While most of the Brandeis class of 2020 started their fall semester at Brandeis, 29 of the midyear students spent it abroad in London. For some of these first-years it was the wonderful, British experience they had hoped for, but for many it was a disappointing program. The London program, or more officially, the Arcadia London Midyear Program, is the more popular of the two programs Brandeis offers to midyear students for their fall semester.
100 first-year students from Arcadia University, Franklin & Marshall College, Hamilton College and Brandeis partook in the Arcadia program. The Brandeis students involved had two required courses that aimed to integrate the students into London: “Writing London,” a University Writing Seminar course and “Cross Cultural Connections,” a modern British history and pop-culture class. The courses were four and two credits respectively, on top of the 12 credits students earned from additional courses at the universities.
“Cross Cultural Connections” was divisive among many Brandeis midyears. It was an easier class as compared to the others students took, but because the students were allowed to transfer only 16 credits to Brandeis, the class and its two credits could not be transferred. Some students such as Eli Wasserman, called the class a “waste of time,” while Olivia Perozo enjoyed the class and had a great time in lectures and trips around the city.
One of first-year Merrick Mendenhall’s favorite classes last semester was her London theater class because she “was exposed to so many different shows as well as British culture” through the class, and there were bi-weekly field trips to see productions across London. Similarly, Ryan DelVasto said “sociology was a great class that taught me a lot about the subject through the scope of London,” giving her a better understanding of her new city through a subject she really enjoyed.
While these classes helped integrate students with the city, many students, including DelVasto and Abby Berkower, wish they had been given more opportunities to integrate with the British students. Perozo took a class at City University, a large school in London, so she was able to interact with more British students than other Brandeis students in the program were able to, but she still felt she was not actually able to become friends with them. The program did not facilitate a true study abroad experience since very few people got to actually study with people from the United Kingdom.
“The Arcadia administration also seemed very unsure about how our credits would transfer or even how our grades worked. We received a lot of contradictory answers,” according to Mendenhall. Some students like Wasserman had been told that the semester grades would show on the Brandeis transcript if the grade was above a C-. Others such as DelVasto were told that all the classes would transfer as either pass or fail. In the end, no one was told the truth, which was that four of five classes would transfer as part of your maximum of 16 pass/fail credits, but nothing could count toward a major.
While the classes tried to facilitate integration with London, many felt as though the classes were too easy. “Arcadia and the classes I took were not ideal and weren’t challenging,” Mendenhall said. Most classes were easy and the faculty was mediocre at best, according to some students.
“I don’t even want to think about my microeconomics professor again,” Cody Adams said. He continued, “It gave me nightmares,” he said in reference to the professor’s obvious lack of knowledge about the subject at hand and horrible lectures. There were multiple incidences where the professor taught subject material incorrectly, forcing students to teach themselves.
Additionally, no science or math classes were offered, so it was difficult for students hoping to study science, technology or math back at Brandeis, such as Theresa Weiss. She said the lack of science classes “put me behind track for my major,” but she was forced to get a lot of general education requirements out of the way, which was ultimately helpful.
Weiss had the most positive and happy experience in London, and had nothing to complain about, she explained. She applied to Brandeis specifically as a midyear and was really looking forward to the program. Many other students did not share the same positive views on the program as Weiss.
One of the biggest complaints of Brandeis students in London was housing. There were two housing locations: Princess Elizabeth House and Redcliffe Gardens. Twenty-four of the 29 Brandeis students lived together in Princess Elizabeth House while five students lived with students from Hamilton College in Redcliffe Gardens which was located on the opposite side of the city.
This divide was very difficult for Berkower, Perozo and Amber Rodgers, because the students in Hamilton refused to speak with them and the trip to the Princess Elizabeth House, where the other Brandeis students lived, was almost an hour during the day and well over an hour at night. “I felt so cut off from those five girls in Redcliffe, and it felt really unfair,” said Wasserman who lived in Princess Elizabeth House with a majority of the Brandeis students.
There was also a clear difference in quality of the two houses, according to Perozo. “I had to pay for laundry and the room we shared was half the size of the ones at [Princess Elizabeth House],” said Perozo. Even though both groups of students were paying the same for housing, Princess Elizabeth House students got brand new dorms, bigger rooms and free laundry, while Redcliffe students did not.
The living situation at Princess Elizabeth did not equate to any residence halls on the Brandeis campus. Wasserman “thought the construction would be done before I got there,” but unfortunately, the construction on the house persisted the entire semester from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Sunday. “We had no common room to hang out with anyone, which was uncomfortable,” he continued.
This miscommunication was not just a simple inconvenience, but a source of fear for many of the women in Princess Elizabeth House, as construction workers started sexually harassing them. These same men also had keys to their halls and rooms. Wasserman “was walking home and [my friend] had to grab my arm to walk in the building” because she felt unsafe with the constant leering from workers. Similarly, Jess Lifton was also targeted. She was constantly “creeped out because they would just stare at me when I walked out of Princess Elizabeth House,” Lifton explained.
“Arcadia didn’t seem to take me seriously as a student, and I felt as though they didn’t care about me … We had multiple housing problems that felt ignored, and we were not given all the information about where we were living. Being left in the dark like we were felt like a major oversight that was ignored for too long,” said Mendenhall, who was very upset by the gross oversight in housing and lack of communication between Brandeis, Arcadia and the students.
In addition to issues with construction workers, there was stealing, personal issues and a series of incidents of an individual defecating on the floor in shared spaces of the Brandeis girls’ hall. It “started out with brown stuff on the towels and we just thought it was dirt then we started finding poop in the sink and in the shower and on the floor. Arcadia was super unhelpful when we asked them to review the CCTV footage [from the camera pointing down the hall in question] which they did but never told us what they found,” according to Lifton.
When multiple things were stolen from almost every girl on the floor, Arcadia also did nothing to try to find the person who did this, according to students. Lifton believed the person who was stealing from the floor was also the person defecating in the public spaces. She continues, “both were not addressed by Arcadia. The ‘pooper’ and thief didn’t get caught, and the people who tried to make Arcadia actually do something got in trouble.” This led to the ultimate feelings of intense and vast mistrust between the students and staff of Arcadia University when the women of the floor were searching for answers and Arcadia refused to look for them or validate their feelings of unease.
The overall consensus of midyear students on the London program seemed to be that they were able to have the abroad experience in London, but that the school was not up to par with what they perceived to be Brandeis standards. Mendenhall recommended that Brandeis “should [have] more transparency between Brandeis and Arcadia—more connections, more Brandeis events or even online discussions.” Wasserman believes that “Brandeis needs to change the system with Arcadia or work with another program in London.”