For Every Person Who Feels Stupid In College

Google churns out billions of results when a search is run for “I feel stupid in college”, which probably means that there are enough people writing about the subject. But here is another article, so unique in its inception that it is only the second of its kind with the same title; its namesake being another well-intentioned piece on The Odyessey Online (https://www.theodysseyonline.com/arent-stupid-college-hard). However, like a predictable song, it holds only so much revisit value. I do not mean to be ungracious to articles of the sort; at best, they do for a pick-me-up, and at worst, draw out a frustrated sigh. Of the many articles in the self-help-repurposed-for-millennials category, the one I am referring to is not offensively optimistic, nor patronising, and seems to be motivated by a desire to share the fruits of experiential learning, rather than to meet the quota for mental health-related content. But such is the nature of my memory when it comes to appeasing itself that it cannot compete with the onslaught of embarrassing things that escape my mouth incessantly. And I forget the tune to self-care, like a catchy summer record that cannot revive the spirit of joviality it once graciously dispersed.

 

Advice and kind words cannot bear the sole burden of consolation. Like the alcoholic reaching for the bottle, I grope blindly at my half-baked academic knowledge in an attempt to theorize my way to a solution. So, here are some ramblings for everyone who feels stupid in college, as trumpeted by your resident fool.

Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

 

Kind, we are not. Especially to ourselves. And it is hard to believe we deserve it, especially when we can be so cruel to each other so as to judge, discriminate, oppress, mock, hurt. College teems with interactions that render humans vulnerable. Many academic fields are preoccupied with systems of power, and mess halls echo with bastardizations of Foucault and Althusser. This is not a pedant’s observation; the author is guilty of much of the same strand of conversation. Moreover, the university itself is a space riddled with social inequality, based on gender, social and financial class. It does not help that the location of the university foregrounds the discrepancy between the landscape and its original inhabitants and us newcomers.

Photo by Marcos Luiz on Unsplash

 

The classroom becomes a microcosm of this experience, where all the inequalities we bear witness to around us is distilled in text, even though the text itself is a product of that inequality and our access to it a product of our privilege. Theory, often blamed for distracting from productive action, contextualizes the most mundane of actions against a political background. We are not allowed to forget the oppressive systems that exist and the role we play in perpetuating them. This, to use the technical jargon, is a good thing. To forget, to not let it bother us is to be complacent. Yet, the separation between academic work and one’s worth as an individual is not delineated clearly. Poor performance on a paper so easily transposes itself onto one’s perception of oneself. When we are evaluated on our understanding of subjective identities, among other things, a B+ is equivalent to being a bad person, not just that the argument could have done with proofreading.

 

It would be an overstatement to suggest that this phenomenon is the sole sharp corner against which the student ego inevitably staggers upon. Education seems to be aspiring for validation from its ex-colonizers. India’s Ivy League. School systems draw heavily on 50-year-old dregs that were set up not to educate but to create a class of exploitable workers for the colonial government. The pressure of being recognized internationally seeps into everyday life. One reason to be good at college is so you can get into another, fancier college, hopefully abroad, once you graduate – rinse, repeat.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

 

Added to this is the general discomfort of moving to a new place, whatever residual trauma from other of childhood misfortunes that still lurks, and immense workloads: a recipe for a breakdown.

So, what helps amidst all this despair?

It depends. Personally, it is finding just the right degree of detachment and complacency. Not enough to forget privilege one possesses but enough to prevent paralysis from helplessness. This assignment isn’t the end of the world. This Marx reading is not the solution to class inequality, but maybe if I can find it exciting enough, I can find the energy to write about it or act on it when I’m older, thus foregrounding the process rather than the goal. If I can find it in me to laugh with my friends, to sing a song, to do something silly, to distract momentarily, it might rejuvenate me, I won’t be undone by cynicism.

Or maybe, momentary recourse is, in fact, in writing and reading self-help articles. But what do I know?

 

Edited by Maya Haider (UG 2020)