Vanderbilt 

The Commodores

The Commodores

Population: 11,400

Percent Greek: 44 percent

Location: The corner of West End & 21st Avenue South

Founded: In 1873 by Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who gave a $1 million grant to create a university that would contribute "to strengthening the ties that should exist between all sections of our common country."

Famous Graduates: Robert Penn Warren (poet, Pulitzer Prize winner), James Lawson (civil rights pioneer), Amy Grant (singer), Lamar Alexander (senator), Frank Clement (former Tennessee governor), and many others. Al Gore went to Vanderbilt's Law and Divinity schools but dropped out of both.

I'm hungry, dammit. Where can I eat?

Get used to dorm food. Freshmen are required to sign up for a meal plan at Rand Dining Hall. While the mention of dorm food tends to elicit groans from upperclassmen, the fare at Rand is surprisingly edible and pleasantly diverse. If you're skeptical, take a road trip and sample some of the cuisine at nearby universities; you'll appreciate what you have.

Still, it's inevitable that you'll eventually tire of Sunday night lasagna. Fortunately, there are a variety of campus options to satisfy your most eccentric cravings. The Pub in Sarratt Student Center offers both a wide variety of made-to-order meals and a commanding view of Alumni Lawn from its small (and often crowded) sylvan balcony. Tucked away in the Divinity School is The Refectory, a largely unknown but excellent eatery. And of course there's Grins (pronounced Greens), Nashville's only strictly vegetarian restaurant, located in the Schulman Center for Jewish Life. Don't let the meatless menu dissuade you; in its short history, the restaurant has earned nothing but rave reviews. And for a three-minute panini or a quick lunch-on-the-go, swing by any of the Varsity Markets, or, as students call them, Munchie Marts. Be prepared to pay for the convenience, though; even at 3 a.m., Munchie Mart prices rarely seem fair.

Where can I park?

Well, how much do you want to pay? There are a number of options, but none of them is cheap, and few of them are near freshmen housing. Parking garages abound. If you're lucky, you'll snag a street parking spot, though odds are against you. Some students elect to park in the Loews Vanderbilt garage, which is equally expensive, but it solves the problem for freshman, who aren't allowed to have cars.

If you don't mind driving a bit to find parking, you can always park free on Louise Avenue (behind Loews and the Caterpillar Financial Building) or on Elliston between 21st and 24th.

What professor or course will change my life?

Depends on what you like. It's fairly safe to say, though, that few students have taken John Lachs' Introduction to Ethics (Philosophy 105) without feeling enriched by the experience. In fact, Lachs is famous on campus, even among students he's never taught. Future anthropologists can't go wrong with Leonard Folgarait. Although it's a requirement for English majors, Introduction to Poetry (English 112W) is wonderful when taught by Roger Moore. His infectious enthusiasm will give even the most avid linguaphobe a lifelong appreciation for the beauty of a well-turned phrase. Investigative Reporting, taught by the Scene's own Willy Stern, is a recent addition to the Vanderbilt curriculum and one of the most genuinely exciting courses open to undergrads. Although it fills no requirements, Stern's class manages to create a long waitlist of students who want to take his class.

Am I going to feel out of place without a Southern accent?

Old stereotypes die hard, and many people still think of Vanderbilt as a school for wealthy, white Southerners (think Gone With the Wind). In reality, the school has become much more culturally and economically diverse in recent decades. The past several years in particular have seen entering classes that are both more diverse and highly academically qualified than any other entering classes in the school's history. Currently, fewer than half of the students at Vanderbilt are from the South, while more than half are receiving financial aid. Nearly one in every 10 students is from outside the U.S.

As the school has moved toward a different student body, it has made efforts to change its campus to reflect this fact. The $2.5 million renovation project for the Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center is an example, as is the $2.2 million Ben Schulman Center for Jewish Life, which features Grin's vegetarian cafe. People of any racial/ethnic/religious background, are, of course, completely welcome in both new buildings.

Do I have to go Greek?

During the 2003-2004 year, 44 percent of Vanderbilt's undergraduates were members of a fraternity or sorority. That's a relatively low number, considering how prevalent Greek life seems to be on campus. Their functions, as you might imagine, are the loudest and most popular. But what do you do if that's not your scene?

