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Campus Life

Walking Backward, Moving Forward

BU campus tours blend innovation and tried-and-true


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In the video above, campus tour guide Rebecca Rutenberg (CAS’10) talks about the importance of showing the campus to prospective students and their families, of telling them all the positive aspects of University life — and of walking backward.

The BU community has grown accustomed to making way for ever-increasing groups of prospective students and other visitors — 15,000 since January 1 — on campus tours. What people probably don’t know about the one-hour tours, now winding down for the semester, is that there’s a science involved in making them persuasive and memorable, right down to details such as the effectiveness of guides walking forward or backward.

BU has close to 200 tour guides, all volunteers, says Meredyth Thomas, senior assistant director of the Office of Admissions. Guides have several weeks of training, with orientation from faculty and staff from different schools and colleges as well as from the Dean of Students Office, International Programs, and representatives from the Howard Thurman Center. The traditional tour doesn’t include West Campus, but an extended tour — called the Ultimate Terrier Tour, this one must be requested — does take in the FitRec Center and offers lunch in the West Campus dining hall, says Thomas.

As competition for incoming freshmen heats up, colleges are taking steps, so to speak, to improve and refine their campus tours. For example, the New York Times has reported that several dozen colleges are directing their tour guides to walk forward rather than backward and to encourage conversation instead of haranguing tour-goers with historical details. The goal is to offer a more spontaneous and down-to-earth experience. At BU, Thomas says, tours guides feel strongly that walking backward is best for maintaining eye contact and personal connection. “But if it really helps students, the research is fine,” says tour guide Rebecca Rutenberg (CAS’10).

How high are the stakes for producing a dazzling campus tour? At least one private consulting firm, Target X, charges thousands of dollars to critique and revamp aspects of colleges’ campus tours.

BU’s tours highlight the University’s best, most picturesque, and most intriguing, from a model dorm room at The Towers to the BU Beach to Sargent College’s gross anatomy lab. The busiest weeks are in July, October, and April. Almost 6,200 people visited campus the week of March 29, according to Thomas.

Nicolae Ciorogan can be reached at ciorogan@bu.edu. Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.


One Comment on Walking Backward, Moving Forward

  • Anonymous on 04.20.2010 at 8:17 am

    Respect for BU students

    Please, please respect the students walking down Commonwealth Avenue or Bay State Road. Those of us walking to class should not have to be late because a tour group has clogged up the sidewalk. I know people who have yelled at the tour groups, and I myself have darted crazily in front of them just to get by.

    Tour guides, please stop walking backwards. It is dangerous, no matter how much you want the guiding to be “memorable.” Also, because it requires a certain effort to maintain composure while walking backwards, the display in the above video would make me, if I were a part of the group, more uncomfortable. Please just walk normally. You can always turn your head a bit to make eye contact, but walking backwards looks ridiculous.

    There are too many students on the campus walking to class during tour hours; tour groups should stop for them, not the other way around. Otherwise, columns of people start building up on roads like Bay State just to let tour groups by. This is not courteous in the least.

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