Learning and Unlearning in College

It has been less than three weeks since students of Delhi University's Lady Shri Ram College boycotted online classes and launched a mass Twitter storm with the hashtag #JusticeforAishwarya to protest against the tragic institutional murder of one of their own, Aishwarya Reddy.

Aishwarya's death has brought to light important issues regarding the lack of proper funding in public universities, discriminatory administrative policies, and most importantly, the harrowing consequences of the exclusivity in online classes. On another level, it has also forced students across the university to take a long, hard look not only at the attitudes of their colleges towards the pandemic but also at the way they approach their own college environment.

For many of us, college is the first introduction to the real world. Being exposed to people from all corners of the country with varying opinions and values soon made me realize that everything I had learned so far needed to be unlearnt. In school, unless you're at a MUN, politics is a hush hush subject. You're expected to have an opinion about a particular ruling party, but no one really judges you if you don't care as much. That's not the case in college. In fact, saying you're "apolitical" will most certainly lead to judging stares from across the room (or the screen). This isn't without good reason. Parents in most parts of the country think politics is a subject that only elders should discuss, not children. However, we're not children anymore. Politics isn't something that happens in closed circles, it affects all that you do. From the amount of fees you pay to the texts that you will be taught, everything is political. Awareness of what is going on in the country and the world isn't an option, it's an obligation that you owe yourself.

When it comes to questioning societal norms, another key thing college will force you to look more closely at is your privilege. Many DU colleges pride themselves on their high cut-offs and as a consequence students do so too. They look down on other colleges not realizing that their own path here was paved by their class and caste privileges. Even when their own classmates fail to speak or dress in the immaculate way they are used to, they consider themselves better, more ‘deserving.’ I wish I could say that I have not been guilty of the same. The more people I met and the more I introspected I came to understand that the idea of merit in my head needed to be deconstructed. Yes, my hard work had played a role in me getting into a college of my choice but so had other social factors like my upbringing. Even the fact that I can attend online classes because I have access to devices and a stable internet connection is a privilege in itself.                    

To any student new to the university space my advice is this:

  1.  Listen. Engage with these discussions even if they make you uncomfortable. Especially if they make you uncomfortable.
  2. Amplify. In an attempt to raise your voice against injustice, do not forget to pass on the microphone to those with lived experiences of the issues you are talking about.
  3. If you want to change the way the world works, remember the eternal words of the poet Joy Harjo: “The world begins at a kitchen table.” Your social media activism is pointless if you don’t start at home. Your family may term you ‘anti-nationalist’ or use the words ‘secular’ and ‘feminist’ as insults. Don’t lose hope and keep having those conversations.
  4. Be mindful. College may be fun and games for you but that may not be the case for many others. Go ahead and talk to that person who is always quiet and try to be kinder.

At a time when the very concept of free speech is in danger, professors are in jail for simply expressing their right to dissent and when college spaces are no longer safe from instances of police brutality it is imperative that we re-examine our role as students. College spaces can give you the chance to understand the real world with all its intricacies and find a way to make it a better place. In the end, whether you choose to step out of your sheltered existence to utilize your platform or continue to remain complacent is entirely up to you.