A roadmap for Chatham University students


Chatham’s Chapel in the sun. Photo Credit: Alice Crow

Abbey Sullivan

After my first-year orientation, I began my time at Chatham University on a Monday at 9 a.m. in Falk Room 218. I decided to pay as close attention as possible to every detail of that day with the hopes of remembering the start of college when it came time for the end. Now that I’m about to clear that last hurdle, I’m grateful for my foresight: that first day was sweaty, stressful and fun. 

There are probably a million-and-a half-ways to “do college right,” some of which I tried on for size. Others I neglected. But I’m a firm believer in Chatham’s uniqueness and feel that there are certain ins and outs necessary for an incoming student to keep in mind.

Grow into it

A recommendation I heard parroted by high school guidance counselors and distant relatives alike was that college would be all about adjustment, and they were all correct. College was the first time I’d lived on my own, been given free reign over my laundry schedule and had to navigate academia as something of an adult.

I needed to grow into it, but it was nowhere near an overnight process. To grow accustomed to Chatham is to meet peers wonderfully unlike yourself, to navigate the two congested queues in Anderson Dining Hall, to raise your hand during your first political science course while feeling totally out of your element, to finally figure out where Rea Coffeehouse is and to understand that your voice is your greatest asset. 

There is a culture about Chatham bureaucracy often (and rightly) criticized by students – painting them as unresponsive, distant and reactive – that demands to be fixed by the students themselves. Find your group, your work and your voice – Chatham Student Power, the Communiqué, Chatham Green Team and countless others are designed for just that. They would all love to have you, and my time with my student organization of choice was one of my most formative choices during these four years.

 Solve the stagnancy

Part and parcel with finding your voice at Chatham comes your responsibility to fix one of its most endemic problems: a bored campus. With an innumerable amount of student groups doing an innumerable number of things, there is always energy to be sought on campus even on its most desolate weekends. But we as students cultivated an environment where those events are scarcely populated and, at their worst, lonesome.

I’m guilty of perpetuating our bored-campus syndrome, and I wrestle with my regret all the time. I can never recommend enough getting engaged at any level, whether that be attending Chatham Activities Board events, joining a student organization or hosting movie nights with extended friends from class – not just your narrow friend group. 

Bigger social circles spark bigger energy, which feeds into a greater atmosphere of belonging and engagement while at Chatham. We are small and intimate at the best and worst of times; your choices to really experience your school may help other students do the same and bite back the loneliness that comes with college.

 Find you and yours

The scale of Chatham has both enamored and irritated me. But with the guidance of my adviser and some beloved faculty members, I made the most of my schooling and gained incredible mentors along the way.

As best as you can, take the gen-ed courses on the chin and keep your eyes open. Find where your areas of interest connect and pursue those trails, until you’ve got your feet in as many doors as possible. Being pulled into different departments changed my time as a student and my plans for the future.

Yet my friends taught me the most, and they never came from where I expected. The best spaces at Chatham have required me to investigate my worldview and to see beyond myself. Take the time to cultivate your circles, as they’ll be your support, your laughs, your tears and your breakthroughs every step of the way.

Grow out of it

As the opinion editor, I’ve spent a lot of time writing pieces about what frustrated me at Chatham. Nevertheless, I still struggle with how to leave Chatham in my rearview mirror while also keeping the memories close at heart. The balance has already been hard; even with the stress and burnout of my last semester, I still feel sick with nostalgia when I leave certain classes, spend time at certain spots on campus (an empty Eddy Theater is a great one) or run into an old friend from class, all of which happens all the time at Chatham.

I did so much growing at Chatham because I think it is the perfect place to do just that. At its best, Chatham can be familiar and freeing, and I hope all students can have an experience like my own. Even when the Wi-Fi goes out, when Café Rachel runs out of sandwiches, when Netflix filming crews overflow campus parking and  our entire community is split apart during a pandemic, our school is worth caring about. The Chatham we create as students is a place I never want to leave.