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The Scramble System:A Freshman Experience

By Allison Hilliker

Editor's Introduction: Allison is a long time member of the National Federation of the Blind. She recently helped to organize our Michigan Student Division and currently serves as President. Allison was also recently elected to serve as a board member for the National Association of Blind Students. Here is what she has to say about her experiences as a freshman at Hope College.

Phelps, the largest cafeteria on my college campus, uses a system for maneuvering and obtaining food through it, which is referred to as the "Scramble System." It is called this because it is simply that, 2000+ students move randomly about the place in a big mob, with no lines, no structure, and no patterns. It is essentially a mass of hungry people scrambling for food. This wonderfully organized system of dining is a chaotic mess, where one can become very easily overwhelmed, confused, and yes, even trampled if you don't know your way around.

A newcomer to Phelps, unaccustomed to this system of dining, is often very uncertain as to where anything is located, and all the food seems strange and possibly inedible. They often find this very frustrating, consider giving up, and quickly tire of being bumped, jarred, and pushed, while wondering around through a seemingly never-ending maze on a quest for nourishment.

Like the newcomer to Phelps cafeteria, I had similar feelings during my first few days of my freshman year of college. I too had that over-whelming sense of confusion and chaos. I was truly excited about the prospect of starting college and my new life on campus, but I couldn't help feeling a sense of uncertainty, apprehension, and of almost being swallowed up.

It all started out with learning the campus. I took a couple of days before orientation started in order to familiarize myself with the layout. Though initially things seemed rather complex, I managed to learn my way around campus fairly well. At first, traveling was easiest when I stuck to the basic streets and paths, but this was not always possible as our campus has many little twisting paths that go through the inside of campus. They're really convenient, but also rather disorienting at times. This means that there are many little paths with still more paths branching off of each one leading to a variety of places and different entrances to different buildings. This was all a bit confusing the first few days, especially during orientation weekend, but after a few days of disoriented wanderings, and asking a great deal of questions, it all became easier, to the point that I don't think about the strange patterns of sidewalks very much now.

After mastering the campus layout, next came the time for orientation. I have to admit that I didn't always like orientation very much. It was truly a mix of both the good and the bad. It was good in that I did get familiar with the ways of the college and was able to meet a lot of new and interesting people. The parts I didn't like quite as well were some of the activities. Most of them were something like lets get 700+ people in a large area and play strange games and/or loud music. They were the types of things involving crowds of people and lots of disorienting noise. Those things were not particularly enjoyable to me. However, that's the way in which the majority of people were meeting one another and to miss out on one such activity was to miss out on an opportunity to find friends. The way I dealt with this was to try and find one person, or a small group of people who were a bit on the edge of everything, and try talking with them. This worked well enough most of the time, and these groups and I would often migrate to another area and begin a new and interesting conversation or activity. These weren't exactly my ideas of a good way in which to meet people, but I managed to make them work. Classes have proved a much better way of meeting people for me. Also, getting to know others in my dorm and in some of the campus organizations that I am beginning to join has also worked well.

Moving into my dorm was also an adventure. I had to move all of my belongings into a tiny space along side a girl who I had never met before. Plus, my very loving, but somewhat over-eager parents wanted to set up my room just so. I managed to listen to their advice, and still put things in such a way that reflects my own style. If there's one thing I've learned recently, it's the importance of balancing the suggestions and opinions of others who want to help, with what I want and need for myself. But anyway, back to my roommate…

Kate and I are getting along rather well. She didn't know anyone blind before she had met me. She has later admitted to me that when she first learned that I was blind, she was a bit shocked, but then realized that I was normal and things would work out well enough. Our school gave out the roommate phone numbers and addresses along with our housing assignments when they mailed students before the start of school. I hadn't been sure at first how to tell my roommate, who likely knew nothing of blind people, about the fact that I am blind. I don't think about my blindness very much myself, but I knew that to someone like her, it could be a very new and different thing to deal with. I wondered about whether or not I should even tell her about it before we met. Typically, for job interviews, college applications, and the like, I don't always consider it a good idea to bring up blindness beforehand, but would a roommate be an entirely different matter, I wondered? I wanted her to know that I was normal, simply through talking with me on the phone, and I didn't want her first opinions of me to revolve around her misconceptions of what she thought blind people might be like. So, Kate and I started off our series of phone conversations without the subject of blindness. We talked about what we'd done over the summer, what we wanted our room to look like, and how excited we were about starting college. I wasn't planning on mentioning my blindness until after we had met, but then an opportunity presented itself to me during one of our long conversations. Kate said, "Hey, are you bringing your car to campus?" "I don't even have one, so I know I'm not going to bring one." To me, that was as good of time as any to bring up blindness. So, I took a deep breath and began my tale. Kate didn't actually say much when I had finished. After all, what was there really to say? I simply had explained that I happened to be blind, but that I was in every other way just an average college student. That seemed to work well enough for Kate, and despite my worries, that was that and we moved on. As is often the case, what seemed to be a large, complex issue with a confusing array of solutions, turned out to be very small and easily gotten through.

The day Kate and I moved into our dorm was still an adventure for everyone. But, fortunately, blindness was not a factor in the events of our day. She did ask a lot of questions at first, which I was ok with answering because, to me, that is a way of sort of putting the uncertainty she felt about my blindness behind us. We can talk about it, get it out of the way, and move on to other things like what classes we were taking, what kind of music we liked, and how on earth we were going to fit all of our stuff into our tiny little dorm room!

Classes have been an entirely new set of adventures altogether for me, but I've hired readers, met with professors, and (as every college student does) done a great deal of studying! At first, these seemed to be enormous tasks, with largely elusive solutions, but fortunately I was able to implement the skills and confidence that I've gained through the NFB and plod my way through every issue that has come up.

It is in this same way that I too learned to manage the Phelps "Scramble System." Like all newcomers to my college, I've learned to deal with the chaos and confusion and work my way through. I've learned to make my own way in lines, search out what I need, ask lots of questions, and to stay away from the mashed potatoes at all times! Through the events of this semester, I've discovered the way to thrive within the scramble system, and, rather than get weighed down by the complexities of an often confusing life, manage to not only find the good stuff in a college cafeteria, but also within every freshman experience.

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