Simon's Rock CollegeSimon's Rock College is a small liberal arts college located in the small town of Great Barrington (population 8000), in Berkshire County, Mass. The foremost of the many unusual things about Simon's Rock is that most students enroll after completing the tenth grade of high school, rather than after graduating.
The college's founder, Elizabeth Blodgett Hall, had formerly been a private school headmistress. She concluded from her experience, and that of her colleagues, that for many students the latter two years of high school are wasted on repetitious and overly constrained work. Many young women (and men -- but for its first few years in the '60s, Simon's Rock admitted only women), she thought, are ready to pursue college-level academic work some time before the usual system asks it of them.
While, Simon's Rock is still the only college to take this approach with all of it's students, it is now only one of a number of early college entrance programs, that provide opportunities for talented students to enter college one or more years ahead of their traditional high school graduation date.
Because Simon's Rock provides this accelerated program, it also attracts many students who might not consider a "liberal-arts" education if they had to wait two more years. Computer geeks, pre-med stress puppies, and mathies read Plato, Dante, Nietzsche, and Foucault alongside dancers, artists, and literary types. Many students transfer to larger institutions after two years; many stay for four.
There are only about 350 students. Secrets aren't as safe as they are in larger schools. Everybody knows everybody else, or has at least seen them. As one RA put it, when you walk into the dining hall, you might feel uncomfortable when you realize that people know who you're sleeping with.
Teachers are on a first name basis. This is school policy. It doesn't matter if you just finished 8 years of school and a 1000-page dissertation; you can't make students call you "professor" or "doctor." People don't refer to the dean as "Dr. Bernard Rodgers." He's Bernie.
Classes are small. Class sizes do not exceed 17 students, usually have no more than 15, and average around 12. It isn't unheard of to have a class with as few as 4 students. Learning is much better facilitated, of course. Students interact with each other and the professor more. There's no such thing as sleeping in the back of a huge lecture hall at Simons' Rock.
Classes are discussion-oriented. Professors do not have a monopoly on knowledge. All participants in the class can learn from each other. Professors do not (and should not) lecture most of the time; they should facilitate and guide discussion. Classes occur mainly around tables. Most of the time, there are not rows of desks. This helps foster discussion. Structurally, this does not place the professor in a position of authority, as is common in high school.
Simon's Rock is tolerant. In 2000, Simon's Rock was rated as the 2nd most gay-friendly college in the United States by gay.com. Students are very open-minded. To put it in perspective, the college barely needs a GLBT student group. Sure, we had BIGALA. But that turned into The Lavender Menace, and they didn't do too much -- they didn't need to. There was also a big Bisexual Pride Day celebration.
The faculty is interesting. For example, a sociology class was taught by a former SDS member, or a Latin America course with a former CIA-supported contra leader turned anti-CIA author. There was one professor who spent five years in jail in China for being a pro-democracy activist. The faculty bring with them interesting backgrounds and an incredible dedication to Simon's Rock's mission.
Other interesting tidbits. In 2000, Simon's Rock became the only college to recognize International Workers Day (May Day). Simon's Rock was also unfortunately the site of moderately famous school shooting in December 1992. In a 2000 survey conducted by the dining hall, 25% of students said they were "vegetarian" and 5% said they were "vegan." As such, the dining hall always labels vegetarian and/or vegan food as such.
Student Groups (as of fall 2003) QUEERSA, school paper (Llama Ledger), Outdoor Pursuits, Multicultural Students Organization (MSO), Community Garden (organic, 1/2 acre), Model UN, Debate, Anime Club, Gore Club (horror movies), Radio WSRC (web broadcast), Movie Club (showings every week), Women's Center , Fencing Club, CHI (Campus Health Initiative), Glacial Erratic (art/poetry mag, biannually), Amnesty International, Interfaith, Infoshop Collective (just forming), Peer Counselors (just forming), Student EMT program (just forming), more TK.
Great Barrington is a relatively small town in the Berkshire Hills with about 8000 people. The area is beautiful and well suited to long bike rides or drives. Hiking, mountain biking, paddling, and rock climbing all exist in fair abundance here, with the Appalachian Trail even passing through town, over the ski mountain. For skiing, there's Butternut Basin here in town, and Berkshire East is an easy drive.
Being a tourist town, Great Barrington has a lot of restaurants and overpriced stores, but there are some good places. In town, your choices for entertainment are limited to the Triplex, a small but pleasant theater that pretty much only shows non-Hollywood movies and documentaries, which are usually good; and Helsinki, a tea house/cafe/bar/club that's OK to hang around in, if expensive, has good music sometimes, and is beautifully decorated. The Cove, a favorite of students, is a bowling alley that's usually open until one or two in the morning, and is a favorite hangout for some folks, also due to the fact that there's a bar there that will occasionally serve students.
La Choza has the biggest, best burritos in town (or the state, for that matter), starting at $3, while Baba Louie's serves gourmet organic sourdough pizza. When it comes to Asian food, there is an abundance of good sushi and Thai food. For buying food to take home, your options are Big Y, Price Chopper, Guido's Fresh Marketplace (a gourmet foods market, kind of a farmer's market/Trader Joe's hybrid), the Berkshire Food Co-Op (very nice, good prices and selection, besides being a member-run coop), a Latin market, and a few other small food stores.
Yellow House Books, which is in an old house on Main Street, has great deals and lots of wonderful, obscure literature. Threads, also on Main Street, is the local hippie clothing/accessories store, and is a good place to drop into. Also in town are a photo store, a few outdoor equipment stores, a decent record shop (White Knight), multiple banks (Lee Bank and Berkshire Bank), a few coffee shops (Berkshire Roasting Company, Woggafer's, both close early), a bateria dance group, and various other places.
In short, Great Barrington is a fine place to live. Folks who move from New York, Boston, or other cities often have a lot of complaints, but if you take Great Barrington for what it is, a medium-sized mountain town, it's an OK place to be. Besides that, students often find themselves not leaving the Simon's Rock campus for a week at a time because there is plenty to do on campus.