Here we are, the last installment of my college survival guide. For my grand finale (which was supposed to go up Friday, but, you know, life), I’m going to talk about something pretty personal: the hypocrisy of academia as I experienced it in college.
I say “as I experienced it” because I know how dangerous it is to generalize. But I also know I can’t be the only one who’s dealt with this, regardless of what kind of school you went to. The system is the system, and not to sound all conspiracy-theorist, but no matter where you go, it’s pretty much the same.
Especially if you major in the humanities.
I once had a professor actually say that college is not really about enlightenment, it’s about getting a degree to get a job to get a lifestyle. He wasn’t being pessimistic, he was being honest. It was the most non bullshit-y thing I’d ever heard.
Because in a system that lauds critical thinking, college isn’t really interested in you, the student, thinking critically about the college. Because if you did, you might come to the realization that my professor so blithely pointed out.
College boasts its ability to make you think critically about the world around you–to question your core beliefs and assumptions about the world, or society, whatever. This can be a good thing. Most people should do this, if no other reason than for its own sake. I certainly had my core beliefs challenged, whether I wanted them to be or not. My Christian, moderately conservative beliefs.
Because at the end of the day, I stuck to them. And the general vibe I got from my academic environment is that this is a no-no. But why?
Let me make one thing clear: I hate politics. And I really hate how divided people in America have become along ideological lines, but then again, maybe it’s always been this way. Honestly, there’s nothing new under the sun. The difference is that with modern technology, you see and hear it anywhere. But I digress.
As much as the college system boasted open, intellectual discussion, I experienced very, very little of it. This was mainly because the ideological demographics of my campus were predominantly left-leaning and I was, well… not. But that wasn’t even the problem.
The problem was that there was a widespread, overbearing distrust and even resentment towards more conservative views, especially after a certain election year that shall remain nameless. Without having to say anything, most of my peers assumed that anyone on the right was probably bigoted, narrow-minded, racist, sexist, etc. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise most of the time, and the worst part was, it really wasn’t anyone’s fault.
I hate arguing, so I really painted myself into a corner during discussions because I didn’t want to be ridiculed. But I will say this: I didn’t feel encouraged to speak up. Just based on the things I’d hear people say, and the way things were discussed, I just knew that 9 times out of 10, they wouldn’t want to hear what I had to say.
My solution was to lay low and speak very little whenever things got political. But in process of laying low, I learned that the whole system is biased. There is no free, intellectual discussion. It will usually default to the dominant ideology of the group, or have one dissenter who is too pissed off at everyone else to formulate rational arguments. Which makes those of us who aren’t hardcore this-that-or-the-other ideology look bad.
In most of my classes, I was in an environment where these kids hadn’t really had an opportunity to have a voice before. Their small, midwestern towns had leaned too far the right, maybe. They finally felt comfortable here in a place where, in theory, no one was supposed to feel comfortable. Ironically, the very system that told us to question our assumptions also encouraged certain assumptions when they aligned with a certain ideology. It was a system of hypocrisy.
it’s the system, man
I don’t blame the college (meaning my college), or my peers, or my professors. Not exclusively, anyway. Listen, first of all, regardless of what the infamous They may say, college is a business. So they’re looking to keep their students enrolled. At my college, a lot of the students thought that They were working against them, even though They were encouraging the intellectual discussion they (the students) so desperately sought.
The students themselves were hit or miss. Some of them were just going through the motions, others were finding their place in the world, others were just plain crazy. I’m sorry, but they were. But the crazy ones weren’t even the problem; it was everyone who DIDN’T say anything about it. People like me. Hm, figure that one out.
Yes, I’m admitting my own part in this. After all, no one was holding a gun to my head telling me not to speak my mind. I did that shit all on my own. And so did many others, I’m sure. But once again, we were in a system that discouraged it.
And the professors? I think many of them tried to be impartial, but they also had to more or less follow a curriculum. Yes, they had their own opinions and yes, professors have more leeway to insert them into their lectures than high school teachers. But my professors acted at mediators most of the time, and it was the students who had to set the tone for the discussion. There were some professors who would even seem a little taken aback by the sorts of things their students would say, even if they were left-leaning.
In a weird way, the college, the students, and the professors all cancelled each other out. What was left was a veritable dead sea of intellectual debate. We went around in circles, a bunch of mostly white, middle-class kids in a room, saying the same things, going nowhere. Maybe if I or other dissenters had spoken up, it would’ve been different, but no, I wasn’t going to waste my time. Because ultimately, what I realized was that no one really wanted to be persuaded. Including me, honestly. And at the end of the day, what was arguing going to prove, anyway? As much as college wanted to deny it, a bunch of (again) mostly white, middle-class kids sitting in a classroom debating the finer points of minority literature is not going to change a damn thing. And that’s just the truth.
But that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn some stuff.
stuff i learned
- How to handle people with whom you don’t agree. The answer: respectfully. Understand where they’re coming from so you don’t just jump straight to conclusions.
- How to listen. People love to be listened to. And you’re never going to understand people unless you shut up and listen to them.
- How to be open-minded. Even if I didn’t agree with something someone said, having to shut up and listen forced me to actually think about things in a way that maybe I hadn’t before.
- How to find balance. Listen, extremes are never good. So one thing I learned is that both sides are wrong. The answer is almost always somewhere in the middle, but you know what they say about compromise: everyone walks away with something but no one’s happy. (Isn’t that what they say?) Well, I hate to break it to you, but that’s life. Anytime I did speak up in class, it was usually to meet people somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. And you know what? People would usually just nod their heads. Fancy that.
Thus concludes my college survival guide series! Whether you’re in or out of college, I hope it was at least a little entertaining. If you missed any of the other posts, by all means, check them out hither:
- b’s college survival guide, pt. 1: freshman year
- top 5 best quotes from my professors
- b’s college survival guide, pt. 2: enter the college essay
- 5 college reads i’d actually recommend
- b’s college survival guide, pt. 3: anxiety
- professor quotes, pt. 2: art major edition
What was college like for you? Do you have any funny stories, interesting advice, or cynical observations? Comment below!