Opinion: I found my identity at Webster


I graduated high school in 2023 with a clear identity: I was a two-sport athlete, who grew up in a small town surrounded by a tight-knit group of friends.

But I no longer play those sports. My friends and I split up for college, and I moved away from small-town Washington, Missouri. I saw college as my opportunity to start fresh, to rediscover myself and who I wanted to be. I believe there is no better place to build an identity than Webster University, known for its openness, acceptance and ample opportunities for students to grow as individuals.

But, becoming a Webster student wasn’t as easy as walking into my dorm room on move-in day. This sent me on the journey to find my new identity, and to figure out what makes me – and those around me – Webster students. 

Scott Jensen, a professor in the School of Communications, has been at Webster for 27 years. Before coming to Webster, he taught at three different universities. Jensen notes Webster’s specific ability to offer students diversity in experience, many of whom, like me, come from small towns with a minuscule minority demographic.  

“We have students who come from rural areas, graduating classes of 14 and graduating classes of 4,000,” Jensen said. “A lot of students that come here, it might be their first time being in the classroom with an international student, being in the classroom with a trans student. Whatever the life experiences are, our culture promotes an ethic of making that identity encouraged.”

Prior to Webster University, I had very few interactions with non-binary individuals. People I talked with on a regular basis were mostly white, and the list of people in my social circle who were born outside of the U.S was short. Immersed in the diversity Webster has to offer, I’ve learned everyone has their own story to tell. Our differences make us unique, and why we as a student body are so expressive. Webster gives us a safe place to be our truest selves. 

When making a decision about where to attend college, Webster’s small class sizes were a selling point. With the average classroom size under 25, it’s easier for connections between students and professors to develop. Kelly Dopman, a senior director of alumni relations for the university, has a perfect seat to observe the impact that a faculty/staff-to-student connection can make. 

“They really care about personal growth, pushing you to be your best self, helping you explore the discipline you’re interested in,” Dopman said. “That’s a theme I hear from people five years out, 20 years out, 50 years out, that the adults, the educators, played a key role in your journey of self-discovery and developing skills.”

During my time at Webster, my professors have not only taught me academically but have helped me learn even more about myself. Thanks to Webster’s small class sizes, I have had the opportunity to connect with one professor who has helped me learn that it is important to let people into your life, even after people have hurt you in the past. Professors take time to connect with me on a personal level, and it’s made my learning experience deeper. 

Professors work to create unique opportunities for students that most students across the country won’t ever have. They genuinely care about giving us real-world experiences, building our resumes, and preparing us for the next steps in our lives, whatever that may look like. 

When discussing what a Webster student is, there are few better qualified to comment than William Ratz, who has seen the university from nearly all angles. He started at Webster as an undergraduate student in 1998, acquired his master’s degree from the university and eventually moved into the position of director of first-year experience where he currently resides. 

“Webster students are strongly independent. They are strong-willed, hardworking as all get out, passionate about what they want, and what they want to do with their lives. They’re not afraid to be themselves. They’re doers. And they’re awesome,” Ratz said.

Choosing Webster University was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. While everyone’s experience is different and our stories unfold in divergent ways, Webster is a place that lets all stories be told. The people I have met here, from students to staff and faculty, have aided in showing me what a Webster student really is. 

To me, being a Webster student means I am unafraid to stand up at a student protest. As a Webster student, I am learning to use they/them pronouns for the first time to respect new friends. As a Webster student, I am finding people who have similar morals and beliefs, and becoming closer with them than any friend before. Webster has helped me find my identity, but even more, my identity is being a Webster student.

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Gabrielle Lindemann
Staff Writer | + posts