Growing up at Kent State

Andrea Whaley, junior integrated health studies major, outside her childhood home in Kent, Ohio. Photo by Jacob Byk.

Jackie Bergeron

“I’m absolutely born, bred and raised here,” Andrea Whaley said. “I understood college towns before I knew what college was.”

Whaley grew up on Miller Avenue, a block away from University Drive.

“As I got older, like in middle school, I would sit out on my roof and watch drunk people argue because the houses next to us were rented out to students,” Whaley said. “I didn’t understand what the fuss was about. I just thought everyone was mad all the time.”

Whaley also had a strong relationship with the university in other ways.

“From an early age, I was involved in the university and going to my parents’ classes and just basically being a novelty act whenever I could be,” Whaley said. “That used to be a lot of fun for me. I used to love it.”

One of Whaley’s first memories of Kent State was running back and forth to her parents’ offices in the Music and Speech Center.

“My dad’s old office in the Music and Speech Center, before they renovated it and turned it into that whole dance thing, had the ugliest carpet and the ugliest walls,” Whaley said. “They were mustard yellow and brown. I have such strong memories hanging out in his office when I was in the single digits, like 5.

“Back then, my mom and my dad’s office were right across from each other. I used to go from one to the other. It was awesome and so convenient. I thought everyone had offices that way.”

As she got older, she began to separate from the university. Whaley said elementary school was typical. When she got to middle school however, she started being able to get more involved with the town of Kent itself.

She remembers going to “Teen Night” at Kent Lanes on Thursday nights over the summer.

“They would play all the current music, and everybody would get dressed up,” Whaley said. “The rest of the time, you would just go hang out at the movies.”

Once Whaley was in high school, her parents really let her start experiencing life downtown and she was able to “people watch” during Kent Halloween. Her father says he thinks this helped control Whaley’s drinking when she was younger.

“Once they saw it, they didn’t want to do it,” her father, Ben Whaley said. “Things really started getting worse the older they got. This was back in the days before people decided parties had to have 500 people at them. By the time it got pretty bad, she was old enough to be pretty disgusted with it.”

She was also able to get really involved with her school.

“I was taking a career technical program when I was a junior in high school,” Whaley said. “It was in athletic training so I went to a lot of sporting events at the high school. That’s basically what I did for fun.

“We couldn’t really go downtown. There’s nothing to do downtown unless you’re 21. You’ve just got to accept it.”

During the end of her senior year of high school, Whaley actually dated a Kent State student for a few months.

“He had to drive me around everywhere because I didn’t have my own car, and when I had open lunch option, I had my college boyfriend come and pick me up,” Whaley said. “It was sort of this status symbol.”

Because both of her parents were professors at Kent State, Whaley receives a tuition waiver each semester. The waiver pays for her classes but not room and board. Whaley feels this prevented her from having a typical freshmen year.

“I pretty much had my mind made up for me,” Whaley said. “I wasn’t as excited as everyone seems to be. I was just kind of like ‘Great, I can never escape it.’ It wasn’t like the big ‘going away to college experience’ for me because it was literally right down the street. It wasn’t new. It wasn’t exciting.

I wasn’t disappointed because I was getting a college education, but I was definitely not overjoyed.”

“On the first day of classes, I helped kids who had confused looks on their faces, but other than that, I didn’t really spend a lot of time with the other freshmen.”

Whaley made a few friends who lived on campus through her classes. They had meal plans they were willing to share with her, so she was eventually able to somewhat create the experience she had wanted from the start.

“I wanted the true college experience, and I didn’t get it, so I basically lived on the campus illegally in theory,” Whaley said. “I spent more time with my then boyfriend in the dorms and mooching off his meal plan and hanging out there instead of going home because I wanted some semblance of the experience. My parents were very patient. I only went home to eat their food and grab clean clothes.

“I never got to be scared. I never got to freak out over a meal plan or had to figure anything out.”

Growing up in a small college town had another disadvantage for Whaley: Everybody knew her last name.

“I can’t go anywhere in Franklin Hall without somebody knowing me as ‘Ben Whaley’s daughter,’” Whaley said. “You can’t escape that living in a small town when everyone knows who your parents are and that they’re involved in the big university. They group package you.”

Whaley considered this when picking her major. Her father teaches journalism classes, and although she enjoyed it, she didn’t want to make it a career.

“I thought originally that that’s what I wanted to do, that I wanted to write for journalism because I did some stuff like that in high school, but when it came right down to it, I knew healthcare was my place,” Whaley said. “As far as what my dad does, I’ve always had an interest in it, but I never wanted it as a career.”

After changing her major from molecular and cellular biology to pre-med to integrated health, Whaley has been able to establish herself.

“It was so freeing,” Whaley said. “I go to these classes where I’m sitting with a hundred people, and they don’t know me. They don’t know anything. It was just so nice. I was just kind of like ‘There is no obligation holding me down here.’ I feel like my own person.”

Whaley moved into an apartment in Monroe Falls last year. She felt it was another freeing experience, but it “threw into sharp relief” how much she relied on her parents for help, especially because she didn’t have a car at the time.

She is now financially independent for the most part and says her relationship with her parents has strengthened. She still parks her car and does her laundry at home.

She said she likes still being close to her hometown, but really can’t wait to get out. Whaley plans on attending a graduate school program in England once she graduates from Kent State.

“You kind of lose the ability to see the redeeming qualities about it,” Whaley said. “It’s nice, and it’s quaint, but once you’ve seen it all, you’ve seen it all.

Once I’m really gone, I’m really going to miss it. But not right now.”

Contact Jackie Bergeron at [email protected].