Archive for the ‘FP Forum’ Category

What do rankings really mean?

Monday, August 27th, 2007 | Andrea Lubinsky

We live in a competitive society. We’re constantly comparing cars, electronics, grades and even people. But is what we’re comparing really the same or are we trying to find a link between apples and oranges? As incoming freshmen, we’re extremely familiar with the college application process and how competitive it really is. I’d be willing to bet that many of us used the U.S. News and World Report college rankings as not only a good starting point for the college search, but also as a way to decide if one school was better than another. As many of you know, the 2008 college rankings were released last week. Wash. U. held steady at number 12, a spot we share with Cornell, one of the prestigious Ivy League schools. But what does being number 12 really mean? It may give us bragging rights, but what are we really bragging about?

Most people probably don’t know how U.S. News derives their annual rankings. Twenty-five percent of a school’s overall rating is comprised solely of a peer-assessment: a survey sent out to colleges to see what they think of other colleges. This survey counts more than any of the other statistics used to come up with the rankings. The U.S. News Web site describes the survey as allowing, “the top academics we consult-presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions-to account for intangibles such as faculty dedication to teaching.” These professionals are asked to rate each of these “intangibles” for a given academic program on a scale of one to five. When coupled with the real statistics used in the ratings, it’s possible that this survey may be helpful, but should it really count more than anything else? For undergraduate business and engineering programs, the rating criteria are even less scientific because one hundred percent of a school’s rating is based on the peer assessment. It seems crazy to think a school should be ranked exclusively based on the opinions of a few people.

There certainly can’t be a perfect way to rank schools because who’s to say what makes one school better than another? I know it may sound crazy, but it’s possible that there’s more to a college than just how many students it admits and the percentage of alumni that donate money (both of which are criteria U.S. News uses in its rankings). U.S. News neglects to take into account so many important factors when judging a school that the rankings seem inherently flawed.

Factors like campus life and student opinion are so much more important when choosing a school than an average SAT score.

You also may have heard that many schools now refuse to submit their statistics or fill out the peer assessments. This definitely seems like a step in the right direction because it seems like schools are finally recognizing the issues with the ranking system. However, if U.S. News continues to release their rankings using old data and fewer peer assessments, the rankings will become less and less reliable. When a school refuses to release their updated statistics and U.S. News cannot find it through other sources, the magazine uses the data from the last year they have on record. That means that schools that won’t release data could be ranked incorrectly. As for the peer assessments this year, only fifty-one percent of individuals asked to fill out peer assessments responded.

I don’t believe U.S. News will ever stop ranking colleges considering it is one of their best selling issues each year, but I do think that people are becoming more conscious of what these rankings really mean and that this will lead people to use the rankings as more of a guideline than a college bible. I’m not saying that we should stop trying to compare schools because rankings and comparisons can be a helpful way to begin a college search. I am merely advising that they should be looked at with a more critical eye, and perhaps be taken slightly less seriously.

Andrea is a freshman in Olin School of Business. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

Campus dining options do not promote healthy eating

Monday, August 27th, 2007 | Liz Klein

If you’re a college student, or if you’ve ever known a college student, or if you live pretty much anywhere in North America, you’ve probably heard of the “Freshman Fifteen”-the not-so-mysterious weight gain that supposedly afflicts college freshmen. Researchers disagree as to whether this trend is real-some studies have shown it to be a myth while others have shown it to be real and remarkably widespread. Regardless of whether the phenomenon exists, however, one thing is certain: the food on the Washington University campus is not going to help students stay fit and healthy.

Some of the food served in the University’s dining facilities is truly appalling. The pasta with Alfredo and chicken, served in Bear’s Den, contains 1,211 calories and supplies the consumer with 123 percent of his daily saturated fat intake. Bear’s Den also offers a double cheeseburger containing 1,198 calories and a breakfast burrito containing 937 calories. Think you can avoid the caloric craziness by choosing a salad? Think again. A large Caesar salad contains 925 calories, 694 of them from fat. The worst offender of all is the chicken fingers, weighing in at a whopping 1,335 calories and providing 94 percent of your suggested daily sodium intake. These are not just a few extreme examples either as almost all of the entrees served in Bear’s Den are absurdly high in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol. In fact, Bear’s Den serves only nine entrees that contain less than 400 calories. (They serve over 40 entrees.) If you wanted to eat your way to cardiac arrest, this would undoubtedly be the place to do it.

That’s not to say, though, that it is impossible to eat healthfully here if you want to-there are many nutritious, wholesome dining options on campus, like pasta with marinara sauce, a tuna salad sandwich, the spicy black bean burger and several kinds of soup, all served in Bear’s Den.

Nutrition facts for the meals served on campus are available online and it is feasible to eat a balanced, healthful diet on campus if you’re willing to devote a considerable amount of time to determining what you will or will not eat in the dining halls.

The problem is not that healthful food options don’t exist. It’s that someone who isn’t meticulously careful about her diet could easily consume 4,000 calories in a day-a diet that, for most of us, could lead to extremely poor physical health.

College is not an environment that naturally fosters good health. According to the Nemours Foundation’s Center for Children’s Health Media, many aspects of college life can foster less than ideal health. Most college students no longer have the physical education requirements that they had in high school and, as a result, their level of exercise decreases. Many students keep salty and sugary snacks in their dorm rooms and often overindulge late at night or while studying. With so much newfound freedom and so many tempting foods available, the Nemours Center explains, many new college students find it hard to stick to a balanced, nutritious diet.