First, it's important to remember that fraternities and sororities are, at their core, nothing more than groups of people with similar interests (and clothes). If your interests and outfits don't match theirs, Vandy has tons of other groups you can join. If you want to live in a community-like atmosphere, try McGill or McTyeire. If you've found your clique and don't want the housing lottery to scatter you to opposite ends of campus, try getting a Mayfield apartment your sophomore year. There really is something for everybody, as long as you're willing to look for it—service fraternities, feminist organizations, Lambda, Wilskills, the Vanderbilt Republicans and the Vanderbilt Democrats—all designed to provide you with a home away from home.

In all fairness, though, the Greeks do throw the best parties. But that can always change.

What are campus media like?

Mostly awesome. Vanderbilt boasts a staggering number of print publications, from the ultraconservative Torch to the more liberal Orbis to everything in between. The university's official student newspaper, The Hustler, has undergone a massive makeover in recent years that has transformed it into a remarkably professional collection of local articles, world news, editorials and sports coverage. Other notables include the satirical Slant and Versus magazines.

Vanderbilt offers VTV, a student-run TV network with enormous potential that typically goes unused. Lack of funding and an uncertain schedule make VTV a shaky medium at best, but don't let that stop you from pursuing whatever (FCC-approved) vision you might have.

And then there's WRVU, located on the FM radio dial at 91.1, Vanderbilt's radio station. Fully juiced at 10,000 watts (by comparison, MTSU's college station, WMTS, weighs in at an anemic 200 watts), WRVU has enough power and range to rival all of Nashville's commercial radio offerings. Although the station has an unhealthy amount of dead air (often because student DJs skip their shows for the flimsiest of reasons), WRVU remains the only major alternative to the hyper-monotony of the Clear Channel juggernaut. Expect to hear every kind of music you can imagine, and then some you can't: hillbilly, indie rock, blues, jazz, electronica, hardcore, death metal, classical and more.

What is there besides football?

Cheering for Vandy football is sort of like cheering for the Chicago Cubs, except that the Cubs occasionally win. It's a depressing truth that visiting fans often outnumber Commodore supporters at Vanderbilt home games.

But if football's not your game, you have a wealth of other options: soccer, lacrosse, swimming, rugby, baseball, track and field, you name it. Most competitions are fought on the fields surrounding the Rec Center, and most are free. There are also dozens of intramural sports, from flag football to ultimate Frisbee, that battle it out all year long in and around the Rec Center.

Oh, and in case you didn't know, both the men's and women's basketball teams made it to the NCAA tournament last year. The men reached the Sweet 16, losing to the team that would eventually win the tournament. Vanderbilt's basketball success has turned Memorial Gym into the best (and possibly the loudest) show on campus. Watch a game or two, and you'll learn that Vanderbilt doesn't have any shortage of school spirit.

Where can I meet interesting people?

With over 80 percent of its undergraduate students living on campus, Vanderbilt has a wide range of choices for residential life, with more on the way. If you're looking for ways to get involved with volunteer service work, the Mayfield Lodges might interest you. Each lodge houses 10 students who work together and with faculty members for the entire year to develop self-directed community service projects. Some groups have worked on violence prevention; others have done body image education.

If foreign languages and cultures make you all happy and giggly, you can also apply to live in the McTyeire International House. Native speakers and students of languages other than English live on different halls of this aesthetically pleasing dorm and converse almost exclusively in their target language. Dinner is served in-house five nights a week, and there are enough culturally oriented activities for you to base your entire extracurricular and social life on this dorm alone.

If you're on a quest to be more unique, you can also live in the enigmatic philosophy living/learning dorm, McGill. With a reputation for housing the university's insane geniuses, this quirky dorm has a stairway mural based on Dante's Inferno, and traditions of public nudity, incineration of random materials, and anything else that someone dreams up. It's certainly not for everyone, but this dorm provides many students with a much-appreciated buffer from the mainstream.

—Brian Christens and Jeff Havens

—Brian Christens and Jeff Havens

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