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Emily Kampmeyer

Paper #9

November 7, 2014

            On a brisk, windy Sunday afternoon, I headed to the outskirts of Bryn Mawr College’s campus to the nearby Morris Woods. I trekked around, finding myself engaged in the quiet solitude of the forest. Walking through the beaten path, coming across several trees with names and messages carved in the trunk, I was inspired to grab a rock and write EGG with muffled snickers. Seeking to make the most of my forest excursion, I continued on, belting out Disney songs without any apprehension that someone might overhear. The forest, with its all-encompassing branches and leaves, seemed to me bubble of free expression that could exist separately from anybody’s—or more specifically, the college’s—standards.

            Bryn Mawr prides itself on its conscientious attitude towards the environment, and has since accrued “135 acres with over 3600 trees”, according to a pamphlet showcasing a tour on the expansive botanical victories on campus. The tour highlights around forty trees, all of them to exemplify the principles of the college. On the pamphlet, a section under mission reads that the college “values critical, creative and independent habits of thought and expression (Bryn Mawr College Tree Tour)”.

            The pamphlet states these values, but the trees in action seem superficial. They could be a very direct metaphor for the student population, a “community diverse in nature”, displaying how well these foreign “plants” can flourish in the college (Bryn Mawr College Tree Tour). On the tour, one can visit trees from all over—Austrian Pines from the Mediterranean, Japanese Maples from East Asia, Copper Trees from Europe, or simply the native deciduous trees from the local area. Each tree, native or no, can and does adapt to the college soil.  And as each tree is unique, the students blossom just as distinctively. However, unique as they are, do they have any real character? These main campus trees are constantly being tended to and cared for, and it would seem that no individuality could actually peek through, with their trunks as beautiful as possible. Contrast this with the trees in Morris woods, which are peeling, but part of a community—shown not only by the ecosystem, but also by the carvings left behind.

            But what are the main campus trees doing, in the end? They fail to represent any sort of coherent, harmonious ecosystem; there are the trees and not much else. Nonetheless, we as students are surrounded, constantly reminded of the spirit of intelligence and elegance in every tree, every branch, every leaf shaken by the wind. And what of the creative, independent habits of expression? Trees on main campus show no such expression. Nobody would dare disrupt the proud historical nature of a state champion tree by carving EGG into it. Rather, the huge presence and atmosphere of the trees may serve as intimidating, inadvertently deterring students from truly expressing themselves, especially if they feel that their expression doesn’t stack up to the impressive trees.

For a similar comparison, take a look at the ground right beneath the trees. The foot trail cutting through Morris Woods is narrow, worn down by what appears to be natural means. The walk back to the main campus shows a stark difference, stepping on wider paved roads and paths. However, the grass in between these pavement paths proves even more telling. When discussing the conflict between student endeavors and administrative control, a few areas come to mind—for example, the path between Thomas Great Hall and Pembroke West, and Merion green. Between senior row and Merion, there is a small foot trail that cuts through Merion green in a bid to save time. The grass has been worn down to the dirt, and is convenient, but has since become an eyesore for the college. About a month into this semester, flags marked off the path, assumedly as an effort to regrow the grass and get rid of it. Again, the same situation is currently in process behind Thomas; Both scenarios effectively dismantle attempts at student’s expression.

These instances of conflict, of student individuality vs. college control, are ironic. The main issue is that the campus has an image to maintain—an image of sophistication and pride. In the setting that the main campus offers, Bryn Mawr’s methods for promoting creativity and individual expression end up inhibiting this very creativity. The college imposes its own ideas of diversity and fails in its original plan, but rather forces students to create their own spaces for their own personal expressions, like an area in the woods, or a silly carving on a tree.



Works Cited

"Bryn Mawr College Tree Tour." Tree Tour - Stop by Stop. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Nov. 2014.


Anne Dalke's picture

I like your picking up on our class discussion, in which we compared the “unique,” “impressive,” “intimidating” and “well-tended” trees featured in the pamphlet designed for the Bryn Mawr College Tree Tour, with the larger ecosystem represented in Morris Woods. And I’d like to keep nudging you a little further down several of the paths you gesture toward: is Morris Woods really a “coherent, harmonious ecosystem”? (Ohrenschall’s BiCo News article speaks of invasive species…how is the system handling those?) Does the student body, along with the college’s elaborate support system, constitute such a “coherent, harmonious” social system? And how much space does any eco-system (natural or social) grant to  “creative, independent habits of expression”? How much regulation keeps such expression in check?

You analyze the “small foot trail that cuts through Merion green,” and the attempts to restore the grass in that area—as well as behind Thomas--as a vivid (and insistently ironic) representation of the conflict between “individuality and control,” in which the college-- in an effort to maintain a particular public image--is effectively dismantling students’ attempts at self-expression and creativity.  Have you heard of the evocative concept of desire lines, which (as I said to gmchung, whose orientation on these questions resembles your own) might form a more capacious (and ineradicable) metaphor for the sorts of issues that interest you here…?