I’m not gonna lie – there are parts to life as a university student that I love.
When I was in the eighth grade, my teacher told me that I belonged in university, and that was one of the reasons why I was so dead-set to go after high school. I mean, I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, but I was curious to find out. Now, I kind of understand it.
I love being an English major. I love reading books that I might never have picked up if it wasn’t on the syllabus, and I love learning to become attached to them, even if I wasn’t too keen on them the first time around. I love going to class every day and talking about books, learning about their context, picking out their themes, speculating about what was meant by this statement or that action. I joke that being an English major is sort of like being in a very large book club, but it is sort of true – it’s paying a fuck-ton of money to submerse yourself in an environment where everyone’s interested in the same topic as you, and you all get to discuss it together in the context of this book you all read.
I love the emphasis that the liberal arts put on critical thinking. I love being encouraged to look at things from a different perspective, rather than being beaten down because I don’t agree with this one narrow-minded view. I love having an environment that allows you to accept that, maybe there is no one answer. Maybe this is an issue that can be looked at from a thousand different ways and maybe each way is just as valuable as the next. I love being told to be compassionate, caring, perceptive, thoughtful – and above all, questioning. I love that very few of the people that I’ve met in my three and a half years at university have accepted things at face-value – they always try to pick them apart, to understand them from more than one angle. I think that that’s something we need to take out into the real world as well.
Another thing – I love how passionate and how political most of the people who I meet are. I love walking through the main hall at my school and seeing massive signs hanging from the ceiling stating, “Trans Rights are Human Rights”, and I can pass those by thinking an emphatic “fuck yeah” to myself. I love that, when Trump won the election, my class the following day was half-dedicated to everyone going on about what a catastrophe it was, speculating about what this would mean for marginalized people everywhere (this was a class on fairy tales, might I add). I love that the majority of people that I’ve met here care about other people and their rights, to the point that I think many of them are just utterly baffled by the other side – and while every one in a while, I will come across someone who is just a little bit too unforgiving toward more conservative-minded people, sure – at least they’re thinking about these things. At least they’re trying to make a difference in the world.
I’m proud of the fact that I have been a part of this culture and this environment for three and a half years, and a part of me does feel like I belong here. A part of me is almost a little bit scared to leave, to face a world where I won’t have anyone to discuss my reading with who has the same interest in it as I do, or where the average person doesn’t think as critically as I’ve been taught to. But, at the same time, there are also parts to the university environment that I loathe.
I hate the final month or two into the semester, where suddenly you’ve become so swamped with reading and essays and exams that you don’t even have time to think. You don’t even have time to remember who you are. For the past few weeks, I have been living off of caffeine, sugar, and inspirational 80’s rock music, and I am still so tired that I currently feel dizzy while writing this – and I still have more to do! I have spent full days, from the moment I wake to the moment I go to sleep, doing nothing but school work and it still isn’t enough. I hate the stress of it, the all-encompassing, joy-destroying stress that sinks into your soul and rots it away. “But Ciara,” people keep telling me, “don’t you know that anxiety is a good thing? Anxiety is what makes you feel alive!” Maybe I’ll agree in retrospect, but for the time being, if I’m supposed to be so alive right now, then why do I feel like a walking corpse?
I hate how narrow-minded academia can sometimes be – and, I know, I just finished praising university life for its penchant for critical thinking, but hear me out. I have been blessed in the past two years to take a few classes that have actually interested me – classes on gothic literature, fantasy, the aforementioned fairy tales class, and all of that is great, really. But every time I take one of this classes, it always starts out the same way – either the teacher will ask the class the question, “now this genre is considered a non-academic genre; why do you think that is?” or a classmate will announce that the reason they took it is because they had finally found a class that wasn’t all about Shakespeare! And that’s the problem – a hundred years ago, a bunch of stuffy, old, white guys decided what books had literary value and what books didn’t, and while the curriculum has changed slightly in the years since then, it’s still essentially the same thing. And, I know, part of this is related to the whole idea of “what you seek out is what you find”, and if I’m actually interested in other, non-academic genres, I just need to focus on the classes that specialize in them (like I have been for the past two years now), but I’m still going into those classes under the assumption that it’s a lesser, non-academic class, and that frustrates me.
Ultimately, I think I like university. I think it’s a fascinating environment, and I’m glad that I submersed myself in it for the past three and a half years. It’s just the question of whether or not I want to stay in it that has me stumped. But for now, I don’t have time to think. For now, I have an exam to study for.