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Words of Praise for Strong College, 1994–2000

From 1994–2000 I served as the Senior Tutor (dean of students) of Cornelia Strong College, a residential college at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Residential colleges are designed to create a small college environment within a large university. To give visitors a feeling for what life is like inside a residential college, I assembled this collection of “sound bites” and short essays written about Strong College during the time that I was overseeing its daily life. Students: do you say things like this about your university? Parents: are your children having this kind of college experience? Faculty: is this the way people talk about your university? If not, your campus should consider establishing a system of residential colleges. Visit “The Collegiate Way: Residential Colleges and the Renewal of University Life” to find out how.

Brief Encomia

“We are especially thankful that our daughter is a part of a campus community where people look after each other.” —A parent

“I have been so happy and comfortable from almost the moment I got here.” —A freshman

“It’s like a family.” —A freshman

“It’s my favorite place to be.” —A freshman

“This place is really welcoming—it’s already becoming home.” —A freshman during arrival week

“I’m loving it here. It’s really becoming home already.” —A freshman during arrival week

“I have only lived in Strong College for a few weeks, but I already feel right at home (even though I live 30 minutes away). It’s my ‘school’ home away from home. Everyone has been so friendly and helpful.… No matter where I go, I always see a friendly face.” —A freshman

“I love it here.” —A student

“Strong College is cool.” —A student

“This place is home to me.” —A student

“It’s the greatest home-away-from-home anyone could ever have.” —A student

“It’s a lot better than home. I’m having a great experience here. I love this place.” —A freshman

“I think it’s great living here and I wouldn’t stay anywhere else.” —A student

“I never want to leave.” —A freshman

“Each time I see my son I am again impressed with his happiness and fulfillment as part of Strong College.… He is learning so much and is benefitting from his relationships with faculty and students. Your caring efforts are evident everywhere.” —A parent

“What a great atmosphere—what a great bunch of students—I’m glad my son lives here for his time at UNCG.” —A parent

“My daughter loves it there. You saved our year.” —A parent

Strong College is a place “where students can freely meet and talk with faculty and staff. That helps to create an excellent learning environment for our young adults.” —A parent

“How many other places on campus are there where students can debate each other and faculty on issues that really mean something to them?” —A Fellow of the College

Strong College “is so clean, so comfortable, so relaxing, so peaceful.” —A student

“Without Strong College I would be completely lost.” —A student

“Strong College has been like a family to me.” —A student

“I wouldn’t want to live someplace that wasn’t Strong College.” —A student

“I love people that are different in every way, and that is why I love CSC :) ” —A student

“I’m extremely grateful that both my children have had a chance to be a part [of Strong College].” —A parent

“Looking through these newsletters and pictures [on the website] is what made me decide that I HAD to be part of Strong College.… Can you tell that though I don’t actually move in until August, I am already crazy about it?” —An incoming freshman

“It’s really rewarding and energizing for me to see the excitement of a student that we’ve recruited as she moves from prospective student to applicant to a new voice in Strong College!” —A University admissions officer

“If we had ordered up something [for our daughter’s college experience] thirteen years ago when she first started school we couldn’t have picked anything better.” —A parent of a freshman

“It never ceases to amaze me how great Strong College is.” —A student

“I can’t wait for Tea to start. I felt like I was in a social desert all summer.” —A student

“I look forward to when I might refer some suffering student soul to the haven known as Cornelia Strong College.” —An alumnus

“I came to UNCG as a new faculty member, and Strong College saved me. It made me feel like I was part of the community.” —A Fellow of the College

“One of the most fun things to me about Strong College, in addition to the students, is meeting faculty from outside my area.” —A Fellow of the College

Strong College “has been one of the richest experiences of my professional life.” —A Fellow of the College

Strong College “has given me hope about what higher education can do.” —A Fellow of the College

“I hope other academic communities will take note of your success.” —A parent

“I wish some of the other buildings would be like this. It would save us a lot of headaches.” —A campus security officer

“I’m so glad I’m here.” —A student

Students’ answers to the question “I like Strong College because…”
     “it’s nifty!!”
     “everyone is so friendly.”
     “it’s almost like getting credit for hanging out.”
     “the atmosphere is conducive to creative and productive learning.”
     “it encourages individuality and creativity.”
     “I love the family-like atmosphere that surrounds me.”
     “it’s a lot better than being attacked by a pack of badgers.”
     “the College really cares about its members.”
     “it is a place of civility, friendship, and good cheer.”
     “they care.”

“I get to go home a week from tomorrow. I am looking forward to it. But I am going to miss this place. It is my home! What will I do without card games till 3 in the morning, procrastinating in the JCR, visiting Dr. O’Hara and Tim in the Office, and spending time with all my new friends. This semester has been filled with some of the best times of my life.” —A first-semester freshman at the end of the term

The Invisible University, Part I

In the fall of 1998, after a night standing out in the Peabody Park fields behind Strong College watching the Leonid meteor shower, a Strong College student, Ryan Kelly, sent the following essay on “the Invisible University” to Strong-L, our Strong College discussion group:

Back many moons ago, ok, last year, I remember before the school year started when I was still giddy about the prospect of the new adventure that college would be. I remember a talk to a group once (I don’t recall what group it was) and the theme was “The Invisible University.” We all know what the visible university consists of: classes, McIver statue, Chancellor Sullivan, the CAF, sporting events, etc. I was never 100% sure what the invisible university was until early this morning, about 2:30 a.m.

