Sarah Lawrence College

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Sarah Lawrence guide

Dec 30, 2009 (Updated Dec 30, 2009)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:excellent professors

rigorous program

close to New York

Cons:limited academic program

impractical

poor social life

poor administration

The Bottom Line: Go for the rigorous academic system and professors.  You will find the social life and campus atmosphere lacking, but that doesn't mean you can't fit in.


This review will not be short.  I am an expert on this subject. 
Sarah Lawrence is not a (creative) writing school (the fiction teacher stars are Brian Morton and David Hollander).
It is a liberal arts school, academic in nature, for those who want to have the freedom to study different subjects in depth without a core curriculum or a major, i.e. Literature, Development, and Biology at the same time.  It is also for those who want small (15 person) seminars and need a discussion in class/personal contact with an eccentric and phenomenal professor. 
 
You will flourish if you are the kind of person that is motivated when they are interested in a subject, also if they have a meaningful connection with a teacher and are allowed to speak out.  It will be harder for you if you require more structure.  Also, if you need to study from books rather than textbooks.  And if you like to read a lot. 
 
Academics
 
Conference paper: There are no tests mostly, but a large thesis paper/project called a conference paper that you meet with your professor to develop every two weeks.  You either have two papers, one for each semester, or one for the year.  Sarah Lawrence is an academic writing school.  You don't have to take math. 
 
When you meet with your professor every two weeks, you will talk about what direction you want your paper to go in and what you read last week.  They will assign you something else to have done by the next conference. 
 
Do not take conference projects that the professor does not know about.  Do not "teach the professor" because you won't benefit from their knowledge.  And they won't be into it.  Do not let professors force you into a conference project you don't want.  Be strong. 
 
Seminar: Every seminar works differently.  Some teachers will have a natural conversation, some will give you questions to discuss, some will lecture you.  Don't let anyone tell you you know how a seminar works. 
 
Donning system: You will get a First Year Studies class chosen for you during the summer.  It is to initiate you into the seminar system.  Your teacher will be your don.  They are like an academic advisor.  You come to them before you have to pick classes.  Make sure your don knows about what you're interested in and can guide you to classes you need.  Try to have a good personal relationship with them and make sure they are not cold.  Try to make sure you can turn to them when you need someone to talk to.  You can switch dons. 
 
THINK TO YOURSELF about what it is you're interested in.  Sarah Lawrence has limited departments with teachers who are interested in a limited number of things.  If you are interested in something that one teacher can't give you, you will have to cross departments.  For instance, the philosophy department has three people who only cover classical philosophy/Rousseau, mysticism/Wittgenstein, and Hegel, what are you going to do if you're interested in something else?  If you are interested in a subject that is more commercial, even like cartooning or graphic design, you might not find what you want.  Some have been even refused a conference project because of its being too commercial.  If you are interested in tv writing, you'd better go to NYU.  There is only one teacher, Fred Strype, that works screenwriting and his classes are full. 
 
Lecture: There is a lecture requirement,  You must take two years of lecture.  Capped at 60 people.  Choose good professors and general courses to fill your desire for 101 classes and background.  Get through them sophomore year. 
 
Recommended lectures: Fred Smoler, Michael Davis, Malcolm Turvey, Joe Forte, Marvin Frankel, Judith Rodenbeck, Gina Philogene
 
There is something called a thirds in Sarah Lawrence: theater third, music third, dance third, or language/lecture and lecture/lecture third.  Thirds count for one class, but you are allowed to take several different classes and lighten the load of work.  Theater thirds, dance thirds, and/or music thirds are the way you take theater, dance, or music in Sarah Lawrence, this is so you can take many classes in theater and music and still take two liberal arts classes.  Theater kids have to take a tech credit. You will be busy and performing arts thirds are a pain in the posterior.  Language/lecture thirds are the way that you can split a language and a lecture class and get two classes for your buck.  You can lighten the work in various ways such as doing a conference paper in one class only.  You can take a lecture/lecture third and get two lectures for your buck.  Get it over with in sophomore year. 
 
