Could Steel Plant Reshape Marist?

Marist College officially welcomed the long-awaited opening of the new Steel Plant on Feb. 1, 2019. This new building could also initiate a new shift in the stereotype of Marist students.

Unigo is a website that allows people to research information about colleges and get answers regarding questions universities may not publicize. For example, there are anonymous posts regarding what the typical student is like. Although posts run the gamut of positive and negative sentiments, a portion of the write ups are rather critical of the school’s culture:

“This school mostly has upper-middle-class white students from the tri-state area. People here are focused and driven but are used to getting things their way.”

Another that says:

“Marist students are said to be white, Catholic, preppy and rich. The girls are said to tan too much, wear their North Face fleeces and Ugg Boots and whine when they don't get their way.”

These conceptions of the stereotypical Marist student extend beyond just what anonymous people post online.

Some current students at Marist feel similarly to these anonymous posts. Co-dau Diallo ‘20,  a fashion merchandising major with a minor in advertising, described her opinion of the stereotypical Marist student to be one that comes from a family with a large income, from New Jersey or Long Island, and they have the ability to not work a job while on campus and may not have the same feelings of stress to excel as other students who come from a lower socioeconomic background. Diallo expands on the idea that a good financial foundation at home can relieve certain stresses that are placed on a student.

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Jordan Hokanson ‘20 studying fashion merchandising with a double concentration in promotion and business describes the general student at Marist to be either from New York or New Jersey and often wears preppy clothing--Vineyard Vines or Marist merch.

This notions are arguably grounded, more or less, by the school’s Undergraduate Student Body Demographic Factbook, which is published by Marist’s department of Institutional Research and Planning. Each class year included in  the Marist factbook represents the incoming freshman class, therefore the numbers are slightly incorrect because transfers are not taken into account.

Factbook findings point to a relatively homogeneous population, be it racially, geographically, or socioeconomically. According to the factbook, in 2018, the freshman class was 76 percent white.

Furthermore, in the past five years, the freshman classes have averaged 12.4 percent from Connecticut, 43 percent from New York, and 20 percent from New Jersey. That makes for over 70 percent tri-state area students.

Marist is known for having this demographic dominance, so could there really be a strong change? The Marist Factbook shows a steady, but small, increase of a non-white population.

In 2014, the freshman class was 21.5 percent non-white, whether it be African American or black, Hispanic or Latino, Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander or Native Hawaiian, or unidentified when the census of the school was taken. In 2016 the non-white population was 22.4 percent, then in 2018, it increased to 23.3 percent.

The opening of the new, art-centered Steel Plant, which houses both art and fashion classrooms, has the ability to potentially shift the culture of the school by, generally speaking, diversifying prospective students.

Hokunson believes an increase of the fashion and art departments can lead to a shift in the style of students here, in terms of decreasing the number of students who dress preppier, and cause it to change to a more ‘artsy’ or creative style.

However, other students believe the Steel Plant, by drawing in more students interested in fashion and art, can yield more resound effects on the school.

Sarah Rexford ‘20, a fashion design student, speaks of the Steel Plant as a potential safe place for LGBTQ+ and those who don't necessarily feel they have a place on this campus. Rexford said:

“Fashion tends to be a little more gender fluid, more open. Right now I feel like the campus is becoming more open to gender fluidity. We have brand new bathrooms that are gender fluid. There is one door for both genders and you go to your side, but you can see the other side when you are washing your hands. So it is still separate but you are still sort of together. All these aspects could help bring in students and get them to feel comfortable while they are here.”

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Rexford adds how she believes the fashion and art community at Marist tend to be more forward in their thinking compared to other departments and majors. In addition to that, she comments on how professors she has had in fashion have encouraged her to develop her creativity by allowing interpretation. Her professors inspire the students to do what they believe is right, rather than providing them with a narrow path.

If the Steel Plant leads to an increase in fashion and art students, then there could be an increase of students who are more forward thinking and accepting of people with differences. If this logic follows, Marist may gradually begin to welcome a more progressive, culturally active student body.

As the Unigo posts reference, Marist students are typically known for being upper middle class or upper class. That is an aspect of the school that may not be affected as much as the fashion and art departments grow, due to the cost of being fashion students

According to Diallo, “You have to have money to do the design program, and I don't think they have programs that can help it or they don't promote it.” She points out that as long as the fashion department, in particular requires students to pay for their own materials, then it will continue to be a major that is dominated by the upper middle class. In addition, until the Marist name moves beyond the tri-state area and selects west coast schools, the demographic is not going to advance much more. Diallo said:

“Go to the cities and promote fashion to kids and minorities. Show them the graduates who are minorities and that they have good jobs. Fashion kids now are already informed by their high schools. I think showing it promoting it more would be beneficial,” Diallo said. “When I tell people I go to Marist, they don't know. I think Marist needs to put their name out in cities, big cities, small cities, or towns just promote it because a lot of parents do not now.”

Marist has a strong potential to evolve away from its affluent stereotype, and the new Steel Plant could provide a perfect avenue to begin this evolution. However, it will take support from the school itself to move outward and continuing increasing the presence of geographically and socio-economically diverse students.  

At the end of the day, the new Steel Plant may draw more students in because of the beautiful aesthetics, or the amazing resources that are included in it. The students being drawn may also be from different ethnicities, backgrounds, economic standing, etc. However, in line with Diallo’s comments, it can be expected that the current demographic and type of student that attends Marist is not going to dramatically change unless there is a change in admission and recruiting within Marist. Marist must make its name more present in different communities and cities, making known that it offers financial aid, scholarships, and resources along the way. In this light, individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds can understand that they have a place at Marist, and that the school is not merely exclusive to white people from the tri-state area.

Hannah Kirk1 Comment