Despite my academic achievements in high school, I wasn’t properly prepared for the transition into college life. After multiple years of working hard to get the best grades, I was burned out from school. All I cared about was having a great time during the summer and then moving out of Lincoln, NE. In retrospect, I would have been the perfect candidate for one of those “gap years” that a lot of kids are doing these days.
The eagerness to leave high school far behind led me to choose to attend the University of Michigan. It ultimately was a poor choice for me, but there were other factors to my unsuccessful transition to college. My high school guidance counselors, going off my SAT and ACT scores alone, pushed me into applying to engineering schools despite my interest in getting a well rounded education. Also, my parents didn’t take me on any school visits so I had imperfect information when I was deciding what admissions offer to accept. I selected to go to Michigan without ever setting foot in Ann Arbor. In fact, my first time in Ann Arbor was when I arrived to start school.
My parents didn’t take or arrange for me to go to any of the multiple summer orientation programs. This was probably the biggest error of the whole transition process. At summer orientation, admitted students could meet one another (an important thing for an out of state student), scout for potential roommates, check out the various dormitories, and register for classes. Instead, I had to do all of those things once I arrived on campus to start school. This ensured that I was not going to get the living situation I preferred or any of the classes I wanted and/or needed to take.
Part of the summer preparatory materials I had to fill out for Michigan included listing preferences for dormitories and living situations. The choices included dorms at varying distances from central campus, co-ed or single sex floors, and rooms ranging from singles to quads. Since I had never been to Ann Arbor’s campus, I didn’t have much to go on when making my choice. I also didn’t know anyone else going to Michigan and I had heard enough roommate horror stories to be wary about random room pairings. Thus, I decided to preference a single room in a dorm close to central campus that had co-ed floors. What I didn’t know was that the single rooms in the dorms close to central campus were going to be claimed by current students and the admitted students attending summer orientation.
I received my room assignment notice about a month before I left for school. I was placed in a quad room in a central campus dorm. I was disappointed that I was going to have the maximum number of roommates. I was even more disappointed that my roommates were all sophomores and seemed to know each other. If I was going to be forced to live with others than at least I wanted them to be new students with no ties to each other. The living assignment notice also said that my new roommates were all from the same high school in downtown Detroit. I didn’t know much about Detroit at the time, but I did know it was much different from Lincoln, NE. I arrived in Ann Arbor with my parents to move into the dorm room that August. We picked up my room key at the dorm’s front desk and headed to what I thought I would be calling home for the coming school year. I opened the door to find my three new roommates were already living there. I also discovered that all three of my roommates were African-American. It was official: I had absolutely nothing in common with any of them.
In the two weeks that followed I did my best to fit into my new living environment but I wasn’t having much success. All three roommates kept the same schedule. They would sleep until lunch and then go to class. They would study after dinner and then party loudly each night in the room until 4:00 AM. As a first year student that registered for classes when I arrived on campus, my classes started at 8:00 or 9:00 each morning. I didn’t get much sleep those two weeks. I tried other things to help the transition but it was clear that these guys didn’t want me there. I found out that one of their friends from high school had lived with them their first year but that he didn’t come back to school. I also found out they preferred to live with another African-American student. At the end of that second week they came to me and said they found an African-American student down the hall that wanted to live with them. They thought it would be in everyone’s best interests if I switched rooms with him. I agreed with them, though the switch wasn’t presented to me as much of a choice. So I packed up my things and moved down the hall.
The first week I as at Michigan was orientation. Part of the orientation program was writing a short timed essay to determine the first year English course a student should take. The topic was to write on your experiences with diversity. I debated whether to write about my dorm living situation but that was too new. Instead I wrote about how I didn’t have much experience with diversity. Instead, I wrote that I was a white kid from Nebraska that lived in an almost all white part of town that attended a nearly all white high school.
Ironically, I now live in the most diverse part of Washington, DC. My two years at Michigan were not happy or successful, but at least they were an introduction to a more diverse world.