Editor’s note: This article was written before the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic reached our region. We are publishing it as a record of a time that now seems distant from our current moment. The Griffin Roar team wishes all members of the WashU and Fontbonne communities well, wherever they may be. We hope that you are staying safe and well. We look forward to a future time, when we will find ourselves once more across Wydown from one another.
Read more about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our publication here.
While driving down Big Bend, it can be difficult to pick the two apart. Similar architectural design surrounded by elegant neighborhoods and spacious parks; it all almost suggests that the schools are one in the same.
However, this is not the case. One is a private research institution with an acceptance rate of 16% and a student body population of over 15,000. The other is a liberal arts university founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph hovering around 1,300 students. Despite being literally across the street from one another, Washington University and Fontbonne University are more distant than one might think.
In mid-February, I spoke to students from both institutions to see what they knew, if anything, about the other school.
“I know nothing about Fontbonne,” said Charlie Suskin, a first-year student studying mechanical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis.
Suskin is not the only one. While the two schools have been neighbors for nearly a century, there seems to be a general lack of knowledge and interaction regarding the other on both sides of Wydown Boulevard.
“I know friends that are Fontbonne students who hang out with friends from WashU, but I don’t personally have any friends at WashU,” Kayley Cunningham, a Fontbonne senior majoring in general studies in health, discussed. “I would assume that the interaction between the student bodies is pretty rare.”
Makenna Whittington, a first-year student studying at WashU, holds a similar stance to Suskin.
“I don’t really know anything about Fontbonne,” Whittington said. “All I know is that it’s across the street from WashU.”
Despite the seemingly limited direct contact between the two schools, there have been multiple cases of discussion of the other on campus and online, typically by way of social media, rumors, and student–written articles.
“I have read various online Reddit threads where WashU students actually discuss Fontbonne,” Tom Hood, a Fontbonne senior studying applied mathematics and computer science, explained. “The general opinion seems to think Fontbonne is a ghost town lacking an active campus or student body.”
“I hear that they [WashU] make fun of Fontbonne,” Cunningham said.
“There was a rumor going around that WashU was buying Fontbonne,” Whittington also mentioned.
Fontbonne students sometimes hold stereotypes about their neighbor as well.
“Most stereotypes I hear of WashU are about their students; typically, that students are all wealthy, upper-middle class, and all studying well-respected or high-paying careers… These rumors likely stem from the high tuition of the university,” Hood said. “WashU is a school I looked at attending, but I ultimately passed on it because of the steep tuition.”
Regardless of the gossip (to be clear: no one is buying anyone), there are still limited opportunities for face-to-face interaction between the student bodies. If there is enough banter amongst the two schools to make an impact, why is there a seemingly conspicuous lack of acknowledgment in real life?
Hood offers his insight: “Despite being across the street from each other, there is hardly any collaboration in academics, sports, or extracurriculars. I’m not sure why this is, but if I had to guess I would say it has to do with how different the schools’ student bodies are [commuter vs. residential].”
According to U.S. News, around 74% of Washington University’s student body lives either on campus or in college-owned housing around the area. While nearly 70% of first-year students at Fontbonne live on campus, resident students account for only about one third of the undergraduate population as a whole, according to Fontbonne Director of Residential Life AJ Friedhoff.
Although there is a general lack of involvement between Fontbonne and WashU, students on both sides wish there were more events that would bring the two schools together.
“We basically live in WashU’s backyard,” Cunningham explained. “I don’t see any reason that we couldn’t interact more often.”
Leslie Liu, a WashU sophomore studying communication design, feels similarly: “I think Fontbonne and WashU folk should definitely interact more. Given that we’re so close it’d be nice to have a sister college of sorts. The WashU bubble is very real [and] hard to get out of at times, and it’s nice to get a different perspective.”
The question is, how? In recent semesters, the schools have hosted events such as “Capture the Flag,” alternating the campus the game is played at each year. Fontbonne students also have the option to check out books at all ten of WashU’s main campus libraries using their student IDs. (That is, of course, if good ole’ Jack C. Taylor Library doesn’t have what they’re looking for).
“It’d be really cool if we could do volunteer stuff together and programs like that,” Whittington suggested. “[We should] as a whole try and be more involved together since we are so close.”
With current events hindering potential collaboration, we look hopefully towards upcoming semesters.