocacy and a dedication to strengthening their communities — before they had even set foot on campus.
Alongside this dedication to both academics and extracurricular activities, demonstrations of leadership, and resilience, the class of 2025 also displays diversity in backgrounds, cultures, and identities.
According to the College’s Enrollment Management Marketing, 18% of students in the class of 2025 identify as Black or African American, Asian American or Pacific Islander, Hispanic or Latinx, or Indigenous, while 53% identify as female, 46% as male, and 1% as non-binary. 17% also identify as first-generation students.
Like the Classes of 2023 and 2024’s strength and interests in making positive world change, the Class of 2025 has already proven themselves to leave a mark on the College campus.
It was throughout Orientation Week that Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Dr. Sarah Feyerherm noticed these characteristics emerge out of several first-year students, such as their “willingness” to openly abide by WC’s dedication to diversity and inclusion on campus during discussions between Peer Mentors and those same students after the bias incident that occurred on Aug. 25.
“It does not surprise me what I’ve seen so far with these first-year students — that they come with a high level of engagement, community service, and social justice,” Dr. Feyerherm said. “They have…come so far with a high degree of awareness of what it means to be a diverse community and a willingness to talk [and] have conversations about it are really encouraging.”
According to Director of Student Engagement Antione Jordan, the amalgamation of events that occurred with the 2020-2021 academic year, including the COVID-19 pandemic, political polarization, and environmental devastation, have also pushed many first-year students towards wanting to make the most out of their next four years on campus.
“[Both] the Class of 2025 and the Class of 2024 have both come to campus after experiencing an unprecedented year and a half, both domestically and globally,” Jordan said. “The political and social upheaval the United States has faced, on top of experiencing a once-in-a-generation pandemic, has left many of these students desperate to connect and engage with their peers, but also to advocate for demonstrable change in their communities.”
As of Sept. 1, according to Vice President for Enrollment Management Marketing Dr. Lorna Hunter, there are close to 275 first-year students currently enrolled at the College, with an approximate 69% acceptance rate as of 2021, with the fluidity to change.
This matches the same estimate as the total number of first-year students entering in fall of 2020, but is smaller compared to the 350 estimated total first-year students entering the fall of 2019.
There are also an estimated 14 transfer students entering the 2021 fall semester, a slight decrease from about 15 from fall 2020 and 25 from fall 2019 respectively.
“It is so exciting to see them,” Dr. Hunter said. “With this Class, you can see where their activities ceased…but they really got out there in their communities, they worked so much…to be of service to others.”
In addition to social and cultural impacts, the Class of 2025 is also financially influencing WC.
According to the Office of Student Affairs, with a current fee charge of $765 per student, 33% of that fee will be directed to the Student Government Association to fund their own affairs and distribute to over 90 student-led groups and organizations across campus. In addition, an estimated 3.2% will fund the student-run transportation program Safe Ride, 4.6% to The Elm, and 6.5% to fund campus-wide events such as the annual Birthday Ball.
“I think that this is a class that if you can talk about being tested for resilience, they have been,” Dr. Hunter said. “I hope that [these students] will help to push WC to continue to be an agent for good, positive change…and I think these students are going to help us [WC] to do that.”
Though the 2021-2022 year may continue to look different, many faculty members have expressed high hopes in seeing what the class of 2025 accomplishes within the next four years.
“We’ve had several Classes that unfortunately had to…spend a lot of energy holding up a mirror to the College and saying ‘this is not working for us, this isn’t right,’” Dr. Feyerherm said. “I think this [Class] now has the opportunity to take that and start to build with the College about what it is we do want to be, so that four years from now, when they hold up the mirror, the College is proud of what it sees.”
“Since the return of students to campus in the last week, there has been a noticeable buzz of excitement amongst everyone,” Jordan said. “Since we’re able to gather together again, albeit with precautions in place due to COVID-19, it’s my hope that many of our new students will take the opportunity to join a club or volunteer organization, make new friends, and contribute to our campus community.”
“I hope this new life that is being breathed into the College and Chestertown will translate into building a community of student-activists who are engaged, connected, and involved in their years ahead here at WC,” he said.
Photo by Izze Rios