Reed College is a small (around 1300 students in total), Liberal Arts University in beautiful Portland, Oregon on the West Coast of the United States. There are no fraternities or sororities, and no competitive, organised sports, except those the students organised themselves because of interest (there was a mixed rugby team
I was at Reed quite some time ago, when I was 18-20. The following year I went on the Junior Year Abroad programme to Munich. It was short, and a long time ago. However, I've done my research, and found that Reed's ethos and atmosphere haven't changed as much as you might think in all that time.
In fact, I didn't finally get my degree from Reed; I got it from Kingston University. Part time. In the evenings. And I'm not talking Oxford or Cambridge here.
So how did I find Reed? Well....
Why I chose to go there
There has been a fair amount of coverage in the English press about 'different' children. More to the point, about 'bullied' children. I was one of them. Keeping in mind I finished high school in 1985, I didn't like Yes (which was only popular for one song) or Def Leppard. I liked Jethro Tull, The Who, Pink Floyd and even worse, FOLK MUSIC. However, I didn't belong to the 'druggie' crowd (who liked that kind of music), but nor did I belong to the 'smart' crowd (whose music tastes didn't really matter - after all, they were smart). No, I was a group of one.
In eleventh grade, my father asked me to start looking at colleges and universities. I hadn't even taken my PSATs, much less my SATs. (note for the non US reader - the SATs are standard college entrance exams in maths and English, usually taken in year 11 and again in year 12 - more 'intelligence' tests rather than achievement tests. The PSATs are a practice for the SATs. These tests are national, although many kids from the West Coast take ACTs. Go figure.) 'Why,' I thought. Since I wouldn't write any letters nor do any research, my dad did.
Every other school send a form letter along the lines of "thank you for your interest and here's how wonderful we are...blah blah blah". Reed didn't. THEY sent a letter saying, "how nice that you're father thinks Reed would be right for you. Now what do YOU think?!" This impressed me.
So I applied for Reed, and got in (unsurprisingly, since even in 1984/85, they had a high acceptance rate. Having said that, I have a theory. This is going to be the longest parenthetical comment in the world. Reed was special, in that not many people had heard of it. Those that had, KNEW they wanted to go there. Very few applied, knowing they wouldn't get in. Very few applied for Reed as their second choice. It was an unusual school.).
So I off I flew from New York to Oregon.
Being There (hasn't that title already been taken?)
OK. I was there. You already know I didn't finish. Why not? What was good - what was bad?
We were ALL different. For once, I found liking fantasy, '70's music and reading was not bizarre. Joy!! Being smart wasn't a crime. Nor was being disillusioned with school, and indeed with systems in general. Cool! No-one TOLD you what to do! There were no grades - OK, that's not strictly true. You got grades, but they didn't tell you what they were unless (a) you asked; or (b) they were really bad (below a C). They only started giving grades, I'm told, because Reed students were having a hard time getting into grad school without them.
The three rules of dorm life (at the time) were (1) No Pets; (2) No firearms; and (3) No walking on the roof. The no walking on the roof rule was because of the hugely expensive roof tiles on the old dorm block. Therefore, we all said we were going to take our dog to the roof and shoot it. Of course, no-one (to my knowledge) ever did it.
The campus was LOVELY. The Cross Canyon area was simply gorgeous - a lake cum stream (which was once dammed by a beaver). There are both old, neo gothic buildings and newer, post-modern buildings. It's situated just opposite the Rhododendron Gardens. Not only were the Gardens stunning in spring, but they did free, open air Shakespeare plays, along with other events.
Hmmm...clubs and societies - well, I belonged to the Paul Drake fan club. This consisted of a bunch of people gathering around the telly at noon to watch Perry Mason and eat popcorn. The clubs were, as you may gather...unusual. There was a Republican Club. It had eight members. I didn't belong to that. I belonged to the MLLL (pronounced Mill) - the music listening and lending library (they still have one). This was a tiny room with pathetically broken furniture, where you could listen to music, and read Science Fiction and comic books. We had unusual clubs.
Reed has an excellent academic reputation, both in liberal arts and the sciences. There are modern science and lecture facilities, and a renowned and committed staff.
The Bad - or Why didn't you finish there
Good god, this bit's harder. I had come from a high school that had a lot of kids. Some were smart, some weren't. I was top middle. I was, I guess, kind of happy there. I didn't have to work. But if I didn't do my homework, I got in 'trouble'. At Reed, I didn't get in trouble. No-one yelled. I just failed (I was fortunate - I wasn't on financial aid, so that was only an issue with my parents). I wasn't used to this. But this could have happened with any university (although I think it was more crucial at Reed - they were keener to treat you as adults).
It was the competition, and most of all, the POLITICS. First, let's look at competition. It wasn't like in high school. Since grades weren't publicised, that wasn't the issue. It was everything else. When did you finish your essay? How many pages? How long did you spend in the library? How many drugs did you take?
The drug culture was there - in fact, in the mid eighties, Reed was infamous for it. But to speak honestly, there was no pressure to indulge. I chose not to participate (I have enough trouble with one reality, I don't need another on top of that, thank you very much), and that was never a problem with other students. That REALLY didn't bother me.
What got me was the politics. One day, and I'm not making this up, there was a 'protest anything you want protest.' Of course, the unspoken caveat was 'so long as it's politically correct.' Good god. I thought about protesting constipation, but I was too stuck up (ha ha). Common sense went out the window - even I, at 18 or 19 could see that.
I am going to repeat my disclaimer - my experience was in the mid-eighties. Not the mid-nineties or 2000. What happened to and with me may NOT happen to you or your children, nephews, nieces or whatever. It is apparent from conversations I've had with people still in Oregon, and from the alumni magazine I still get, and from the website that the atmosphere at Reed is not entirely dissimilar to its reputation and to what it was when I was there. However, not everyone is me. Given that:
If you have a son or daughter (or you yourself) who is self disciplined, a bit of a rebel (in the best possible way - no cheerleaders, that kind of thing), academic, willing to work hard WITHOUT external motivation and, most importantly, basically happy within him or herself, then Reed is a great school. Academically, it is superb. The atmosphere is (was) unlike anything he or she will have experienced in high school.
I'm glad I went. I'm sorry I wasn't ready for it at the time. But I wasn't. So dropping out was the best thing for me. I still get the Reed Alumni magazine, and Reed is clearly much as it was (though there are more buildings) back then. In the 'where are they now' sections, you'll find plenty of folks in far flung places saving rain forests and the like. There are odd names aplenty (you know - names like Bramble, or double barrelled surnames formed from the middle names of the folks who married or partnered and so forth), and occupations that wouldn't immediately spring to mind.
In case you're interested (and didn't already know), I got my degree ten years later part time here in England. The school wasn't as academically good as Reed, but I was ready.
Have fun, thanks for your attention,
PS - commenting about nightlife is tricky - the drinking age in Oregon is 21. I left Oregon on my 20th birthday...and I looked around 16. Sorry about that!
PPS - if you want more information about Reed College, check out www.reed.edu.