Freshmen classes help to map Westminster

As many students may have noticed, thanks to the WCAT Weekly News, the freshman class has been encouraging students to “Make a map!” These maps are the combined project of two freshman English classes to learn about how different students at Westminster see their school. The project, titled Mapping Westminster, is an initiative started by English teacher Liza Cowan.

“The inspiration for the map project came from a project called Mapping Manhattan that was done by two girls a couple years ahead of me at college,” said Cowan. “Mapping Manhattan was an initiative where they walked around the streets of New York City, handing people a map that held only the outline of Manhattan and Central Park on it. They asked people of all shapes and sizes to fill out maps with their version of Manhattan and send these in. They got thousands of responses and were able to create a really cool portrait of Manhattan based on all of these small moments.”

Cowan and fellow English teacher Jack Morgan, who helped to lead the project, were pleasantly surprised by the number of maps submitted by students of all grades.

“Mr. Morgan and I didn’t know what to expect from this, and we are thrilled to have collected two hundred maps at this point, which have been analyzed and uploaded by freshmen,” said Cowan. “The freshmen have done the PR and the blog posts. They visited senior and sophomore English classes as well as junior advisements and pitched the project to them. It has been a completely student-driven project and that has been the most exciting part.”

Another aspect of the project was the tags. Located at the bottom of each blank map was a list of different tags or categories under which students could identify themselves. These tags pertained to race, social groups, commute to school, grade level, religion, gender, sexuality, financial aid, and a myriad of other qualities.

“Our biggest goal with this project was to create a resource for our community to start talking about issues of identity, and figure out what matters to people, and what people are currently experiencing,” said Cowan. “The idea of just asking for images anonymously and just asking for tags made it a relatively safe space. There was a low stakes opportunity to be really honest about your Westminster experience. And that’s what was missing from Mapping Manhattan. There was no real analytical outline, so the fact that people have been able to pay attention to parts of the community that matter to them has been huge, and we hope will have an influence in the coming months and years.”

Before beginning the process of making a map, students asked themselves the simple question of what places and parts of Westminster were significant to them. Some students, particularly alpha omegas, marked locations that remind them of their extensive past at Westminster.

“I included the lower school and the middle school,” said freshman Heather Lee. “I came here in fifth grade, and they’re both really important in my Westminster experience.”

The anonymity of the maps made it easy for students to create pictures of their emotions and feelings around campus.

“My map is a representation of how I feel about Westminster,” said freshman Anna Campbell. “I’ve been here since pre-first, so there’s a lot of things on my map. I drew every single building and memories and thoughts that come along with it.”

Other students chose to include places around campus that they feel have helped to make up who they are.

“I included the science classroom, because that’s where I am a lot in office hours, and I included Mr. Morgan’s classroom, because it has a lot of instruments, and I play guitar,” said freshman Drew Hockstein. “I [also] drew the bottom floor of the library, because all the freshmen hang out there all the time.”

Besides common hangout spots, sports also proved to be a common theme among the freshmen.

“For my map, I labeled all the buildings and something significant there that happened to me,” said freshman Donovan Mitchell. “I labeled important events, like at Turner I labeled swimming and baseball because those are the two sports that I play.”

Putting jokes on maps referring to a variety of topics including Flik was also a common theme.

“On my map, I included soccer four square destinations, because I’m a stud at soccer four square and I think everyone should know that,” said freshman Hope Manning.

If you’re interested in contributing to the Mapping Westminster project to share your thoughts, feelings, and memories from the school, pick up a blank map outside the lunchroom or in Campbell, Pressly, Robinson, or Askew.