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We (All) Belong Here: On Being A McBride Scholar

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We (All) Belong Here

Kate Hinchey ’16, McBride

***Any text in quotations is the actual words/experience of a current or former McBride Scholar. These opinions are individualized and do not claim to represent the experience of all MBs***


This is not an inspirational story. This is not me telling you all about how I came to walk through the McBride Gateway for the first time. I’m sure you have heard those kinds of stories by now. These inspirational stories are what Bryn Mawr wants you to hear. They are stories of how Athena swooped down and rescued us. Stories of how these sad, broken women came to find a place of magic and “real knowledge” through the generosity and grace of the Bryn Mawr College Administration. Stories of how we “became strong women at Bryn Mawr” and how the world suddenly opened it’s arms when we walked through these doors.


I am not every McBride. I cannot tell you how all of us feel, I can only speak to how I walk this Labyrinth. Most of the time I am the only McBride in the room. I am the only MB in this 360 and many of us are without each other for most of our day. This does not always mean that we are silent and invisible, but sometimes it does. Not everything I am going tell you happens to all of us, but these are all true stories. All that matters is that these things happened...and that some of them shouldn’t.


I am asking you to listen. I cannot guarantee that you will believe me that Mawrtyrs and Bryn Mawr have said/done these things. I just need you to listen. We just need you to listen. So much of this 360 has been learning how to listen to each other, how to hold each other’s truths. This has been particularly hard for me to learn. I have learned to admit that my voice is loud, that my truth takes up space. I have learned how to interact with different identities and bodies that I would have sworn I knew everything about just 4 months ago. I was wrong.  


I am asking you to listen. I am asking you to hold my bowl,because even in a class where we are learning to hold each other’s bowls I still feel like this story is invisible. I’m asking you to listen because even our classmates say things like “You're a McBride? So, can I ask about the tragic force that pulled you off your path?"


I am asking you to listen, because I love Bryn Mawr. I want you to know the stories of how this place has left me out almost as many times as it has lifted me up. How “home” sometimes still doesn’t feel real as I light the flame of my Traditions Mistress Lantern.  A lantern that did not exist before last spring. A lantern that I hope can be passed down to Mawrtyrs like me for years to come. I am asking you to listen so that the next time I grab the hand of another McBride and repeat our mantra, “You Belong Here”- I really mean it.



“Why didn’t you go to college when you were supposed to?”


Reality Check: traditional undergraduates are now the minority in higher education.

The National Center for Education Statistics characterizes a “traditional” undergraduate as one who earns a high school diploma, enrolls full time after finishing high school, depends on parents for financial support, and either does not work during the school year or works part time. Just 27% of US students fit this criteria. Traditional students are now the exception rather than the rule. We are doing this exactly when we are “supposed to”.


There are currently 1,328 undergraduate Mawrtyrs. There are currently 32 McBrides, that equals 2%. 38% of those enrolled in higher education are over the age of 25. Let me repeat... McBride Scholars make up 2% of Bryn Mawr’s population. And we have an even bigger problem, that number is shrinking. I came in with 11 other McBrides last fall, this year there are 4 new McBrides. Administrative politics and excuses aside, something feels seriously wrong with this picture; especially when the national number of undergraduates over 25 is projected to increase another 23% by 2019.  I am asking you to help me understand why so many people like me are being shut out of this place.


“When my Financial Aid was messed up and I called and said I couldn't live off the amount I was being given for the next 5 months. Financial Aid got annoyed and told me that I was forgetting that I would "go home" for December and have NO expenses. When I explained that the reason I needed the money was to PAY for my home which I rent in Philly... including in December, which I did not get breaks on paying for she was like, "...oh"


Money is one of the reasons we are shut out. McBrides are certainly not the only Bryn Mawr students who experience financial hurdles. We do however have some pretty unique circumstances. Many of us have partners and children, 29 of us live off-campus, and all of us have to learn how to pay for all of that and more.  I did not anticipate how much my socioeconomic circumstances would really change when I got into BMC. More than one advisor insisted that I “not work for at least your first year. A lot of MBs can’t keep up in their classes if they have to work too. Financial Aid will work with you to make sure you can afford to live and study.” All the while other Mawrtyrs proclaim, "But once you're here, your financial situation doesn't matter, because we're all equal here."


This is a fallacy. I am one of the lucky ones-I am single and childless. I still can barely afford to eat. The choice between feeding yourself or your child is all too common in our community. How can we make our brains work at the speed of Athena on no fuel? During my phone interview for food stamps last year I was immediately disqualified because I said I was a full time student. The interviewer asked, “Why can’t you just eat on campus if you’re there full time?”  (35 meal plan @ BMC=$365=my entire budget for 3 weeks)



“Definitely include the lecture I got from finaid when requesting a Schaar loan [an advance on a loan taken out by the student] about how it's my "responsibility to learn how to manage my finances," even though I was a 38 y/o woman who was unemployed and yet managing to pay my mortgage and two car payments.


McBride: “I still have not received my loan disbursement and I am really late on paying for my son’s school.”

Financial Aid: "Your reimbursement is not supposed to pay for your son's college tuition, it is for you to live on while you are in college."

McBride: "Um, my son is 4 & in preschool."

