Disappearing Bearcats

By Haley Rey, Head Copyeditor

Photos from Google

McKendree is a very small university. When it comes to numbers, it better resembles a high school than a university. It’s always been said that we are a family here; in fact, that’s how we draw people in. Our professors know us on a personal level and, as a small community of students, we all know one other quite well—or, at least, of one another. For this reason, it does not go unnoticed when one of our beloved Bearcats disappears. At McKendree, just like any other university, there are plenty of people making an effort to help students feel welcome—recruiters, faculty and staff, student ambassadors, and coaches all try to give the students here reasons to stay. So, why have so many people left?

Our school has become quieter and quieter. It seems to me there are increasing amounts of empty dorms, empty bleachers, and empty classrooms each year. Is this because of the coronavirus? Yes, but the virus is not the only thing salting our soil. In the two years I spent here before the pandemic’s worst effects, the first was far more lively than the second. Even before my first year, I witnessed a more energetic McKendree campus. I visited my sister, who was in the undergrad program at the time, and made many friends here. The years I spent doing so were more exciting and happy (when it came to student life, specifically) than when I finally enrolled. McKendree is dying, in more ways than one; our prices are high, our majors are canceled, and our spirit dwindles as more students seek out other means of education. So, I’ve tracked down a few transfers and asked why they chose to leave. Perhaps if we can make sense of why our school has been deserted, then we can make it a better place to continue one’s story.

Kayla Hubbach, a former member of the McKendree swim team, transferred to Asbury University in 2019 to continue her education and sport there. She was a student at McKendree for two years before she decided it was not the place for her. “I left because I was burnt out on swimming, and the environment was no longer healthy for me,” she explained. “I really loved the friends I made, and the faculty were all incredibly kind and helpful. In the end, there wasn’t much I didn’t like, but it just wasn’t the right place for me anymore.” I wondered if Kayla felt like she was leaving a real family behind by transferring. “I absolutely felt like I was leaving a family behind. I love all of my friends at McKendree and leaving was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, but in the end, it was the best decision,” Kayla shared. When asked if there was anything that could have been done to keep her, Kayla said, “Sadly, there wasn’t anything the school could have done. Toxic environments on my team caused me to feel like I no longer belonged, and I really don’t think anything was going to make it better after it started, because I really tried to stay.”

Even if you try to love something that isn’t a healthy fit, it usually will not work out and the only option left is to find a fresh start. There is no reason not to find a life that is more worth your time depending on what you need to be the happiest. A more fitting team atmosphere was a priority for Kayla, so she departed to find what she was looking for. Perhaps McKendree should make an effort to ensure that its teams are more inviting and not emotionally detrimental.

Kyle Huntley was a student at McKendree until this very semester. He was involved in concert band, wind ensemble, jazz band, and marching band. He’s looking to take a break from the heavy expenses in order to come back for Fall of 2021. After three semesters here, he is spending this spring at a community college in Las Vegas. “I’m leaving McKendree because I need to take a semester off and try to pay my bill before I can start again,” he shared. I had the same questions for Kyle about his “family” at McKendree and received a similar answer to Kayla’s. “I like the family aspect of McKendree, and I like meeting a lot of people of different nationalities and cultures. I do feel like I’m leaving a sort of family behind. McKendree quickly became a family to me, ever since the first semester of my freshman year,” Kyle admitted. Once again, I wondered what, if anything, could be done by McKendree to entice Kyle to stay. He answered, “If the McKendree Financial Aid office would stop telling me to pull out loans (which is hard for me to do—I’ve been denied each time I’ve applied for one), and instead try to help me find ways to get ahead financially, then I might have been able to stay. All they care about is the money; they don’t care about how it all impacts the students financially and emotionally.”

Education-related finances are one of the biggest stressors for students. Taking time off from a school in order to return to it later shows the loyalty of this student. He loves his school, but he has struggled to keep up with the rather large payments here. Perhaps education never should have been for sale in the first place.

Noah Acevedo, a former McKendree football player, has also left McKendree. He was a student here for two years before he decided to leave for two very understandable reasons. “I left because I couldn’t afford it, and COVID-19 made it very difficult at home,” he said. When I asked him about his McKendree family, he simply stated, “When I left, I felt like I was leaving some of my brothers, for sure.” I then asked Noah what could have been done to change his mind. He explained, “I would have appreciated more help with my scholarship and financial aid.” Clearly, expenses are one of the biggest reasons people leave this private school. As for what he is up to now, Noah said, “I am currently not in school. I live in Colorado and I’m working as an electrician apprentice.”

COVID-19 definitely took colleges everywhere by surprise, and changed many students’ life courses. Still, opportunities await those who look for them. Dropping out of college, despite stereotypical assumptions, can be the best thing for some people, whether it’s temporary or permanent. We don’t all have to follow the same path.

Billy Darris, an iconic former member of the Marching Bearcat Band, was only at McKendree for one semester. “I figured out that I, personally, didn’t need school to pursue the things I wanted to do.” Despite his short amount of time here, he was still able to figure out exactly what he liked and disliked about McKendree as a whole. “I loved the campus life, sports, and people. I definitely felt like I was leaving my family behind on my last day. However, I didn’t like my classes or the tuition.” Billy shared that if McKendree perhaps lowered its tuition, he might have tried to stay. Still, he admitted, “I don’t think college was my avenue, period. I went home for a couple of years to reevaluate life, and now I’m living in my own apartment!” Fortunately, he has found success in the world of music outside of academia. “I write, produce, mix/master, and engineer all of my music, and I’m in the process of making a project. This year, I’ve invested a lot of time and money into getting everything in order so I can really get a professional, polished sound. I already see it paying off! Very soon I will be coming out with a lot of music!”

There is success in paths taken outside of our school. Finding your passion for music might take you away from traditional education, but as we see here, that can mean the life you’ve always wanted.

If a student feels as though they do not fit into their environment, leaving it can be the best thing to do. The people that make these decisions are not to blame. They gave it a shot, didn’t they? Nevertheless, hearing their reasons for parting from McKendree may just give us the perspectives we need to pay attention to the most. Our school has its weaknesses, but this doesn’t mean that it isn’t the best place for many students; it simply means that it isn’t the best place for everyone that enrolls here.

The disappeared Bearcats will always be Bearcats, if they want to be. I hope I am speaking on behalf of everyone still at McKendree when I say that the disappeared are always welcome back for homecoming.

One thought on “Disappearing Bearcats

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  1. Interesting perspective Haley. I would be interested in stats on how many are leaving McK compared to other schools. It certainly is not uncommon for students to leave for a lot of reasons, but I get the sense that we do a bit better here. Of course I am biased. Oh… and follow up article idea… Why do they stay?

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