The Students Speak
Is San Diego State University really the raucous party school people think it is? Is there a good reason why some call USD the University of Spoiled Daughters? How does religion factor into the daily lives of Point Loma Nazarene University students? Local college students dispel the myths and offer insight into San Diego’s diverse campus culture.
BEATING THE BAD-BOY IMAGE
“Surf, study and party. Being in San Diego is the perfect place for all three, plus being close to Mexico is a bonus.” That’s the explanation college news Web site Campus Grotto (campusgrotto.com) gives for listing San Diego State University on its Best Party Schools list. No doubt, SDSU has long been labeled a party school. But does it really live up to the hype? Class of 2008 graduate Giselle Domdom, former editor-in-chief of The Daily Aztec, doesn’t think so.
“I don’t think SDSU is more of a party school than any other college campus,” she says. “We might be pinned as more of a party school because the weather’s so great year-round and the campus is so close to the beaches and downtown.”
Domdom points to another misperception. “One inaccurate stereotype that really bugged me was that SDSU students can’t graduate in four years,” she says. “That was a stereotype I had to overcome with family members and even some friends. A lot of those people were so stuck on SDSU’s party-school image, they thought it wasn’t possible. But I’m proud to say I proved them wrong. I knew a lot of SDSU students who earned their degrees in four years.”
A more serious stereotype leveled at SDSU students resulted from last year’s arrests of students involved in a drug ring. “I think the drug bust unfairly painted all SDSU students to somehow be associated with drugs,” says Domdom. “It really was a case of a few bad apples spoiling the whole bunch. Imagine how we felt as recent college grads trying to sell ourselves to companies and secure employment. Employers were going to read San Diego State University on our résumés. We didn’t want to be known as alums from ‘the drug bust school.’ ”
Sophomore Edward Lewis, the school newspaper’s sports editor, points to another frustration among students and alumni: a losing football team. “They’ve got the talent; they just lack the wins,” says Lewis. “They’re playing at Qualcomm, a professional stadium, but when your team is 1 and 8 and they can’t beat Colorado State or Wyoming and they struggle to beat Idaho, [spectators] don’t want to see that. You can’t really blame them [for not attending games]. A winning season cures everything. I don’t think it’s that far away.”
The good news? “The basketball team is on the rise,” says Lewis. “And the spring looks a lot more hopeful, especially with our baseball and softball teams.”
TRASH TALKERS AND TRUTH SEEKERS
As the editor of the Opinions page for The Point Weekly, Point Loma Nazarene University’s student newspaper, senior Aravis Moore has an insider’s look at the diversity of the PLNU student body.
“We have many students on both ends of the liberal-conservative continuum,” she says. “I’d say the students are less conservative than some people think they are. We do have a vocal conservative contingent, but it’s definitely the most liberal of the Nazarene universities.”
A vocal—but not necessarily conservative—group of “crazy, trash-talking” male students who call themselves The Heckle Hut inject some lively college spirit into campus life. With bare chests painted in PLNU colors, these guys cheer at nearly all men’s and women’s soccer and basketball games (there’s no football team). It’s one of the more visibly energetic sides to the serene, coastal campus.
Subsidized by the Nazarene Church, PLNU “does feel like a religious university,” says Moore. “Almost every class I’ve taken asks the question: What does it mean to be a journalist/philosopher/mathematician/et cetera and a Christian? And we have chapel three days a week.”
She says the university’s religious foundation informs another aspect of student life: “The Nazarene Church sees itself as a denomination that has historically focused on issues of social justice and humanitarianism; accordingly, there is a huge push on our campus for social justice, humanitarianism and environmental activism.”
And what of the reputation that Christian kids enroll at PLNU with an eye to marrying off?
“Our students are often seen as eager to get married,” says Moore. “Considering the number of my friends and acquaintances who’ve gotten engaged in the last few weeks, I can’t say that the ‘Ring by spring’ motto has been disproved.”
With PLNU’s strict no-drinking policy (no imbibing on or off campus, even if you are 21), some students head to Ocean Beach and Shelter Island, where they unwind around a bonfire. (With the beach booze ban recently upheld, we’re guessing they aren’t drinking there, either.)
Torero pride was never more palpable than during last year’s NCAA basketball tournament, when the University of San Diego men’s team pulled off a stunning first-round upset of top-ranked University of Connecticut.