Of course, it is true that we are ultimately responsible for what we put into our own bodies, but choosing to eat in a dining hall on campus is not like choosing to eat in a fast food restaurant: many students, especially freshmen, do not have another more health-conscious dining venue where they can choose to eat on a regular basis. It should not be so easy for students to fall into dangerous eating habits. At the very least, all dining halls on campus should display nutritional information about the foods they serve.

Bon Appetit, the University’s food service management company, should be applauded for their commitment to environmental sustainability and to the use of local food products. Health-conscious students who eat in the dining halls should encourage Bon Appetit to expand their Healthy Cooking Initiative and make the foods that everyone likes to eat more healthful. In the meantime, log on to the dining services Web site at to check out the nutrition facts for the meals served on campus and make informed decisions about what to eat.

Liz is a freshman in Arts & Sciences. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

Out of reach?

Monday, August 27th, 2007 | Wandalyn Savala

What’s that noise? It sounds a little like a pulse. Maybe it’s the speakers next door? Perhaps the movers dropping heavy boxes after trundling up a flight of stairs? Or is it something else?

It is all of these things and more-it’s getting to know your roommates, suitemates, the kids next door, the kids on your floor and everyone in between.

It’s your freshman experience.

In an effort to ease the transition, new students reach out to those they think they can relate to. To find like-minded peers, students follow a general rule of thumb: look for those who look like you.

As the study, “Campus Diversity and Student Self-Segregation: Separating Myths From Facts” noted, the pattern of freshmen gravitating to those of similar race and ethnicity stems from “.the degree of continuing segregation in America’s schools and communities. [Therefore], it isn’t surprising that college students today do sometimes choose to live, socialize, or study together with other students from similar backgrounds.”

Like the majority of freshmen, Brent Sherman is, “just a bit concerned that I won’t make any real close friends. I’m also worried that if I do make friends our free time will only overlap on the weekends which would make keeping and strengthening friendships difficult.”

Couple these fears with a desire for comfort and it’s no mystery why students succumb to the temptation of befriending peers primarily from similar backgrounds.

As freshman Hyojin Choi discovered, however, leaving one’s comfort zone is ultimately a rewarding experience.

After moving to Champaign, Ill. from South Korea, Hyojin enrolled in a predominately white, middle class Catholic high school. Understandably, she was shy at first, but after her classmates reached out to her, she became more comfortable and made close friends. Hyojin’s experience has encouraged her to make diversity a priority during her time at Wash. U. She reasons that, “if I have diverse friends, I will be more open to new things.”

Research conducted by Patricia Gurin, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, supports Hyojin’s view.

“Students learn better in [a diverse] environment and are better prepared to become active participants in our pluralistic, democratic society once they leave school,” reported Gurin.

Fortunately, Wash. U.’s diversity presents its students with countless opportunities to interact with peers of a variety of backgrounds. However, the challenges and fears that go hand-in-hand with the first year handicap many freshmen and therefore limit their willingness to form relationships with a variety of individuals early on in their college careers.

To encourage cross-cultural discussion and socializing, the University sponsors open forums such as Campus Week of Dialogue and student groups such as The Solution host social gatherings during the year. As critics point out, however, many students attend these events, but fall back into the same social patterns as before once they end.

Though the University and student groups can make every effort to encourage multiculturalism, the onus of strengthening cross-cultural connections lies with individual students. Developing such relationships must begin freshman year.

But how do you surmount your fears and leap into unfamiliarity?

From limiting the range of influence different cultural clubs have on freshmen to simply introducing freshmen to settings in which they encounter a wide range of individuals, upperclassmen have suggested many ways to cross cultural barriers to foster true diversity on campus.

Sophomore Nicholas McKenna advocates imposing a “second semester-only” restriction on cultural clubs similar to the rush policy that the University imposes on Greek organizations. While creating such a restriction may limit freshman involvement in some organizations, doing so will encourage them to look to different outlets to make friends.

Either in lieu of or in addition to this measure, the University and student groups can increase the number of programs targeted at freshmen that are designed to break cultural barriers. Currently, Orientation events focus on this goal. After Orientation, however, cross-culturalism falls by the wayside and freshmen seek out the safety of cultural similarity and the pattern of self-segregation continues.

As Kim Short, a Koenig Four RA, attests, the temptation for students to align themselves with other intellectuals of similar backgrounds is too alluring to pass up freshman year. For Kim, Wash. U. presented her with an opportunity that was severely limited in her predominately white high school-the chance to interact with other African American intellectuals.

Now a junior, Kim acknowledges that, “it’s a step-by-step process. [Freshman year] was about submerging myself in my culture. [Sophomore year] I branched out because I had fulfilled that need. Yes, college is a time about getting acclimated, but you’re also here to learn and grow.”

Though bonding with people of the same (insert nationality, ethnicity or social class here) group nurtures the need for comfort and community, doing so may inadvertently lead to segregation and thus limit both one’s social sphere and educational depth. Starting with the first year, students must make the conscious decision to associate with those different from themselves.

A refusal (subconscious or not) to leave one’s comfort zone fosters a sense of separation and makes a fairly small gap amongst cultures seem wider and deeper than the construction hole outside Mallinckrodt.

Wandalyn is a freshman in Arts & Sciences. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].