Sarah Lawrence started with 204 undergraduates and now has close to 1,400. Along with Bennington, it was one of the first colleges to incorporate progressive education into its curriculum. Though the college didn’t officially become coeducational until the late 1960s, the first men to attend the school were actually returning WWII veterans in the 1940s.
Sarah Lawrence has a well-earned reputation as the ‘free-spirited sister’ of liberal arts colleges. It was founded in 1928 by the wealthy husband of Sadie Lou herself, William Van Duzer Lawrence, who believed in preparing well-to-do young ladies for a productive society life.
Sarah Lawrence supported women’s suffrage and access higher education, so it was fitting that her husband founded the college in her honor. Henry MacCracken, then president of Vassar, worked with William Van Duzer Lawrence to create an educational system based on the principle that experience, rather than knowledge alone, should form the basis for learning. Thus, SLC quickly established its reputation as a liberal institution. The college’s students and faculty are known for advocating in favor of academic freedom, and the college was accused of harboring communists prior to World War II and throughout the 1960s.
Sarah Lawrence became a co-ed institution 1968 following a controversial student sit-in, and held out against lowering its academic standards in order to even out the gender ratio. In the 1980s, students organized another sit-in, demanding greater racial equality within the college. Student activism both on and off campus continues to define the college, which to this day harbors a reputation as somewhat of a haven for radicals.
Sarah Lawrence College is located on 41 rocky, wooded acres near the banks of the Bronx River in southern Westchester County, about half an hour north of New York City. The campus’ grassy fields were once part of William Van Duzer Lawrence’s estate, though the college has expanded since that time to almost double its original size. When Lawrence first envisioned the plans for the school, he sought to create as little physical separation between social and academic life as possible. Thus, classrooms, dormitories, and faculty officers were housed in the same buildings.
Most of the campus’s ivy-covered buildings were built in the Tudor style that was popular in the early 20th century, and many of the newer buildings attempt to conform to this aesthetic theme.
It’s hard to think of more than a few on-campus hangouts. There’s no official student center, so there isn’t one place where everyone goes to relax and socialize. Because of this, a lot of hanging out and parties go on within dorms and houses, and are confined to smaller circles of friends. The decentralized social life and general sense of a lack of SLC community are often lamented by students. However, there are some smaller hangouts scattered throughout campus that have their charm.
There’s the Black Squirrel, a coffeehouse above Bates Cafeteria that serves coffee, milkshakes, tea, and a bunch of pastries and other small food items. Their serving hours are somewhat limited due to the dining services operator’s insistence that its hours not clash with those of other locations, but the space is open for hanging out at most hours. There are couches, some tables and chairs, a bar, window ledges with big pillows, and a pool table. There is also a room with a TV that can be reserved by groups to watch shows or movies.
Similarly, the Tea House is inside an adorable little cottage in the center of main campus. It is run completely independently by students, and serves tons of different types of tea, as well as coffee. There aren’t many places to sit and the hours are sporadic, but the drinks are extremely cheap and it’s a great place to stop for a caffeine fix between classes.
Because SLC has no student center, the lawns serve as the focal point for social activity during the warmer months. Students spread out with blankets and books and play soccer and ultimate Frisbee. There’s even a swing set and a grill. Sometimes, professors take advantage of the nice weather and hold performance classes on the lawn. Warm spring weather melts the callous SLC persona like magic; seeing people playing together outside really boosts the mood of the entire school.
Though the mailing address will tell you that SLC is located in Bronxville, NY, geographically speaking, the college is actually in Yonkers. Yonkers is the fourth-largest city in the state and is located 15 miles north of New York City.
Bronxville, Sarah Lawrence, and Yonkers all exist in stark contrast with one another, making for interesting relationships between the college and the
Bronxville is a lush and gorgeous suburb of New York City, with cute shops and restaurants, though it can hardly be called a college town. Sarah Lawrence holds a Bronxville postal address for questionable publicity reasons, considering the campus is technically in Yonkers, a small city that is less wealthy and picturesque than Bronxville. Bronxville and SLC have a historically tense relationship, though it has calmed down in the past few years as the college’s outwardly radical appearance, drug use, and graffiti have subsided. Some students feel that residents of the rich, conservative town continue to be unjustifiably suspicious and often elitist in their interactions with the students, sentiments that students usually shoot right back.
Students mostly go into Yonkers for dinner, groceries, and social work. The college has many programs dedicated to building ties between the school and lower-income and minority residents through activities like tutoring, creative arts classes, food drives, and so on.
People sometimes head to Bronxville to get dinner. The most popular restaurant is probably Haiku, which serves Japanese fusion cuisine. Students also rave about A’Mangiare’s Italian food, and Calvin’s is another popular Japanese/Chinese restaurant. There are also delis, bagel shops, and a few more Asian and Italian restaurants. For the most part, they are inexpensive and informal. There is also a Häagen Dazs and a Starbucks, where you can always find a few SLC students on the weekends.
There are a few bars in Bronxville, but the vibe is very 'Republican,' so you won’t find any students in them. Instead, Thursday nights are unofficial 'Sarah Lawrence nights' at a nearby Yonkers pub, where you’ll find the typical college debauchery, SLC-style.
