Sunday, October 17, 2010

Not just pillow fights and lesbians.

Don't lie. I know that's what a lot of you (especially those of you with penises) envision when you think of an all-female college.

I spent my freshman year of college at Sweet Briar College. Sweet Briar is not just any women's college--it's a women's college filled with old money Southern Belles.

My time there was simultaneously my most awesome and most horrible college experience.

In case you haven't noticed, I'm not an old-money Southern Belle. I'm a poor Yankee. I didn't exactly fit in.

I was one of only three women in the entire freshman class who had attended public school. Not only had the rest attended private schools, but most had attended private boarding schools.

In Europe.

My roommate had never been to a Wal-Mart. She also had never bought a swimsuit from a store. I mean, why would you buy a swimsuit from a store when you could have your personal seamstress make one custom for you? And why stop at swimsuits? Why not bring your personal seamstress with you to orientation week so she could make a custom duvet cover and drapes for your dorm room? Because obviously one can't make these things before seeing the room. I mean, really. You wouldn't want the chintz you choose to clash with the tones of the wood on the closet doors, or the gray in the linoleum tile floor.

I bought all of my dorm room furnishings at Wal-Mart in Evanston, Wyoming. It wasn't even a Super Wal-Mart.

My roommate had a $500 piece of original framed artwork from a gallery hanging on her wall. I had $3 poster that had "Everything I Need To Know In Life I Learned From My Cat" on it. Also from Wal-Mart.

Anyway, my roommate was pretty much the norm at Sweet Briar. And while that created a lot of potential for snobbishness, surprisingly most of the girls were nice. But it was still hard to be the poor girl.

One night there were a dozen or so of us hanging out in someone's room (you know, after we finished our pillow fight while clad in skimpy pajamas) and they started talking about their Cotillions and Coming Out Balls. Not only had I never been to a Cotillion, but I didn't even know what one was. And a Coming Out Ball? Well, the name made me wonder if maybe women's colleges really were filled with lesbians.

Anyway, I asked what a Cotillion was, and I was met by horrified stares and gasps.

Apparently not being formally debuted to society at 18 is to rich Southern Belles what being unbaptized is to Mormons. On the surface they still like you, but deep down they know you're headed for eternal damnation.

My poor status did give me one advantage over my wealthy classmates: I had already held a job. A few of them, in fact.

The President of the college was a smart lady, and knew that most of the girls coming in had never worked a day in their life and probably never would. So, she instituted a policy that every single student would be assigned a part time job on campus and would be paid minimum wage for it.

My roommate was assigned to assist in the security guard office. She had to wear a security guard uniform. She wore pearls with it.

The girls who had brought their horses with them were assigned to work the stables. These are girls who had always had stable hands to do the dirty work, but were now being paid a whopping $4 an hour to shovel manure 20 hours a week.

I was lucky and got assigned to be an assistant librarian. It was a cushy job, and a huge step up from the McDonald's in Wyoming, which had been my last place of employment.

Anyway, as great as many aspects of the college were, I left after the first semester. As a nearly middle aged woman, I can see the great things about being a misfit and wonder if I should have stuck it out at Sweet Briar, but as an 18 year old girl, it was hard. So I headed back across the country where everyone I knew was relatively poor and would assume that a Coming Out Ball probably involved RuPaul.

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