By Gus Hoffmann
Pictured above, is my Dad and I the night before Aug-O. We had just completed a 14-hour drive from Massachusetts to our end destination: the Granville Inn. When I think back on Freshman-year-Gus I am envious – he had everything figured out! As I enter my last semester at Denison, it is difficult to not notice all the changes Denison has gone through since I arrived in the fall of 2018. Denison has updated many policies pertaining to all aspects of student life, especially the party scene. The student body has also exhibited changing views on the University’s social life, campus organizations, and student needs. We have been through a global pandemic, developed new buildings, and adapted social life. To reflect these changes, I wanted to compare the senior class now to when we were freshmen across some major dimensions of life.
Rewind back to 2018, when we were just arriving at Denison. We still leaned Democratic, but there was a substantial minority of Republicans (~20 percent). But by 2021, it’s clear that our politics (or at least the label) had shifted to the left as higher rates of the senior class identified as Democratic. There were many political events in these last four years that could have pushed away members of the senior class from the Republican Party – reactions to the George Floyd protests and DEI initiatives, the Insurrection on January 6th of 2021 (recently labeled by the RNC as “legitimate public discourse”), and not to mention the politicization of the pandemic. I feel like the student body has become more political since I arrived in 2018, surely because it directly implicated our lives. Even social life hinged on political decisions.
Socially there have been several notable shifts in our group involvements. Back in 2018, we were more involved in sports (when our knees still worked), the arts, and religion. This is no surprise because these activities are direct carryovers from high school and home life. By 2021, we were striking out on our own, becoming more involved in Greek life, organizations related to social justice, and cross-cultural groups. And we got to work.
At least some of these shifts in group involvement can be traced back to the conditions of the university during the pandemic and the cultural norms that evolved during this 4-year window. In 2021, it was harder to gather and there were restrictions on places like the Mitchell Center, resulting in the reduction of students involved in club sports and varsity teams – these same conditions apply to groups in the arts. In 2018, fewer students were involved in Greek life, but in 2021 involvement has resurged. In 2018, I remember there being more underground fraternities that would not have reported to the University that they even existed. Additionally, new fraternities have come to campus, and during Covid were able to recruit members virtually. Greek involvement offers a space to gather and socialize, conditions in high demand for students back in 2021.
It’s also not surprising to see a reduction in religious group involvement – this regularly happens when students go away to college. But, the slight dip in religious involvement could be because the University stopped offering mass on Sundays, therefore ending the group that ran it. However, the most significant shift is the amount of students employed by the university. I can think of a couple reasons for this trend: the pay increase that occurred for student employees last year, a reason to leave the room during the strict covid-19 guidelines last year, and the economic strain of the pandemic.
Our GPA’s have also increased since 2018! This is a tough one – what major academic change could result in an overall increase in GPA? Oh, that’s right, we were all online. The optimistic outlook is that students could focus better in isolation with limited distractions and GPA’s increased. However, the pessimistic reasoning for a GPA increase is that students could work together on all assignments when we were virtual.. Or maybe we’re just trying to keep up with new students. When I was accepted into Denison, the acceptance rate was about 47%. Today, Denison only accepts around 28% of all students that apply to our little school on the Hill. In the four years since the senior class has been enrolled, Denison might have been accepting students that prioritize academia above other aspects of college life-changing college norms that affected us.
I think for many seniors at Denison it’s easy to get sentimental about how much the campus, your peers, and your personal identity have changed. I’m not nostalgic yet, but give me a couple more months. It is unrealistic to expect that our university would remain the same for our short tenure on the hill. Throw in a presidential election and a global pandemic, and then your university might be unrecognizable. That being said, I think nostalgia regarding when you first arrived at college is a universal trait of all seniors in college. In the beginning, there were new people to meet, experiences to be made, and you were away from home for the first time. Yet, as you get older you always look back positively on those times of uncertainty. Sentences beginning with “When I was a freshman” echo the good ol’ days of lacking responsibility, not having to plan, and not being asked “when are you guys going to throw a party?”
Gus Hoffmann is currently a senior at Denison University, where he majors in Global Commerce. He is still unemployed and after graduating, he plans to move back to his parents’ basement to sell childhood memorabilia.