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The Blue & Gray Press | August 23, 2019

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Why Mary Washington Can Feel Like Thirteenth Grade


At the University of Mary Washington, everyone knows everybody’s business. More than once have I heard a fellow student describe their UMW experience as something of a “thirteenth grade,” a petty continuation of high school interaction.

As someone deeply interested in psychology and how societies work, I’ve tried to analyze this observation and have found that this is probably a result of our school’s size. Having transferred from a university of over 20,000 students, to just over 4,000, showed me just how much of an effect campus size has on a college’s social structure.

We’re at the large end of small schools, which provides a community large enough to enable social distinctions to form, but remains small enough to eliminate anonymity. At my former school, Ohio University, you could meet anyone and there stood a significant chance that they did not know anyone in your social circle.

In essence, you were a nobody.

People didn’t know who you were unless you somehow managed to introduce yourself to students at all corners of the huge campus. Here, however, anyone you meet will be no more than two degrees separated from you. Anything that goes on in your personal life is subject to become public simply because of the size-related interconnectedness.

Everyone knows everyone, and subsequently, everyone knows everyone’s business.

This definitely proves to be a problem on campus time and time again, but I feel that this specific issue is merely the cost of something very positive. The size of this school allows each student to feel as though their presence is significant. The extent to which I feel integrated here at Mary Washington cannot compare to how unimportant I felt at a large school.

If the price for that sense of connectedness is some lack of privacy, then I can be at peace with some inevitable cattiness and try my best not to contribute to it.



  1. Matt M

    That and the new remodeled washroom feels like a cross between a public school and hospital cafeteria. It’s too bright and clean — especially with all the carpet gone and white everything.

  2. Believe me, enjoy what freedom you have now, because it gets worse when you graduate.

  3. UMW alum

    Matt M, the new Washroom/Nest looks great. a much more effective use of space, rather than having one room that’s always crowded and one that’s never used, they’ve combined the two while maintaining the best qualities of both rooms. more pool tables, chairs/tables and lunch counter in the washroom, all good ideas. i have a feeling they’ll also add a second sandwich counter, i noticed there was enough space between the first and the wall for another. and to comment on it looking like a public school/hospital…..did you really complain about it being “too bright and clean”? would you have preferred dismal and dirty?