Performing Arts: It is not an "artsy" school, don't come if you are serious about music, dance, theater, or art.  These are the most "postmodern" departments and have the least idea of what postmodern is.  Unless it is a play where you only throw tomatoes, a dance where you roll on the floor and look at your fingers,and an "installation" that is a stocking full of dirt.  And it isn't even that edgy or plotless, just amateur.  Do come if you want to pursue liberal arts and also take performing arts classes for fun. 
 
Social Life
 
It is said that the students are antisocial and negative ("in Sarah Lawrence even the squirrels wear black"), that the social scene is horrible.  The old stereotypes are that the students are eccentric and depressing, politically active and gay/lesbian.  Now the stereotypes are that Sarah Lawrence students have become apathetic hipsters and that there are few eccentrics left.  Neither of these are quite true.  There are a lot of hipsters on campus, but much of their bluster wears off by freshman year.  The gay and lesbian community is limited.  There are eccentric people if you know how to find them or how to look for it in them.  There has been apathy (that no one could admit to) on campus and many political attempts have been feeble, but a lot of people are rising up out of this and making real efforts, particularly in the environment area.  There are a lot of Sarah Lawrence kids working on projects for the environment, one who spoke about his efforts on NPR, one who farms a rooftop garden above Marlow and Daughters. 
 
There seems to be an atmosphere of negativity, people have one foot in and one foot out, complaints include that you only get to take three classes, there are a limited number of professors and they don't teach what you want, you actually miss 101 classes to get some background on the specific classes at Sarah Lawrence, i.e. I took a class on everything after Plato in cosmology and never got to read Plato, etc.  This is like in any college.  However, if you know where to look, teachers provide general lectures. 
The social life is as bad as you heard.  The Sarah Lawrence architecture is crafted for awkwardness.  For the most part, parties seem to alchemically fail where there is little dancing and people sitting around and drinking on the floor, also security comes in the moment it gets too loud.  Few people come to the events.  Again, this is changing.  And you can change this.  There have been excellent dance parties in the basement where my glasses have fogged up.  There are also good parties if you know where they are. 
Despite this, you will find your niche here.  I had never been so comfortable and understood.  I was among my people.  No matter how much they whined about everything. 
 
Study Abroad
 
The most academically rigorous study abroad is Oxford.  Our school is modeled off Oxford's tutorial and donning system.  It is also the loneliest.  You will be living further away in a house full of American students.  The British students have a different program than you.  Join clubs such as a dancing club, you have to make an extra effort to connect to people. 
 
Florence is a good program with lots of good food and enjoyment.  It is not as academically rigorous as Oxford in my opinion. 
 
You will be lost coming back from junior year study abroad to your senior year in college.  You can also get through it.
 
Campus Life
 
Sarah Lawrence has pretty good dorms for the most part.  You have to live in the dorms on campus your freshman year.  These are the worst dorms:
 
the New Dorms- horrifying, enclosed, but social freshman experience.  Though it's centrally located, the architecture doesn't jive with the rest of the campus.  It is packed with freshman trying to figure out Sarah Lawrence, often matched with the wrong people.  The rooms are built for two people and house three people, you will have to loft your bed or have a creative way for making space.  There will be a linoleum floor and not a very big window.  It is a good place to party and get to know the school, though.  You have to try to have a good relationship with your roommates in so close a space.  Don't get too close to your roommate because a falling out is inevitable and you need to get to know other people.  Make your own space, find a place where you can be alone.
 
Hill House: for those who want to be isolated for a "long walk" (5 minutes) from campus in a place that smells like old people.  Irony aside, these are spacious apartments that are pretty good.  People have also thrown some good parties there. 
 
Everything else pretty much is good, the only problems are that Lynd is all girls and is therefore like a sorority manic with drama, the Slonims are cold and have bad ventilation.  If you move off campus, you will inevitably become isolated from campus life and have less energy to go on campus and be a part of it.  Live closer to campus, in a place like Midland, and do both. 
 
Food: Bates is always pretty bad.  The Health Food Bar is good for the following reasons: sandwiches with apple peanut butter, bean sprouts, and various other good things.  The hot food area.  And the most important thing: tofu smoothies, the best and freshest ice cream on campus, even measures up to other ice cream.  The best flavors are strawberry (with carob) and apple peanut butter.  The Pub is fast and greasy. 
 