When SLCers want to go out, though, they almost always go into New York City, where it’s incredibly common to run into another Sarah Lawrence student in Grand Central Terminal on 42nd Street. The closest commuter train station is about a 15-minute walk from campus, and from there it’s only a 30- to 40-minute ride to Grand Central. In the city, students go everywhere from the New York Public Library and the Met to sketchy clubs in Brooklyn. There are a million things to do in New York, but mostly students stay in Manhattan, downtown near the SoHo area. They do a lot of shopping, a lot of eating, and a lot of clubbing.
There are few conventional traditions at SLC, whose admissions brochures include the tagline, “You are different. So are we.” In fact, it could be argued that unconventionality is the college’s oldest and most sacred tradition. SLC has always been a politically active campus, which has at times contributed to a reputation as a haven for communists. Throughout its history, students have staged multiple (and, most surprisingly, effective) sit-ins — once in favor of gender diversity, in another instance in favor of racial diversity. In recent years, the school has been hailed for its position at the forefront of the sexual rights movement. For example, on its dorm selection application, students are not asked whether they are male or female, but rather, which sex they identify with.
J.J. Abrams (1988) is a writer, executive producer, and screenwriter. While attending SLC he wrote a treatment for the film that would be released as "Taking Care of Business." He is also the co-creator and executive producer of the television series "Felicity," "Alias," and the Emmy Award-winning "Lost."
Alice Walker (1965) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author most famous for her novel "The Color Purple."
Barbara Walters (1951) is a broadcast journalist, writer, and media personality who has appeared on 20/20, The ABC Evening News, Today, and The View.
Vera Wang (1971) is a fashion designer best known for her bridal work.
SLC has eight sports teams: men’s basketball, crew, equestrian, women’s swimming, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s volleyball, and women’s softball. Though the school is a member of the Hudson Valley Athletic Conference, few students, including many of the athletes themselves, seem to take athletics seriously, treating intercollegiate matches more like club sports.
The school’s mascot is a gryphon, a mythological creature with the head of an eagle and the body of a lion that is said to symbolize intelligence and strength.
As reported by Anna Fauerbach ’10:
“Sports are sort of a non sequitur at Sarah Lawrence, though a fair number of students participate in the intercollegiate and less formal club teams. When someone mentions that they’re on a team, the reaction is usually along the lines of, “Wow, you play a sport?! What’s that like?” Student athletes are appreciated; they’re just a bit of an oddity. The equestrian team is particularly notable, having qualified for regional and zone competitions every year since its inception. Women’s teams include tennis, volleyball, softball, and swimming, and there are men’s basketball and tennis teams. The crew and equestrian teams are co-ed, and there is talk of turning the popular soccer club into an intercollegiate team.”
The school’s unofficial mascot is the black squirrel. Students joke that since the squirrels on campus are clad in black, neurotic, antisocial, and rarely seen in the wintertime, they are fairly representative of the SLC student body. A popular T-shirt reads, “SLC – Even the squirrels wear black!”
Yoko Ono attended SLC for a semester but left because the school was supposedly too structured for her tastes. According to a popular myth on campus, she did, however, donate a tofu smoothie machine.
There are around 23 dorms at SLC. Most of the older ones are integrated with classrooms in mixed-use buildings, owing to William Van Duzer Lawrence’s belief that there should be no separation between academic and recreational life. Because of zoning laws, the newer dorms don’t conform to his vision, but it remains a distinctive aspect of residential life on campus.
A large majority of SLC students (around 90%) live on campus. Most first-years live in triples, while sophomores usually live in singles or spacious doubles, and upperclassmen almost exclusively live in singles. Housing consists of an eclectic mix of traditional dorms, cooperative apartments, and houses, and is decided by a lottery, so everyone has an equal shot at landing their dream dorm regardless of their academic or social standing. SLCers are pretty spoiled when it comes to spaciousness: first-years are the only students who live in triples, and it’s very rare than anyone after sophomore year would live in a double. Unfortunately, not all dorms have common rooms or kitchens.
The housing on main campus basically consists of the creatively-named Old and New Dorms, which are really neither old nor new. The New Dorms are the most traditional setup, with each hall housing over 20 students who share a common bathroom. There are singles, a few doubles, and a whole lot of triples. New Dorm triples are tiny, and easily qualify as the worst housing on campus. The upside is that hallmates tend to become very close, and their future housing assignments will feel like a palace. Old Dorms are set up such that two rooms share a bathroom. The rooms tend to be more spacious than those in the New Dorms. Neither set of dorms has a full-out kitchen, though there are a few student-use kitchens scattered throughout main campus.
Hill House is a recently-purchased apartment building that also contains some tenants who are not associated with the college. Their leases were extended to allow them time to move out, and there is frequent tension between these residents and students. It’s about a 5- to 10-minute walk from main campus, but most apartments have common areas, and all have full kitchens and refrigerators. Because of its apartment setup and relative distance from main campus, Hill House affords students a greater sense of independence than some of the other options.
Slonim Woods and Andrew’s Court are small, townhouse-style dorms with common rooms, kitchens, and a bunch of singles. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors can petition to live there with a group of friends, so these dorms are usually pretty tight-knit and host a lot of parties, and their privacy and spaciousness make them a perfect setting for socializing. Similarly, the Mead Way houses are gorgeous full-size abodes lining an entire street. There are singles and doubles, so students in every class sometimes get lucky enough to live on Mead Way. Dozens of students can live in each house, so it’s not uncommon for residents to not know all of their housemates, but there are massive kitchens and most houses have common rooms.