As a now three-year campus tour guide, sharing my excitement for the place I call home with prospective students and their families is my favorite part of every week. Interacting with families on an almost daily basis, it is hard not to be reminded of the anxiety, uncertainty and unparalleled excitement that surrounded my college search.
I speak on behalf of the entire tour guide family in expressing my embarrassment for the way that our campus visitors were portrayed in a recent article, “The trouble with tour groups.” The author criticized the behavior of tour groups, painting visitors as slow, disruptive, inconsiderate people who lack the ability to walk properly. April is a busy month for tours, and we tour guides understand the inconveniences that large tour groups often create. However, many of the author’s criticisms are simply not rooted in reality and frankly, our campus visitors and the tour guides that work hard to shape their experiences deserve better.
Prospective students do not, as the author claims, “come only in large packs, all huddling together with bored looks on their faces.” Tours at the University of Massachusetts run all year, including during the summer months. For much of the academic year, tours are small and it is not rare for a tour guide to explore campus with a single family. Understandably, tours become abnormally large during a period of a few weeks in April as the college search enters its final and most critical stage. Furthermore, to describe all prospective students as bored is an unfair generalization. While some students show less interest than others, any tour guide could provide you with countless examples of enthusiastic and inquisitive students excited to make UMass their home.
The author also points to the “uncontrollable behavior” of current students that tours provoke. “I have yet to encounter one group without hearing some overexcited frat boy yell ‘Don’t come here’ or ‘Zoooo,’” the author writes. While situations like this have occurred, they are far from regular and many veteran tour guides have yet to encounter this scenario even once. Far more often, tour guides hear current students shouting “GO UMASS!” or “COME TO UMASS!” What is arguably more embarrassing, as my coworker and friend can attest, is having to explain to a visiting father why he and other campus visitors were being publicly shamed in the school’s newspaper that he picked up from the information desk.
UMass has a sizeable campus with many unique attractions that often take guests by surprise. Can we really fault visitors for “looking up or around the room and not where they are walking” as they explore South College’s beautiful new interior or try to imagine how many books fit inside the tallest academic library in the world? Should we really be enraged, as the author is, by a mother’s excitement over smoothies on a campus that takes particular pride in its dining services? Can’t we look past the tragedy of the author’s spilled tea and see the bigger picture?
It is easy to forget that we were all prospective college students just a few years ago. It shouldn’t take that much empathy to recognize that while college students are stressed, so too are students trying to plan their educational futures. However, perhaps I was mistaken in assuming that current students could look past the minor inconveniences caused by a few weeks of large tours and instead be excited to share their home with new students. Perhaps guests should not expect such a level of decency and understanding.
For many prospective students, tours are transformational. Tour guides tell stories of prospective students committing to UMass on the spot because of a tour they gave. Many report providing meaningful consolation and inspiration to students fearful that their social identities may hinder their ability to fit in at college.
Jessi Dimmock, a current tour guide and admissions fellow, eloquently provides an additional perspective.
“Not only are we giving tours to prospective students and their families, but we are also giving tours to high school and middle school groups. Many of these special group tours are given to first generation college students and schools that serve predominantly low-income students. It is through these tours that we inspire children who may not see college as an option to apply here and to begin to envision college in their futures. And though these tours are numerous and may be slightly inconvenient for current students, they teach children how they can make their dreams of becoming nurses, teachers, scientists, etc. a reality.”
She adds that “no amount of spilled tea, filled dining hall seats or crowded hallways should outshine the impact of tours of the UMass campus.”
Can it be frustrating to navigate through a large crowd of families in the Campus Center? Sure. Could there be improvements in the way that we move visitors around campus? Of course. But insults and hurtful generalizations do nothing to serve our students, our visitors or our tour guides. In the end, a little understanding can go a long way.
Christopher Kosteva is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]