"I quickly learned that the general aim of each class was to identify something problematic, discuss it, and then refuse to do anything about it."
The (not so) happy graduate, with her parents. All photos Jay Stephens.
Like everyone who cons themselves into attending a liberal arts college, I was captivated by the idea of changing the world by immersing myself in a diverse pool of academic thought, theory, and action. Boy, was I wrong! After my four-year stint at university, I was transformed from a plucky, young, free-thinking free spirit into a cranky, old, get-off-my-lawn conservative.
It all started with a quiet disdain for political correctness, a seed that grew—through the miracle of college—into a giant beanstalk. I quickly learned that, at liberal arts school, the general aim of each class was to identify something problematic, discuss it, and then refuse to do anything about it. We were expected to offer solutions, of course, but the only acceptable answers were noncommittal and intersectional. Any attempt to get to the actual root of a problem was generally seen as problematic too, and a politically correct policing was instituted to hinder any real solutions of important issues. Most group discussions devolved into us asking one another how to ask questions about something problematic without being problematic.
After a childhood and adolescence of being the only black kid in class, I never would have considered myself an enemy of political correctness. I was rather indignant about exposing cultural insensitivities until I was inundated with college classes that seemed dedicated to manifesting real and imagined enemies from every available shadow. So I began to check out and (much to my surprise) quietly echo the conservative sentiments against oversensitivity that I had once dismissed as bigotry.
After I became annoyed with political correctness, I started seeing it everywhere and gradually became convinced there was a conspiracy going on to brainwash me and my peers. Most of the guest speakers at my liberal arts school were leftist journalists, leftist activists, or leftist professors from other leftists schools. In my experience, the other slots were reserved for different types of sex workers: I attended a film lecture given by a very skilled paraplegic porn star who showed us some of her work and an art performance given by a woman who masturbated behind a curtain.
Once the initial thrill from exposure wore off, the lack of intellectual diversity was suffocating. I traveled further down a path of disillusionment and began to sympathize with those crazy conservatives who were always complaining about liberal media bias on FOX.
I needed some way to cope with all this. So I chose weed. I was typically high before, during, and after all of my classes. My best friend was the campus dealer, so I spent countless nights smoking spliffs on his dorm room floor and watching his clients stumble in and out.
Most of these clients are now working in New York finance or DC politics, which is what made me realize I'm a fan of limited government. The stupidest stoners I know are all on a fast track to becoming the future diplomats of the world, and I do not trust these goofs to make important decisions on our behalf. Their power must be constrained.
The only thing more pervasive than weed and irresponsible future leaders on a liberal arts college campus are useless majors. I'm not being judgmental, either—I have a degree in film and media studies and political science, which I chose mostly because they are subjects I like talking about. Many of my peers also chose to spend their scholarships and student loans on creative combinations of topics better learned on YouTube.
By the time graduation approached, none of us had developed any actual job skills, but we could sure as shit talk around important subjects. As such, the most we were prepared to do was spend more cash on grad school or go WWOOFing till we died. This led me to take a stance against providing free college education for all. No. Just, no. Let Europe have it. I only support the idea if those educations go toward protecting us against international hackers or figuring out sustainable agriculture. I'd only support giving a free education to a smart kid to get a degree in whatever the exact opposite of my degree is. Until the residual of the Bernie Sanders movement works through that loophole, I'm out.
I took on lots of debt attending college, but I never learned anything about how to manage it. I didn't learn about taxes either, but I was lucky enough to get a job right before my student loan payments kicked into gear. I accepted a corporate gig with a salary that felt exorbitant and immediately began plotting when I could move out of my parent's house. But everything changed when I got my first paycheck, and to my admittedly ignorant shock, I realized a helluva lot more money was missing than I anticipated.
"Income tax" seems like an abstract alien concept when you're not making any money, but it becomes much more real when cash has magically disappeared from your paycheck. I couldn't believe my peers and I had spent so much time shaming conservatives for wanting lower taxes. After making an income, the tax I paid on it was suddenly all I cared about. And stopping government waste seems way more important to me now than funding government programs.
A past version of myself would've called this prioritization problematically selfish. The current, cheerfully cynical version of me that college created knows I can spend my money much more wisely than any of the politically correct stoners with questionable degrees who are running the show in DC.
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