Graduating during COVID-19 does not bring the same excitement I had always associated with a college graduation. As a first-generation college student, I had a lot of ideas about what I wanted and expected out of a college experience. College seemed like the right thing to do, and I was excited.
When I started at Maryville College, I loved being on campus, made a few friends and found some activities I liked. I have had the same roommate, Haylee for four years, which given that we were put together based on a survey, was one of the best and most surprising things to come out of my time at Maryville College.
I’ve worked in some capacity with the Highland Echo since freshman year, had dance recitals, had a work study job at the Blount County Public library that I loved and learned from, and had some wonderful classroom experiences with engaging professors.
So, for the most part everything seemed fine. What I really had to come to terms with over the last four years was my education and how I was treated by faculty members of the college. I have gone into debt in order to go here, and I have always loved learning, but where I felt failed the most, and the thing that will take some time getting over, is the way Maryville College didn’t value the concerns I raised about the classroom climate on campus.
When I was so paralyzed by anxiety caused by the way a professor spoke to me, made generalizations about groups of people and chose to engage in content in classes in a way that I knew was inappropriate, I asked for help. I’m glad I did, and even though I was told I most likely would not see any change before I graduate, I felt like the least someone could do was to come to a classroom to maybe understand what was going on.
Freshman year, I was told by an upperclassman who had switched out of her English major that if a certain professor ever made me feel uncomfortable, inadequate or didn’t respect me, that I could always come and talk to her about it. I appreciated her concern, but I didn’t know I would need to take her up on her offer sadly after she’d already graduated.
Surveys, and peer reviews are good and have their place, but I don’t know how much administrators actually know about the Maryville College classroom experience. There will always be things that can be better, but the transparency between students and faculty is so lacking that it often felt to me like we all had a very different idea of what the campus community was really like.
Despite having been told by other students that they were having similar experiences, I felt like I had made everything up, and for a long time I was convinced I was overreacting, because Maryville College fosters a community that compartmentalizes their problems.
I’ve submitted concerns everywhere I have been told to, and besides one experience where the shock on the faculty members face let me know that they in fact didn’t have any idea what was going on in class and let me know that they knew it was not okay, I either wasn’t being listened to or, even worse, was told things far more blatantly insensitive than anything I had experienced in the classroom.
There is a serious disconnect at Maryville College that, speaking only for myself, greatly affected my education and how I interacted with others as a member of this community.
These issues were confounded by COVID-19 where many students, including myself, voiced their concerns about being on campus. I felt unsafe going to in person classes during a time when Tennessee was a hotspot for new cases. Then, I was just exhausted.
Over four years, I have had the privilege of getting to further my education, something that I always knew I wanted. I get the privilege of having friendships to maintain as we all graduate. I was also hurt in the process by the people I trusted to be “good stewards” of the investment I was making in myself and my education, and that has to be okay for my sake.
So, congratulations to the Class of 2021. I think you’re all wonderful, and I am proud we all made it. If you love Maryville College, I am happy that you had a positive experience (and a little jealous). And if you didn’t, I hope that we’re able to move on from it.