When I attended First-Year Orientation at Fairfield University two years ago (an absolutely crazy thought), I was totally secure in my choice. The size of the campus and undergrad population was just my speed, I was a short drive from an adorable main street and a really nice beach and I was attending a school that is renowned for helping its students find jobs right after graduation. Everything about Fairfield seemed perfect, and I went into orientation with an unbridled sense of excitement to meet new people and hit the ground running.
As my family would tell you, however, upon my return home I seemed less enthused about the school than I had when I’d left to go. Everything I mentioned before, about its academics and perfectly manicured campus, was completely true and fulfilled all my expectations. But the thing is, your distance from the beach and the restaurants downtown aren’t what a typical day is like at Fairfield, and my experience at orientation had begun to sow seeds of doubt. One of the things I looked forward to the most in approaching the start of college was the opportunity to meet new, different people who I may not have encountered in the town I grew up in. Which is to say, a small, very white, upper middle class suburban community, fifteen minutes north of Boston, where I attended a high school of nearly 1,000 students, and of that was home to just about eighty students of color.
My town was perfectly nice to grow up in, but the more and more I thought about what it would mean to go away to college and experience adulthood for the first time, the more I really wanted the chance to divert from the path I’d followed in high school. Yet I found myself at a bit of a loss after Fairfield’s orientation, because despite the fact that I’d gone through my entire college application process trying my hardest to find a place different to the one I’d known, I’d somehow landed myself at a school that was almost a carbon copy of my high school. The only differences were that this school was three hours away, and I knew absolutely no one. I honestly wasn’t sure what to do, but I tried to stay positive, and I went into those first days of my first year year having summoned the excited energy I’d had prior to orientation.
Here’s the thing I kind of had to learn the hard way in coming to Fairfield: those interesting, completely different people I wanted to meet when I dreamed up my college experience? Fairfield’s got them; in actuality, they live in abundance here. They’re at every event you go to, whether it’s one where you don’t quite fit in or one that makes you finally feel at home. They’re in all your classes, at the table over from you in the Tully, and at every cramped and obnoxious and exhilarating party you’ll ever attend. It’s just that Fairfield makes you work a little harder to realize this fact, which I’ve never found to be a detriment. There’s always laughter to be found in the Diversity Office and good music to be heard at Glee Club rehearsals, always important discussions to be had at Alliance meetings and jokes to be exchanged right in our own Mirror office. Fairfield makes you want to carve out a place here, and then another, and another and one more for good measure, until you suddenly look around and find that you’ve got an innumerable number of spaces in this one place that you can call home.
Sometimes those post-orientation doubts I had come creeping back, and they ask, “Don’t you regret not going to a city school? Or somewhere old and traditional and intellectual? Or somewhere hundreds of miles from home? Or…?” And sometimes I listen to these thoughts, and indulge in a thought or two of what it would be like if I chose a different path, but it’s never something I want to linger on. If I had never chosen this place to make my home in, at this point in time and with all the people I’ve come to know and love along the way, I know that I would be fundamentally different to who I am right now. I wouldn’t give up this experience I’ve had so far for anything, and I hope that for those of you reading this who have the same concerns I did, that you dig into what Fairfield has to offer. Because yes, on the surface it’s a white, Christian, middle-class school in the center of Connecticut suburbia, but those factors shouldn’t lower your opinion of it, and if anything should make you want to uncover the beautiful diversity hidden underneath this facade. I’ve tried to do just that since I arrived here, and I have no regrets to show for my efforts.