“It’s encouraging to see students so excited about an athletic team, because our school has been called apathetic in the past,” says senior Elizabeth Buckley. “Every one wears school colors and cheers on the team.”
Another aspect of campus life in which students take pride is the postcard-perfect setting. “The beauty of the campus is what draws people to USD,” says Buckley. “It was one of my main reasons for attending. It never really gets old to hear people talk about how nice the campus is, because it reminds me how lucky I am to go to school in such a nice location—especially since I’m from Oregon, where the winter season is plagued by rain.” (Two female students were recently spotted wearing T-shirts that read “WE LIVE WHERE YOU SPRING BREAK.” How’s that for San Diego pride?)
But do outsiders see USD students as lucky, or are they just plain spoiled? USD has been called the University of Spoiled Daughters, “which is a fairly accurate statement,” says Buckley, editor-in-chief of The Vista, USD’s student newspaper. “There is a lot of wealth on campus, and an approximately 60/40 female-to-male ratio.” She also says that while the school is trying to improve the diversity of its student body, “It is still a predominantly white campus.”
Comparing her school to other San Diego colleges, Buckley says, “USD falls in the middle of SDSU and Point Loma. We are a small, private campus, but without heavy religious overtones. Most students have a good balance of going out and having fun while staying on top of schoolwork.”
Ninety percent of students at California State University, San Marcos commute to school. But its reputation as a campus of commuters doesn’t mean there isn’t a strong sense of community, says sophomore Susana Figueroa, a member of the Associated Students Inc. (ASI) activities board.
“It’s not so overwhelming and cliquey,” she says. “It’s a smaller school where getting involved is a lot easier. The more involved you are, the less it feels like a commuter school.”
ASI and the office of Student Life and Leadership are the two main student organizations on campus. Students gather for movie nights, midnight broomball at the local Ice-o-plex and Padres game outings or to go kayaking. Currently, there are just two fraternities and three sororities, but Figueroa says Greek life is “starting to get bigger.”
In the meantime, there’s plenty of opportunity for beer pong enthusiasts. “A lot of students live in nearby condos, and there are a lot of house parties,” says sophomore Jenifer Roe. “Once you get to know people, you find there’s a lot going on.” Roe says San Marcos coffeehouses are another popular student hangout.
And despite not having a football team to rally behind, which Figueroa concedes “does suck,” a good number of students turn out to cheer on classmates in other sports. The university’s track-and-field, cross-country and golf programs are among the most successful in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
But students say it’s the tight-knit feel of the campus community that attracted them to the San Marcos foothills. “I’ve gone to other schools where it’s so overwhelming,” says Figueroa. “[Cal State San Marcos] is an intimate school where I can talk to anybody. If you want something bigger, go to SDSU.”
Students at the University of California, San Diego are perhaps better known for their scientific prowess than their partying. True, some of the brightest minds in science are nurtured on the sprawling La Jolla campus, but there’s also a lively social life that reflects the diversity of the student population.
“Our social scene is more laid-back than at other schools,” says senior Kristin Luciani. “Students are more likely to hang out with a small group of friends on a Friday night than go to a huge frat party.”
With more than 400 student organizations on campus, there are plenty of options for a social outlet. Nearly two-thirds of UCSD students are involved in such organizations. One of the more popular groups, the Board Club (for skateboarders, surfers and snowboarders), has some 500 members and regularly throws parties. This winter, members will head to Mammoth and Lake Tahoe for snowboarding trips.
Environmentalism is another interest that draws many UCSD students together socially. There are more than 82 green student organizations on campus, with many students participating in annual events such as Earth Week and Focus the Nation.
“Conformity is unpopular among students,” says Luciani. “UCSD students feel less pressure to fit in. The campus allows students to figure out who they are and express their individuality. It’s more socially acceptable to be an individual and creative on this campus.”
That creativity—and an artistic side—is reflected in the large independent-music scene. Indie acts are popular at on-campus concert venues, such as Porter’s Pub, Che Café and The Loft. One school administrator characterizes UCSD students as “more Hillcrest/North Park than Pacific Beach.”
Another common characterization of UCSD students paints them as well-to-do snobs (this is La Jolla). But figures from the financial-aid office paint a different picture: More than half of undergraduates receive need-based support, and one-third of undergraduates receive the Federal Pell Grant for low-income students.