The University contradicts, as light does.
Just as light brings with it patterns of hues as it does shades, the university is as much as an imaginative space as it is a prohibitive one. The labyrinth of manners and forms that one must learn and maneuvre lifts some up and hems others in. The canvas of departments and programmes and offices supports but also rigourously sorts and sieves. Almost of Benthamian character, all these form part of a mechanism that seems almost to be determinedly tracing our existences to each step and breath.
Such is the way the university imposes itself on us. Time in the university seems like an endless struggle between succumbing to the edifice of the university and grasping tightly to our authenticity.
This is thus not a hopeless or careless probe at the university, without regard for the gift that this education is; This is an attempt to reconcile the mechanisms that are seemingly inevitable in the institution and the humanity in the institution – the humanity that each of us bear.
Some days we perhaps lose the fight. On days like these, it feels as though I have become a shadow of myself; I am dulled, somber, and —
If doing is to progress, with the effect of each action being additive, to be undone is to reverse and revert. We become undone in the sense of being laid bare, losing our personality and integrity to become the same grains.
There is no room for mischief and naivety as the system that it is heaves on us, much as humidity in the atmosphere that clings to our skin. Here, the air is thin and the pressure high. No longer is there jostling in the sense of playful nudges, in the way the wind tousles fallen leaves, breathing brief flight into some and chasing others into spirals; In its place, is a jostling of another kind, a shoving and scrambling in the way gusts of wind compete for escape through tiny crevices in walls and gaps in fences.
With my output and potential levelled against rubrics, I am neatly angled and stacked against my neighbours. I am —
All speech being of polished statements, and each action a carefully calculated move. I am then taken to be translated into a letter grade, myself a percentile among others. For, the university does not forgive. A misstep becomes immortalised in the impressions that are repeated and restored with each mention of my name in social circles that are not mine. A moment of foolishness is worn into the cumulative grades that only seem to dip through the years.
Unnatural, too, are the identities and relations that bind us.
Would professors not have guessed that students are oftentimes absent in the rows of the lecture theatre, belonging instead to the other-sphere of social media and chat messengers? Are the students most remembered the ones who turn in the best papers, or the ones who work the hardest regardless of their accomplishments? Are the professors most beloved the ones who give them the most generous grades, or the ones who push them the hardest because it is the challenge that makes a person?
Notwithstanding, to speak of us being in a bind hints at a sense of being captive, of being beholden to expectations apart from ourselves – might we all really simply be unwilling parties of a transaction or victims of our habitat? We assume identities that are quite apart from ourselves, and engage in relations marked by motives or interests that we know to be arbitrary.
We are bound by the system that the university is, for it commands an obedience for itself to function. This rigidity bleeds through its more organic elements of missions and values, undergirding every motion and decision.
Yet, this negativity is to forget that environments emerge as a result of and morph with its inhabitants. As dwellers, here, it is perhaps upon us to re-convene in this space. In this way, we might possibly find a way to not lose the fight, to transcend the institution and live beyond. It is then in this prospect that I await and hope.
If the university must be conceived as a location of transactions, I’d like to hope it conceives of itself as a business of enchantment. That the rich souls of the educators in professors might penetrate the darkness of the institution, to bring an enrapturing of sorts, even intoxication, of ideas magical. Of a teaching of values for a life worth living. That we as students, too, may allow ourselves to be captivated thus. What I await and hope for is perhaps most succinctly encapsulated in the notion of being honest, as the humans we are and can be.
In becoming undone, we become fields of openness, where winds might continue to tousle, bringing new seeds and blooms. And it is in this light, that I hope I might continue to be inspired and believe that we might become stronger and better humans through the university.
That, I believe, might be an honest and natural state of being, in spite of and within the rigidity and the unnaturalness that the institution should or might be.
in this University, I will be.
Illustration by Mathew Borrett.
About the Author
Mad for adventure and stories, Jesslene often walks down unmarked streets and talks up wild strangers. Leading quite a monochromatic, unplugged life, she also loves wandering about.