Monday, March 24, 2003

Life at Bayridge - Q and A with Allison Marie Elliott

A 24 year-old graduate student who shares her experience with her university education and life at Bayridge (Bayridge has served women undergraduate and graduate students in Boston for over 40 years. It has received a number of grants from Rosemoor over the years)

Where are you from originally?

I was born in Rochester, New York but grew up in Toronto, Canada and The Woodlands, Texas

What graduate program are you in? Why? How would you like to harness your graduate studies in the professional world?

I completed a Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing at Emerson. I chose the program at Emerson because it combined writing and literature courses with courses in the publishing field. The MFA is a terminal degree for those wishing to teach writing at the college level, but you also need to be published. Hopefully I can work in some aspect of the publishing industry while I continue writing on my own. I may eventually go back to school for a PhD in English literature.

Where did you do your undergraduate studies? What was your major?

I was an English/Creative Writing major at Emory University in Atlanta.

Has college and graduate school been what you thought they would be when you were in high school? What did you think your university experience would be like when you were a high school student? Do you have any regrets about the way you pursued your universities studies, i.e. wish you had selected different schools to attend, different majors, different professors, etc?

I can't say I enjoyed high school very much. I placed a great deal of hope in my college experience and I was disappointed . Looking back, I think my idea of college was probably much too idealistic. I assumed it would be very different from high-school, that everyone would be interested in discussing the Big Ideas and the Great Books, etc. etc. If I had to do it over again I think I would have chosen a smaller liberal arts school, something like St. John's. At the time I was applying to colleges

I didn't know much about those schools. I thought a private university with a good reputation was what I was looking for, but it seemed like the students there saw it as a step towards something else--law school or medical school--or else as a break before entering the real world. Ideally, I think college should be a kind of break from the real world, in order to pursue knowledge. The curriculum requirements at Emory were a little random, though. They didn't make up a cohesive whole. I don't completely regret my college choice because I made some good friends and there were a few teachers and a few classes that I will never forget. Basically I learned that I had a lot more to learn.

What would you advise a young high school woman to do to prepare well to make the most of her university years?

I would say to figure out what she wants from those years. My sister goes to a big state school and she loves it. But she went in knowing that she wanted to be a history teacher. I think at a state school you have less room to explore different areas. It's hard to change majors should you decide on another track. I think I put too much emphasis on going to a "name" school" when I was deciding. It's more important to find a good fit.

Do you have any hobbies or particular interests?

Mainly reading. My father often talks about the importance of finding a "lifetime sport", but I have yet to find mine.

How long have you lived at Bayridge?

This will be my third year.

How did you find out about Bayridge?

There was a link to Bayridge on the off-campus housing website for Emerson.

How has living at Bayridge been different from your living situation (s) as an undergraduate?

Much better. The whole environment at Bayridge is much more conducive to serious study and to a general sense of geniality. As an undergrad, my freshman hall was fairly tame, yet we didn't really have "quiet hours" that were enforced. I also think single-sex housing makes a big difference. You don't have to worry about boys on your floor when you want to take a shower. I find that the rules at Bayridge, while some people may find them trying, they also tend to weed out those not interested in a fairly studious environment. I'm consistently impressed with the highly accomplished women of integrity that I meet at Bayridge.

What are the things you like best about Bayridge?

Well, as I've said, I like the residents. I think Bayridge has true diversity in that the women here are involved in so many different things. I don't think you would find that even in a college dorm. Some women are Berklee students, some are in the conservatories. We have dental students, med students, journalism students. The women here are purposeful.

They seem to have it pretty together. It's inspiring to be around them.

In addition to the company, the staff is excellent. They don't seem or behave like staff. Netty and Irene are like den mothers, they genuinely care about the residents. It's a very family-like atmosphere. The accommodations and food are also excellent. Also, as a Catholic it's very nice to have a chapel right here and to be able to take advantage to the spiritual formation offered.

What are the things you like least about Bayridge?

Hmmm. I think because I've lived in a lot of different housing situations, I might appreciate it more than someone who has less to compare it to. We do have a lot of freedom despite the rules. It keeps getting more expensive . . .

Do you think that having lived at Bayridge will benefit you as you go forward in life? And if so, how and why?

I think it has already benefited me a great deal. Before I came to Bayridge, I had worked and lived at home for a year. During the last years of college I had moved off campus with friends and had stopped going to mass. My formation up to then had been so little that I didn't think that was a such a bad thing. I didn't think of myself as less of a Catholic.

But when I lived at home, I went to mass regularly again and I read a lot that year so when I came to Bayridge I was ready to really appreciate the spiritual activities. It helped to solidify the things I had been thinking about and greatly helped fill the gaps in my formation, which are still numerous. I think it was particularly helpful for me in the program I was in. My graduate program didn't really provide much by way of a community.

Also, I won't say that my teachers and fellow students were openly hostile to Christianity, but it definitely came across as an antiquated idea whose time had passed. And Christian values are definitely not the most common in the contemporary publishing and literary world. At times I felt I was shuttling between two different planets--Bayridge and Emerson. But living at Bayridge helped keep me grounded and I don't know how I would have handled my graduate experience otherwise.

Bayridge has a spiritual dynamic to it; how does that work and what has been your impression of that?

Personally, the spiritual dynamic at Bayridge has been very important to me. I think it's handled very well at Bayridge. I can say for myself and from what I've seen with other people, the staff does not approach people and suggest that they do this or that program. They announce things like meditations and days of recollection so that people know about them and are always ready and willing to answer questions about Christianity in general or the Catholic faith in particular. But again, they respond to inquiries. I think the residents who are not Catholic benefit from the general atmosphere, which is one where morality and values are taken seriously.

I think it's especially important for young women who may have never been away from home before and are just now being confronted with new ideas and complicated situations. If I was a parent sending my child away to school, I would appreciate this aspect a great deal. College can be very confusing, especially when your teachers' values are at odds with the ones your parents gave you.

What do you think gives a person a sense of her meaning and purpose in life?

I think people feel purpose when they feel connected to something bigger than themselves, when they feel that they are valuable in themselves yet part of a whole, a whole they must contribute to in some way.

There's a big emphasis today on finding your personal destiny and following your dreams, but I think those pursuits can also become empty if they aren't part of a grander scheme.