What do you think about when you think of JMU? The beautifully scenic campus? The door-holding-open friendly people? The ‘JMU DUKES’ school spirit? Besides the good education, I’ve thought of all of these points as JMU’s strengths. But do they last beyond the first few weeks? I was skeptical.
Is everyone actually as happy as they seem? FROG week is all bonding and memories and spirit and smiles. We were all playing games and pumping our FROGs for knowledge, everything from do’s and don’ts of the dining halls to why sorority girls wear running shorts, sneakers, and their letters all the time. It was a week where everyone’s doors were held open with bins and refridgerators, or whatever would hold them, and everyone was sitting out in the hallway talking about where they were from and what they liked to do. I loved all the girls in my FROG group during FROG week, and I spent a lot of time with people in my hall.
But, I found that the months after the first couple weeks, the smiles died down, my FROGs didn’t talk to me, and nobody was half as excited about JMU anymore. I mean look how many people filled up the Convo during the first week! All of the freshman were squeezed into seats in Convo for a welcome meeting with the class and the faculty.
Now, of course everyone’s adjusting to being away from home, living with someone that they probably have never met before, and learning the ropes of JMU. But still! Where did the charm-filled people go? They buried themselves as the semester progressed, as everyone got enveloped into their work.
One freshman commented on the student body: “The students here, as many will tell are, are pretty much friendly and approachable. BUT don’t let these descriptions fool you; yes, students are friendly and the southern attitude is prevalent, but I have found most to be very shallow and self-absorbed, making it very hard to find down-to-earth, genuine people, as well as establishing meaningful relationships…As I said, most of the students here don’t have terrific attitudes. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met some great people, you just have to search a little bit harder than you would in a diverse community. Yes, the rumors are true…the girl:guy ratio is about 60:40 (though it feels like 80:20)…” (“Review of the College,” n.d.). Looking around, I can’t help but agree with what she said.
That’s the thing about college: everyone is so concerned about what they’re doing, about their major, about their future, about their classes, that people really aren’t as social as you’d might think. Though people come together at various social gatherings at various times of the week with various types of beverages, people live in their own little worlds most of the time.
Speaking of their own little worlds, everyone on JMU’s campus is beyond sucked into their phones. On the bus, walking across the street, eating at the dining hall, at the gym, no one isn’t staring at their phones. Like, what are you looking at? What are you reading? Who are you texting? Am I missing something big? I feel like no one makes eye contact at all! Does anyone have conversations anymore? I wouldn’t know, I sit on my phone, because if I don’t, people stare at me oddly. I did a project for one of my classes where I couldn’t have my phone for three whole days, and man did I get looks. In the paper I wrote on the project, I explained: “On the bus, people sat there staring aimlessly into their phones, scrolling social media or staring off into space as they listened to their music. No one wasn’t plugged in, except me; and, everyone stared at me for it. They looked at me like I was out of place and not up to date. I guess people can’t walk around [content with their own thoughts] anymore” (Fox, 2014, p. 1). It’s like if your face isn’t in your phone, you’re the odd man out. Why is that? Is this just our generation? I just want to talk to people! Where are the friendly JMU students that everyone knows us as? Oh, right, they’re hidden behind the LED-glare of their phone screens.
I took this picture on a beautifully sunny day from my dorm room window; look at all the people sitting around on their phones when they could be laying on the quad chilling with friends and having an actual conversation. I wish I could’ve shown more of a mass of people, because no one was truly ‘present’ for the sunny day.
One of the biggest downsides, I’d say, about JMU is that there is absolutely zero communication between people, majors, classes, students, faculty, clubs, events, and departments. Going back to that everyone-in-their-own-little-world idea, cross communication, no matter what form, is very sparse, and that’s upsetting. I never know what events are going on, unless I see a lone flyer scattered across campus or get an informational email about it, all of which most students delete as soon as it hits their inbox. Word-of-mouth news spreading isn’t too common, either. I didn’t know about an event called Student Appreciation Day until a football player came into Mrs. Greens, where I happened to be eating, and shouted, “Student Appreciation Day tomorrow at 11! Get there early to get a t-shirt! It’s gonna be a good time; let’s have a good turn-out! See you there!”. That is rare! I’m not sure if that’s how every college campus is, but I hate to feel out of the loop of things. It’s my campus, I should know what’s going on! I feel like I’m living in a bubble!
There really is a JMU bubble, though. Everyone stays on campus and doesn’t really venture off, unless they need to go to Walmart or to the mall. Harrisonburg has little to offer, though, sad as it is to say. It’s a cute place to get a bite to eat, but there are just JMU students everywhere. Venturing downtown is a hassle to students without cars on campus, which is a big majority. I think that if there were buses that ran into downtown or if I had my car, that I would find town to be a good place to spend time. Yes, it has a bad reputation, but there are things to do and places to go and people to see. But otherwise, there’s really nowhere here to get away and take a break from campus life and the students.
My one getaway is UREC, the gym here on campus. It’s perfect at 6:30 in the morning, but anything but perfect at 6:30 at night. With 18,000 undergrads on campus, you’d think the gym would have multiple machines, dumbbells, and weights to accommodate. Well, most of the time, later in the day, beyond 3:00, the gym is so packed you can’t get a full workout in because you’re waiting for the person on the machine you want to use to finish their reps. You have to know the perfect time to go, and how to maneuver around all those people. One former JMU student said: “the gym is PACKED almost all day. The size of this gym is laughable given the amount of tuition money flowing into this school. Want to relieve stress by lifting weights? Good luck, all three rows of dumbbells were taken up by kids daily. As a part time personal trainer I almost vomited at the sight of this routine circus act” (“James Madison University,” n.d.). Though, on the upswing, UREC will be bigger and better by the fall semester, so hopefully, hopefully, that improves it. Expanding can only improve the facility.
I was on the fence for a while about whether or not I wanted to say goodbye to JMU, for good. A student, unknown to me what her final decision was, explained, “I don’t love JMU but I don’t hate JMU by any means. I am actually considering transferring next semester because I so desperately want to be in a city surrounded by more diverse settings. But don’t get me wrong, I still do like JMU (which is why my decision is going to be a tough one) and it may, in fact, be the school for you” (“Review of the College,” n.d.). I can concur with her desire for a city-atmosphere, since JMU is so isolated up here in the mountains. But, you could argue that she and I knew that when we applied here. Diversity is low on campus, I agree with her there, but it doesn’t faze most students. I’ve come to the conclusion that I like JMU, but I don’t love it.
I want to point out that JMU can be a great experience if you make it a great experience. It’s all about what you make of it. I’m sure that if I stuck with Dance Theatre club, and auditioned for the Dance major here, that I would’ve liked JMU more than I do now. Maybe if I auditioned for the spring musical and got involved with an acapella group, I would have felt more at ease. If I switched my major, as I plan to, to Dance and Biology, and joined Tri Beta, the Biological Honors Society, that it would’ve made a difference. JMU is a very social-oriented school, whether it’s clubs or sororities or fraternities or arts or parties. If you don’t get involved, it doesn’t offer you much. At JMU, you have to be a part of something, or many somethings, to feel a sense of community. I truly believe that.
So, if you love JMU, JMU will love you back.
Fox, S. E. (2014, March 4). Time and Technology. Unpublished working paper,
James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA
James Madison University [Review of the college [Title of Reviewed Work]].
(n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2014, from http://www.studentsreview.com/
[Review of the college James Madison University]. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16,
2014, from http://www.studentsreview.com/