Avoid the administration if you can, it is disorganized and full of idiots.  Avoid the psychologists and health department, they are heinous, cold, and mean and will just mess you up.  The school does not take kindly to confused mental states for an artistic school.  If you have serious mental problems, you will be sent home for the semester, because they don't want to deal with you.  Find a good psychologist in the area.  If you are having depression issues, connect to your friends before you retreat into yourself, just once.  If you are falling through in your schoolwork, contact your don or talk to your teacher.  It is hard to organize an event and you have to go through countless committees.  It is hard to petition for various things.
 
The best hangout/coffee shop type place is the Teahaus, run by the closest to greasy hippies, the Black Squirrel is also a hidden treasure it has good milkshakes and is quiet and isolated.  Slave to the Grind is the best coffee shop in Bronxville town ship.  Study in the Bronxville Library if you want comfort and quiet. The best and most expensive restaurant is Rosie's.  I like A'Mangiare for pizza.  The best sushi is in East Harbor Seafood in Yonkers and that's far.  The best Korean food is Kang Suh in Yonkers but that's also far.  
 
Take advantage of the Met Van.  Also, use student rush tickets in New York the day of to get cheap opera tickets, play tickets, and Broadway.  I don't have to say that you have to go to New York on the weekends. 
 
Weekends: Thursday night is for drinking, the Malt House is a little lame, Friday is for various kind of fun, Saturday is for going on the Met Van to New York, Sunday is for studying. 
 
THE PROFESSORS.  This is why you are coming to Sarah Lawrence.  This is why you are staying.  They are all stars, they are committed, they are insane.  We trade their classes and reputations like trading cards.  I don't know where you will get the pleasure of taking so many good professors, my friends have had two, maybe three, I had many more.  Few are bad or mediocre, many are good, many are great.  You will soon learn not to take classes by subjects, but by professor.  The worst professors are newest and have no idea what Sarah Lawrence is
The Literature department is the largest and the strongest.  What they don't tell you is Sarah Lawrence is a literature school.  Here is a rundown of the best professors in descending order (I am biased to dead white men professors, be warned, but these are all the best I promise you):
Literature: Ilja Wachs (truest the deep love of the 19th century novel), Danny Kaiser (the crazy man who you will ever have the honor of working with, THERE IS NO ONE BETTER TO STUDY JOYCE AND READ ULYSSES WITH), Bella Brodzki (catty, thorough/analytical literary theory), Fred Smoler (War, sex, history, teaches the lecture with the most great books in it Imagining War, World War I, a genius), Angela Moger (literary theory with rhetoric, tropes, short stories), Ann/Joe Lauinger (Shakespearian literature, theater), Neil Arditi (Romantic poetry), Bill Shullenberger (Blake, to be taken in seminar), Melissa Frazier (intense/crazy and intelligent, Russian literature)
History: Komozi Woodard (black history, urban planning), Lyde Sizer (thorough, motherly, committed, American History, specializing in Women in the Civil War), Priscilla Murolo (labor history, the Sixties), LaShonda Barnett (black history), Philip Swoboda (Russian/Eastern European history), Mary Dillard (African history), Jeff Adams (more traditional, chronologically based, conservative, one of the few Republicans on campus former member of the CIA, European history post World War I, Intelligence), Fawaz Gerges (famous professor of modern Islamic history and Islamic Revolutionaries, a talking head on television, the problem is he barely has time for you, on leave right now and that's why he's in this position), David Bernstein (very traditional historian of the Middle Ages and the Reformation, is milk toasty, is in this position because of that)
 
Philosophy: Michael Davis (classical philosophy, Greek tragedy/plays, Rousseau, gorgeous thinker, emphasis on close reading of the text, one book a semester, you have an explication to write of one passage/some pages of the text, he is a Straussian, conservative, lectures during seminar, he is for you or not for you), Nancy Baker (mysticism and Wittgenstein, she is either for you or not for you), Marina Vitkin (Hegel, Hobbes, Heidegger, Plato, Neitzsche)
 