I was standing in the middle of a field, dew on my shoes, the cold beginning to nip at my hands and feet. Up in the sky, nature was putting on a show for those of us that were still out there. C.J., Sherrill, Brad, Adam, Tammy, Dr. Bob and myself were all that remained of our expedition. I said to myself, “Self, (I always refer to myself as self) I think that this is what that talk was about.” It was the sort of magical time that you never see in UNCG view books and videos, although I wish people could see it.

In my room later that morning, I started thinking to myself that there were other members of the invisible university, things I might not have thought of before. Discussing Brusilov with Adam in the Blue Lemur, “bad ass” dissertations by Greg and Jay, wrestling reminiscences with Sherrill, late nights in Dr. Bob’s office, Tea in general, etc., etc., etc. All the things that we do in Strong College that aren’t part of the curriculum, or the Master Plan, are part of the Invisible University. Whenever I see folks out smoking and talking on the balcony, or a Coinstar trip is made, or a Strong-L debate heats up … these are the invisible components of UNCG.

I know that you all have noticed these things before, but, have you ever really realized their importance? How these simple events enhance what college is tenfold? It’s a shame that it took a beautiful meteor shower to bring that fact to my attention. But, then again, it was a heck of a show. Shame on all of you who missed the meteor shower, by the way. It was one of the best times I’ve had in quite some time.

The Invisible University, Part II

The first installment of “the Invisible University” inspired another Strong College student, Krista Karbowski, to continue the same theme later in the year:

A few brave Strong College students just found another piece to the great puzzle of the “Invisible University”—it fell down the elevator shaft.

My lovely roomate and I, along with our weekend guest, Lauren, responded to Dr. O’Hara’s call for a mirror approximately one hour ago. We were alerted to the dire straits of Kyle Goodman, who had the unfortunate pleasure of dropping his keys down the elevator shaft … from the first floor. Dr. O’Hara, Elizabeth, Lauren, Kyle, a lone security guard, and I were soon joined by Tim Owens, Strong College mastermind, as we put on our thinking caps and mustered up the best of our problem-solving skills. We fashioned two key-retrieving tools, one for sweeping the keys into view, and another for hooking them and pulling them up to safety. We swept the keys into sight. And there was much rejoicing. After holding the door open for far too long and probably delaying many people from getting to and from their rooms, we finally stopped the elevator manually on the basement floor. And then the door shut on us. Before we got the keys. But, being the studious young people we are, we didn’t let this stop us. Oh no, we pressed on. Dr. O’Hara retrieved the device that would open the door even if the elevator was not running. We brought the keys to safety; they made it through the ordeal quite well, considering, and we sent the elevator back on its merry way.

So what is the moral of the long account? Well, I’m not really sure how to phrase it. Here’s what I know: There were six Strong College members down in the basement for well over an hour trying to solve a problem that only belonged to one of them. I had never even met Kyle before tonight. I now have a new face to greet in the halls of Moore-Strong. And now I have the feeling of the “Invisible University.” There are things you learn in college that you will never find anywhere else. To quote our friendly security guard: “Y’all are so wonderful over here, you really look out for your own.”

The Invisible University, Part III

A Strong College freshman, Jessica Zellers, wrote this spontaneous tribute in the “Invisible University” tradition for her web page:

The dorm I live in at UNCG is Moore-Strong. It is the physical house of the abstract entity known as Strong College. I’m going to do my best to describe Strong College here—I feel almost obliged to. Almost singlehandedly, Strong College makes UNCG worthwhile, and that’s saying something. You should really visit the official CSC page first though.

Most of the friends I’ve made at UNCG are members of Strong College. I am sorely tempted to list them here, but I know if I did that I’d leave someone out who deserves to be recognized. So I won’t. But you know who you are.

How can I say what CSC means to me? Without sounding trite, I mean? It’s difficult. I’ll try to describe via anecdote. Let’s see if that works.

When I’m bored I know I can always go to the Strong College office and chat with Dr. O’Hara and listen to Tom Lehrer. I can take out a red pen and proofread the week’s newsletter or I can cuddle with Tim the Lemur and whisper sweet nothings into his furry little ear. I can compare this week’s coloured-pencil rendering of my aura with Kelly’s.

Or I can wander into the JCR. Actually I don’t wander anymore. Rather I make a pointed effort to jump over the wall and land on the couch below. Or on the unfortunate someone who was dozing on the couch below. And when I’m in the JCR … I can record the emotional crisis-to-end-all-crises-of-the-week in the JCR commonplace book. Makes me feel all tingly inside to know that everybody and his brother is eating up whatever histrionics I impart. And there’s usually someone there to talk to, even in the wee hours of the morn. Sometimes I bug the CA on duty. Sometimes I ambush the CA on duty, especially if that CA happens to be Jon Buford. Or I plunk at the piano and wish I could play. Or I cajole whatever handsome young man happens to be available into giving me a headrub. Or Glen if there’s no one handsome around.

