While most of the media focuses on the healing Christian spirit of DeKalb, Ill., home of Northern Illinois University, I've done some searching of what students wrote in anonymous forums, particularly studentsreviews.com, about NIU and
DeKalb. Not what they're saying today, when the cameras are on and everyone's officially grieving and Wondering Why, but from last year to three years ago, when they were honest. What you find is a shocking amount of rage and regret -- the sort of regret you'd expect from a middle-aged Willy Loman looking back on a wasted life.
"NIU is a glorified community college," writes one former student. "Let's just say there aren't many Albert Einsteins on campus. If you got solid C's in high school and otherwise are destined for a career path that involves shoveling shit, then NIU is the right school for you. If you are a gang banger from the inner city who has just enough smarts to con a subsidized college education out of the system, then NIU is the right school for you. If your greatest career ambition is to one day be the assistant manager at GNC or Radio Shack, then NIU is the right school for you. If your dream mobile involves one day owning an eleven year old minivan with half the trim missing, then NIU is the right school for you. If you think Pabst Blue Ribbon is a "high end" beer, then NIU is the right school for you. If you like following a football program that hasn't been to a bowl game since 1983, then NIU is the right school for you. If you like following a basketball program that is lucky to draw 1,200 fans to a home game, then NIU is the right school for you. If you like going to a school that ranks as one of the butt ugliest campuses on planet earth, then NIU is the right school for you."
The physical ugliness and intellectual mediocrity are recurring complaints:
"NIU is the pits. It's a suitcase school with a horribly ugly campus that ought to re-label itself Northern Illinois Community College."
In my studies of various rage massacres, I've never read so much painful regret mixed with rage. College is supposed to be the best years of all for an American: that brief blissful 4 to 5 year furlough between the hellish high school and the soul-jackhammering Office World. The college years should mean a flowering of everything good: freedom from parents, expanding knowledge, new experiences, fun, friendship, and perhaps most important of all: a newly vibrant sex life of the sort that Hollywood had promised, all set in a lush manicured campus full of granite buildings with Doric columns, and some kind of state-of-the-art sports arena.
Instead: "The academic rigor required to do well at NIU is a joke… Best advice to any high school students considering NIU? Do everything in your power to get yourself into a better school like U of I, Illinois State or some other well regarded public or provide school …. And don't even get me started on the NIU campus. If there is an uglier or more disorganized one on this planet, I haven't seen it in all my travels. There are rundown CHA buildings in the most blighted parts of Chicago that are in better shape then the NIU dorm complex. Outside of Barsema Hall and a few others, the rest of the other buildings are dreadful and embarassing. The first thing 95% of NIU students do upon receiving their diploma is to run like hell from DeKalb and never turn back."
DeKalb is a small farming town full of cornfields; its population is 40,000, while NIU has roughly 25,000 students. Both town and school are overwhelmingly white. One student described the town this way: "[A]llergies are bad because of the cornfields, and it smells in the summer because of the PIG FARM!! Also, people in the area are generally not very nice."