Financial Aid: "Oh…"


Access to campus life and resources is another major struggle for McBride Scholars. Since the majority of us commute time spent on campus must be preciously allotted. It currently takes me over an hour to commute from my apartment in Philadelphia daily. Just last week I was discussing traditions and access for off campus students when I was surprised to hear another student defending the inaccessible timing of many meetings and activities. “Well if you choose to live off campus, you just have to deal with it.” I felt completely erased. I did not choose to live off campus, I am unable to afford to live ON campus. This is the case for many off campus students. The assumption that all students by default should live on campus is not only hurtful but also unrealistic. In fact, on the McBride admission sections of the BMC website it reads, “Although not guaranteed, housing may be available on a case-by-case basis.”


“How can you possibly not have a car??”


Bryn Mawr can feel like a lonely place without the social contact that happens at late night club meetings, Sunday Brunch, and dorm common rooms. Many BMC cultural norms and customs are missed out on by non-traditional students. As McBride Traditions Mistress I was elected to try to bridge those gaps as much as possible. I have often had to make the choice between staying late on campus to make a 9pm club meeting or catching an earlier train to ensure enough sleep to be back on SEPTA at 8 am. The McBride lounge in Radnor’s basement is a great place to recharge and connect with other McBrides between classes. We even have a futon in the back room that we use for nap. It was great for resting until BMC installed a light this past summer that does not turn off. Since MB’s don’t pay room and board it is against regulations for us to sleep in the lounge overnight.


“McBride Scholars should be ready to participate in a rigorous academic program at a residential liberal arts college. Typically, students take 4 classes each semester. Almost all classes are taught during the day and none are offered on the weekends.” –Bryn Mawr College Admission Website


I firmly believe that all Mawrtyrs are brilliant. I am constantly in awe of my classmates’ ideas and contributions. I often learn more from the students around me that I do from the mountains of reading we are all doing. The McBrides are no exception. Even though many of us are high school dropouts, have learning differences, or come back to school after 15 years outside the classroom we’re really f*cking smart. I say that so strongly because I find myself reminding other McBridesof their talents all the time. Self-doubt runs rampant at Bryn Mawr. “Bryn Mawr students call themselves "Mawrtyrs," as a punning expression both of their undying devotion to their academic work, and of the profound ethics of this allegiance.” (Dalke, 2014) McBrides not only experience doubt from within but external messages and pressure can sometimes be crippling…


“I was sobbing trying to figure out an algebraic equation and my chemistry professor said ‘Come on you should know this!’ I again said I didn’t know it. She said ‘you should know this from High School.’ I said ‘I dropped out of high school 15 years ago.’ and she replied ‘well you’re here now, so know it.”


“A professor told me to be careful about mentioning my age in front of the trads because it "others them."


I am sorry that this is not an inspirational story. While I know that I did not cause these things, I feel guilty explaining my experience here. I do not want you to think that I resent trads (that’s MB slang for traditional students) or this institution. Trads are some of my biggest supports and have given me so many fond memories and experiences. Some of the same administrators who have turned a blind eye to our struggles have been my fiercest advocates in other situations. We are also not the only students here facing situational and institutional barriers. It goes without saying that all of these things intersect.


We know that we are loved. Trads tell me all the time how much they admire the McBrides. The sound of applause when we take the stage at Goodhart performances every year is deafening. The walk to the stage was without a doubt the best moment of my Hell Week. I had never felt more truly at home and I am so grateful for that.


We are often told about how much younger students look up to us. So many of us have “little sisters and brothers” all over this campus. We want to truly feel a part of this community as much as we are told that we are. I want to be able to join clubs without worrying how I will get home before midnight. I don’t want to hear another story of a McBride who feels invisible when they find that everyone in their class formed a study group casually over lunch in Erdman. I want us to figure out a solution to bureaucratic and cultural barriers, there has to be a way.


I am asking you to listen so that we can begin to undo these things together. We cannot solve these things on our own. I don’t know how to even begin to solve most of these issues. The only thing I can think of doing is telling these stories. Even if they sting. We need allies. 32 people cannot carry all of this weight alone.


I am hoping that those who have screamed the loudest for us in public will be brave enough to admit that they do not know the whole truth about what happens in private. I am hopeful that conversation will make my McBride family feel less invisible. I am asking you to ask questions so that there is an opportunity to for you listen.


I know that may feel like a big risk. I know that admitting privilege is never an easy thing. I know that you still may not even see it. You will never see it all. You will never have our perspective because your Bryn Mawr is different. I hope that you will never need to experience these things. But we need you to say out loud that never experiencing these things does not mean you do not live with all the benefits afforded to being “traditional” at Bryn Mawr College.


Athlon ariston kai kindunon tonde kalliston nomizomen

Let us practice as a custom this noblest contest, this most beautiful risk.


The women who wrote these words in Sophias were speaking of a very different risk. They had put their futures and reputations on the line to pursue an education that they had been denied at every turn. This line for me is a direct connection to the risks I see the McBrides taking everyday. We have put so much of our life on the line to “practice this noblest contest.” I am asking you to stand with us, just like you did on a chilly October night in the cloisters as we take these risks. I am asking you to raise your voices again so that we can work together to keep alive this 120 year old anthem. I am asking that you help us make sure there is enough light for all.