Every Tuesday and Thursday morning this semester, you will find me walking across the boulevard from Meadows to Cox at about 9:22am, leaving 8am Music Theory in the Owen Fine Arts Center and heading to 9:30am Managerial Accounting in the Maguire Building. Crossing from one side of the boulevard to the other is like a sort of like crossing a tactical front line: the aesthetics, values, and uniforms of each side is visibly quite distinct from the other. Musical jargon about fingering and g-strings, contextually quite innocent to all musicians, is jarred out of place and becomes, out-of-context, sexual innuendo in Cox. The uniqueness and non-conformity of the artist’s personality—reflected in what tends to be either trendy or somewhat unique clothing and aesthetic choices—is replaced with the swagger of those clad in Greek t-shirts, indicating that in a world run by suits and black ink, status is determined by how may date dashes you went to and which victory formals you attended. As a student double-majoring in Piano Performance and Finance, I often get strange reactions from people who find out that I’m studying two disparate fields with no overlap. Students in Meadows often assume the Finance major is a utilitarian Plan B in case performing doesn’t work out, while students in Cox reveal, in an attempt to find some semblance of understanding, that they too played piano or violin from ages 5 to 8.
Of all the schools at SMU, Cox and Meadows have the most distinctive atmospheres. Considering that they’re the only schools to which you must meet GPA requirements or pass an audition screening, it could be argued that they’re full of the university’s most talented students—but the students belonging to each also appear diametrically opposed in everything from skill sets to attitudes. In reality, while the people in each school have a strong desire to dissociate themselves from the other, they have much in common with their goals and work-ethic, even if they perceive themselves much differently.
Cox students consider themselves the serious ones. They push themselves in their classes and pull all-nighters so that they can graduate and land a job that will require them to work 18+ hours a day as an investment banker or a hedge-fund manager. It’s reported that because of their dedication and focus, Cox as a whole has more internship opportunities than it has students to fill them. While Cox seems so black and white, Meadows seems to have an aura of lore about it, with its labyrinthine basement, convoluted hallways, and cacophonous classes and practice rooms. It would be eerie to walk through the Owen Fine Arts Center while silent. Even at 2 or 3am, into the late hours of the night, it’s rare to find every practice room unoccupied. It’s a building with self-expression established even in the idiosyncratic architecture. However, if you’re at all familiar with the world of performing and fine arts, you know how competitive, cutthroat, and negative the arts environment can be. It’s rumored that, during concerto competition season at Julliard, pianists will hide razors between the keys so that unwitting competitors would be placed out of commission.
Inherently, an arts school is a place designed for free expression. Contrary to popular belief, however, taking a Meadows elective doesn’t guarantee you an easy A. Just like Cox classes, many Meadows classes (especially those that are not for non-majors) are based on theory and analytics. Being an artist isn’t all about interpretation and feelings. To a certain extent, it’s also about perfection—artists get paid to be neurotic and obsessive about details. In the same way, a good businessperson can’t be manufactured or formulized—creativity and innovation lie at the heart of success in professional careers. In the complex markets that have now developed in the twenty-first century, utility alone is no longer adequate—aesthetics is equally as important. While the idea of the artists’ value rivaling that of the businessperson may be anathema to conventional Information Age thought, the reality is that the future belongs to those who can couple left-brain functionality with right-brain significance. With most professionals now specializing in either aesthetics or utility—but rarely integrating both—a need has arisen for individuals who can transcend brain lateralization. Many companies today, even for technical jobs, hire people from arts schools to find a diversity of opinion and talent. Steve Jobs, in his search to create the most innovative products, intentionally hired poets, musicians, and artists. Similarly, it is increasingly important for artists to develop business skills. Both schools can benefit from the way that others approach different problems.
What may not be immediately discernable, however, is that many Meadows students are as resistant to Greek life and the business school as the business school students are to Meadows students. Cultures are perpetuated by feedback cycles. Those who don’t fit aren’t rewarded for their non-conformity, and those who do are rewarded with respect and positive rapport. Rather than confirming the identities of those who are similar to ourselves, we need, as the recently published Meadows Values Statement asserts, “to make thoughtful choices about building a community…in which all persons know that they are celebrated for their unique and individual giftedness.” Perhaps neither school has yet produced a climate in which this is true—in which openness to others’ perspectives, ideas, and identities is considered paramount. It is the goal of a university as a whole to encourage diversity of thought to promote far-ranging academic inquiry, and the SMU student body, regardless of academic affiliation, should strive to produce a cultural climate that does the same.