Monday, September 5, 2011

The College Quest--Part V: How Davidson Honors the Code

   I think Davidson was out to be that college from the beginning, because they made the confounding decision to start their visits with the tour instead of the info-sesh. That way, instead of giving all the late folks the chance to sneak in quietly through a door and into a chair, they are blessed with the opportunity to look like an idiot as they run to catch up to everybody.
   I was late. Of course.
   After I transformed myself into a sweaty mess during the muggy jog up to my much more punctual peers (I recognized one guy from my Wake Forest visit that morning, who was apparently trying to show me up at two different places. Plus, he looked like Michael Cera, and maybe that gives you more points in the admissions process), I had my first impression of the tour guide and my first stop. The guide seemed alright, he was a skinny dude with a Jew-fro and an obvious love for the theater (seriously, you will never ever find a tour guide who plays sports, it is incredible). He seemed to be like any other tour guide we had had so far, just in male form, but he was enthusiastic and peppy, and after the walking corpse we traipsed after at Wake, anyone would have been just fine.
   What was somewhat odd about this tour in comparison to the others we had been on was that a lot of the information the guide had for us was info-sesh material. For example, as we walked through the science building, we heard the typical student-faculty ratio, average class size numbers crunch. However, Davidson was the kind of place whose vibe spoke for itself. In a word, Davison was classy.
   The architecture on campus was similar to what we had seen from the other Southern plantation schools—the good ol’ tried-and-true red brick. Vast lawns and tons of trees added to the small-town southern feel. So if you are looking for a place that will satisfy probably each and every go-on-down-to-the-tasty-freeze cliché, Davidson and its surrounding community are quaint, convenient, and more than happy to support each other (by the way, Davidson is located within the town of Davidson; my dad almost stopped the car when I asked him where the college was, felt like an idiot). Davidson (the town) has everything from ice cream to student stores to your old mom-and-pop shop, and apparently the residents are regulars at the college hoops games.
   Sports at Davidson are much more competitive than one would think. You may not have the tip-top conference experience like you would find in the Big 12 or ACC, but they deserve their Division I status by no stretch at all, and they are a force to be reckoned with in the Southern Conference. If you are a mere mortal like I am and are looking more toward club or intramural sports, you can rest easy there as well, because Davidson has one of the nicest gymnasiums I have seen anywhere, despite the lack of a “big conference” presence. Our guide being a theater kind of guy, my dad and I had to sneak into the basketball stadium ourselves to have a good look, and it was worth the cautionary look we got from Captain Jew-fro. The rest of their athletic facilities, with the pool standing out in particular, were top-notch as well. They made me want to play more sports.
   Remember when I said before that the word I would use to describe Davidson is classy? Well, there are many reasons why. If you have taken a tour of any school, you probably have heard them tell you about some sort of honor code that they have in place. Davidson did it first. And they have done it best. The authenticity is clear, because while some schools might have a paper-thin honor code that feels confined to the classroom, Davidson’s code is a distinct part of its culture. Everything from the ethics of the students to the rules on campus revolves around the honor code. There was a famous story going around that someone who had found a 20-dollar bill left a note taped to the ground where the bill had been picked up. The note explained that the money had been found, and included an email address where the finder could be reached. To make a long story short, the right person had their money back within 24 hours. No one even made a false claim to 20 bucks.
   One of the coolest aspects of the honor code at Davidson, and one of the coolest aspects of any school I have seen anywhere, are the self-scheduled semester exams. It means exactly what you think it means. Forgot to read that Steinbeck novel for English class? Well read it, and take your exam later in the week. Psychology come easy to you? You can walk right in on day one of exam week and fly through that sucker like the psych-boss that you are. It trusts that no student takes an exam and then goes off to their BFFs and spills the answers. And believe me, no student will.
   Aside from the Michael Cera look-alike and the infiltration of the gym, the tour ended without much of a hitch. I had not even seen a good kiss-ass candidate yet, after all. Never you fear, though, because the info-sesh would give plenty of candidates.  
   The guy who was leading the info-sesh was a character to say the least. It was like the movie voiceover guy and Dr. Phil had some sort of weird love-child 60 years ago. He was one of those people who liked to put emphasis in his voice not by shouting, but by giving you the I-think-I-can-see-into-your-soul-but-I-am-not-really-sure-so-I-will-try-to-stare-harder look. He was very soft-spoken and very direct and very firm. The clearest thing about him was that he freaking loved Davidson. If he was not so stone-cold serious, I would have thought he was funny. My dad looked like he was trying hard not to roll his eyes every single time the guy finished . . .  a sentence . . . like . . . this.
   The guy was really adamant about the class of Davidson, and he pointed to the honor code whenever he had the chance. Not to say that he did not have a point, because what he was saying could easily be seen throughout our tour and the visit in general. Davidson definitely has a sense of character that is hard to find elsewhere. These people want kids who are going to fit well with the rest of the students and maintain a good relationship with the town around the school. Part of the reason the honor code is followed so closely is because they choose kids who they believe will adhere to it in the first place. In your app, character is going to be something they look for and take into account above most everything else.