If I time it just right, I know I can find Tom playing cards. If I’m feeling saucy, I’ll join in on a game of spades. More’n likely I’ll watch the game of spades already in progress.… Then I’ll wander onto a balcony. Someone’s always getting a nicotine fix on a balcony—I think that was the third item Ben Franklin forgot to mention, right after death and taxes. Then I’ll stroll outside to sit on a table or on a brick wall or on the scraggly lawn. That’s for when I feel like people-watching.

Thursday nights are, possibly, the highlight of my week. That’s coffee bar night. Louis and I take whichever coffee mug I am courting at the moment (once it was a Scooby-Doo mug, then a borrowed Christmas mug that sings, and now a really awesome Han Solo mug) and plunk it on the counter. It comes back filled with hot piping coffee, or whatever that black oodgey stuff really is. We call it coffee because we don’t know the real name. I sit swathed in the glow of blacklight and listen to gossip. Usually someone, with me often being that someone, is feeling down and out. Thursday night “coffee” can do that to a person. So then I take the miserable someone and go cheer him up.

Somehow, I think that’s what Strong College is all about.

Two other things bear mentioning. One is Strong-L. It’s the listserv for all members of Strong College: dorm residents and faculty and everybody. I know a bunch of people don’t like it. Strong-L is plagued by the same dry spells and rashes of one-lined nothings that any listserv suffers. But it fills up my mailbox and keeps me in touch with people I don’t even know in real life.

Finally … I’m writing a book about Strong College. Kind of. I’m compiling all the disclaimers from the first five years. And what, pray tell, is a disclaimer in the CSC sense? The weekly disclaimers appear at the end of each newsletter. Some of them make sense—“nothing here is official.” Most disclaimers do not—“contains no squid.” Disclaimers are, by and large, pithy and funny sentiments expressed in the presence of Dr. O’Hara. He duly records them and includes them in the next available issue of the newsletter.

Already I have compiled every single last wretched disclaimer from the first five years of the existence of Strong College. (This school year, 1999–2000, is year number six.) Now I’m going to place each disclaimer with its speaker and the circumstance, or die trying. And then I shall compile all the information into a book. I’m not exactly writing it, but I am editing it, and I think that’s a nifty start.

Why Strong College?

An incoming student asked the people gathered on our Strong College discussion group what the best thing was about being a member of Strong College. Here is one of the answers she received:

All this talk of what’s good about CSC has gotten me thinking. I’m a philosophy major; it’s my job.

The eternal question is: Why should we live in Strong College? And my answer is: Why not?

Why not live in a place where I can have a debate about euthanasia while I’m stirring my macaroni and cheese at 2:00 a.m.? Why not live in a place where I can sit and eat goldfish crackers every Tuesday with the Dean of my college and the head of the Honors program? Why not live in a place where you can e-mail 200 people to ask for some whiteout?

Why not a lemur for a mascot?

Why not live in place where I can have professors as friends? Why not live in a place with a network of support, advice, love, respect, melodrama, and laughter? Why not live in a place where you feel like a part of something bigger, something deeper, something more? Why not get most you can out of college?

And here enumerated is another answer she received about what is best about Strong College:

One: It made me want to live there through five years of college.

Two: The microwave in the kitchen heats your grub quickly and with a nuclear vengance rivaled only by a weekend at Chernobyl.

Three: Sometimes, if you close your eyes, Dr. O’Hara sounds just like Hannibal Lecter. It’s really cool, if you live to tell about it.

Four: Strong College Tea. Be warned: In her invitations Dr. White does for armchair fascism what Idi Amin did for afternoon snacks.

Five: Chances are there’s someone in the building who likes the same really weird (movie, food, CD, animal, humor, disease, weapon of mass destruction) that you do.

Six: Strong-L. Period. End of story. Well, there’s flyting, too, for those of you who think you’re up to it.

Seven: Strong College is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Granted, many of the usual noctivagants have migrated to darker caves, but it’s still pretty easy to find someone sitting in the JCR at 4:00 a.m., writing in one of the…

Eight: Commonplace Books. If you haven’t seen one already, they are the historical registers of the College, containing the thoughts and feelings of students past and present, confidential accounts of highly secret black ops to the grocery store, play-by-play accounts of all Strong College events, and detailed instructions on how to turn simple, ordinary car wax into leggy supermodels.

Nine: Someone, somewhere in the building will immediately take to you and be your friend. If you’re really lucky, they’ll fall in love with you. :)

Ten: Strong College Events. Coffee Bar, Movie Night, Tea, dances, College Council, TV groups, Croquet, the Regatta, and then some. Half of these events were created, designed, and executed by students just like you, only taller or shorter, and maybe less attractive. So when you get settled in, if nothing’s going on that you’re into, visit College Council or Dr. O’Hara and take it from there!

What more do you need?


© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2014