Art History: Joe Forte (lovable, insane, random, wears a bowtie, Architecture and the Renaissance, must take for Architecture), my don Judith Rodenbeck (humorous, blunt, full of character, analytical, great lecture on Contemporary Art, Dada and Surrealism)
 
Film History: Malcolm Turvey (film theory and Godard, excellent film lecture for those who want a background in film, film history)
 
Religion: Cameron (Ron) Afzal (warm, fatherly, history/philosophy/exegesis of Christianity and the Hebrew Bible), Kristin Sands (also warm, runs an incredible seminar, Koran exegesis, Suf'ism, religion and media, Islam)
 
Political History and Social Studies
 
Politics: David Peritz (very intelligent, but not so good at being a professor, there is a lot you can take from him, a lot of reading, political philosophy), Elke Zuern (tough, good reviews)
 
Sociology: Shahnaz Rouse (intense, worth taking, social construction)
 
Psychology: Marvin Frankel (a cult, has a fine lecture, psychoanalyzes in conference, influenced by Carl Rogers, be careful), Charlotte Doyle (warm, analytical, good class structure, Child Development), Elizabeth Johnston (analytical, good reviews, perception and sensorimotor), Gina Philogene (fine teacher, placed here for no particular reason, French, stylish, talks quickly, a very fine introductory psychology lecture)
 
LGBT studies: Julie Abraham (tough, whip you into shape, a combination of sociology, literature, and history, must take)
 
Development: Josh Muldavin (bouncy, there is a cult, must take)
 
Anthropology: Maria Elena Garcia (must take)
 
Asian Studies: Ellen Neskar (good and bad reviews, a little rude when you make a westernizing comment, Chinese philosophy)
 
Science
 
Science is the unknown gem
Biology: Ray Clarke, Drew Cressman, and Leah Olson (all excellen)
 
Physics: Scott Calvin (good reviews)
 
Computer Science: Mike Siff (for the nerd in you)
 
Languages: Sarah Lawrence language programs are poor, avoid the beginning language teachers
 
French: Angela Moger (Maupassant, emphasis on French literature, best French experience)
 
Italian: Judy Serafini-Sauli (the most rigorous, Tristana Rorandelli is the nice one if that's what you're looking for)
 
Greek: Sam Siegle (the absolutely insane Bates ghost who brings milk into class and rants, an old Sarah Lawrence tradition, sleeps in his classroom, worth it if you are looking to work with an absolutely intelligent, off kilter man)
 
German: Roland Dollinger (apparently both professors in the German department are weird, Nike flits along and if you follow her rhythm you can actually learn some German, but apparently he's good)
 
Spanish: Maria Negroni (intense, also crazy, intelligent poet and teacher with an emphasis on literature and poetry, must take)
 
Russian: Melissa Frazier (has an accent, I'm Russian, has an emphasis on literature, will recommend that you go to the remotest places in Russia to study abroad, don't go unless you're looking to go crazy)
 
Performing and Creative Arts
 
Fiction: like I said, Brian Morton , David Hollander, William (Willy) Kelley (wears the clothing his children picked out for him, smokes weed, the class is disorganized, fiction writer of brilliance, if you work with him in person, he will teach you fiction writing)
 
Poetry: it is hit and miss, Suzanne Gardinier, Dennis Nurkse, Vijay Seshadri, Victoria Redel (one of the hotter teachers on campus), Thomas Sayers Ellis (I took him, uncomfortable classroom dynamic deliberately to set you on your edge, crazy in that you come at him with a right he comes at you with a left way, assigns horrible contemporary poetry), I hear good reviews about the Stevens: Steven Dobyns, Steven O'Connor, Kevin Pilkington, I don't trust Marie Howe (catty, but a good teacher) and/or Matthea Harvey (good reading list)
 
Music: Marty Goldray, Pat Muchmore (I don't remember the last name, but the one with the mohawk that's cool), Hilda Harris
 
Screenwriting: Fred Strype (there is no one else, full class)
 
Theater: Dan Hurlin (puppetry, must take),
 
 
Art: Gary Burnley (incredible class in Visual Fundamentals), Ursula Schneider (good, painting), Joel Sternfeld (incredible class, famous photographer)


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