What Jumped Out at Davidson (aside from the lack of a good abbreviation, somehow “Dave” seemed a little too informal):
   It seems like a tough gig to be accepted into Davidson. After all, their student body is barely double NDP’s at a mere 1900. Most Arizona public schools are larger than that. But while the admissions process is very competitive, you are going to have a laid-back environment once you hear the good news. This was nice, because it grows pretty wearing to see all of these bigger schools herd you into some kind of gladiator arena where everyone is out to beat everyone else.
   Of course, there is the sense of character here. I know a lot of these tours will fluff up a lot of this kind of thing, but at Davidson, honor is something that they take extremely seriously. It is active within student life, within academics, within athletics, and within the admissions process. They want good kids, period.
   The non-academic aspects were impressive as well. The athletics seemed fun to watch, and they looked like they were popular without being an absolutely dominant force on the social scene. There is something for everyone here, and the theatrical and musical aspects of recreation both seem like they received a very decent amount of attention. The town of Davidson is something that is raved about by the students, and the tight-knit relationship is something that is lauded by the administration. The townsfolk love the students, and the students love the townsfolk. It is a very cooperative, very united environment.
   But one of the things that both students and parents can appreciate is the fact that Davidson’s financial aid is entirely gift-based. They do not hand out loans here. Any money you receive, you keep. No “by-the-ways”, and no strings attached. Other schools are starting to follow this same road, but like they were with the honor code, Davidson was the first.
   My one concern with Davidson is actually its size. 1900 kids equates to a student-body that is beat out by many a public high school here in Arizona. I would prefer somewhere a little large; that is all. Even with a campus that creates a more expansive feel, a place that finds a balance between large and small is more to my liking than the small-town style Davidson.
   But in any case, what you have with Davidson is arguably the best small college in the entire country. It is right there with the caliber of a Pomona, a Williams, or an Amherst. Anyone who can be slotted next to, if not above, any of these places has the word “prestige” written all over them. This place is downright impressive, and a smaller student body than normal can do very little to detract from that.
   Plus, they do your own laundry for you. Money. In. The. Bank.

   I came away from Davidson with a lot more to think about other than that basketball run they made. These guys mean business about being a tip-top place, and while that run was something that gave them national attention, they want to be known for much more than a couple buzzer-beaters. Unfortunately, some of my tour-mates failed to pick up on this. During the info-sesh we all had to go around and explain why we had decided to come and visit the campus. Some bro down the row decided he would come out because he was “a big Steph Curry fan”. What a freaking kiss-ass. Stephen Curry was the basketball star who had led Davidson to the Elite Eight a while back. I am sure that if “Steph” knew some brat junior in high school was throwing out his old nickname, he would not be too thrilled to call such a suck-up a fan of his.
   I almost gave that dude the kiss-ass award, but I had to hand it to the info-sesh leader. The guy was like an angel sent from Davidson heaven, who came down to tell us every great thing about this place. Everything from his heave-ho Wildcat pride to his heavy tone screamed kiss-ass. We have ourselves a winner winner chicken dinner. Let’s hope at Duke, there would be a student that could reclaim the prize. Something told me they would not be hard to find.

There’s your town of Davidson. Everyone loves the Wildcats here.

A lot of the nicer buildings show up as you move away from the street and more toward the center of campus.

Here’s the pool. It’s attached to the rest of their gym, including the basketball stadium.
 You like yourself some b-ball? This isn’t half the seating. Additional courts on either side of the seats you see are covered with extendable stands during games. Try to find them on TV sometime and you will see what I mean.
Well isn’t that just the cutest little town you’ve ever seen? Still feel dumb I didn’t know it was called Davidson.

Questions or additional comments about Davidson? Share them in the comment section! I’m sitting on everything from hard numbers to more detailed information, so feel free.   

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