Oberlin Blogs

Fears and Frustrations Turn Into Winter Term Dreams

February 8, 2015

Samantha Smylie ’17

Winter Term is a wonderful time of the year for many Oberlin students because it is a nice lengthy break in between semesters to do as you want. You can read tons of books and write an essay on how they connect to one central idea, you can knit a blanket, go to another city and explore the sites, you can volunteer at an organization in your hometown, or do an internship. It's all about finding what you want to do in order to help you understand what you want to do in the future as a career or to explore a new hobby. I simply love winter term.

For those of us in the Midwest and on the East Coast, we received cold weather and tons of glorious snow. Due to this normal occurrence, I decided to go home to Chicago, otherwise known as the Windy City. After such a long and tiring semester, I really needed to be around my family and think about my unsure future here at Oberlin.

Last semester, I took Research Methods 1 and Cultural Psychology because I was preparing to become a psychology major. Research Methods went very bad for me. I really could not grasp the concepts quick enough, which resulted in me getting low grades on exams. I was working extremely hard to understand the material, while other students seemed to get it. I began to slip in my other classes. The depression that I thought I had managed started to surface again. I could not even stay in class for long periods of time because I would get very anxious. It was a horrible experience for me mentally.

On the other hand, Cultural Psychology frustrated me. Cultural psychology is a subfield of psychology that tries to understand how universal psychological phenomena are or what psychological illnesses are of a cultural manifestation. To test universality, sample sizes that were compared included White American students and East Asian Students. From the perspective of a Black woman, I found this frustrating because I wondered why weren't there any Black students in these studies. Was it because the psychology departments at other schools were exclusive and lacked the number of Black students? Is there a difference between White Americans and Black Americans which would have added another variable to the study? Or was there an assumption that there isn't any difference between Black Americans and White Americans? Maybe there should be some research into the difference between subcultures in America. I also felt like there was some sort of fetishization of East Asian cultures. Which left me confused and irritated by the field. There are other issues about the psychology department that I will blog about at another time.

At the end of the semester, I was heartbroken. I wanted to study psychology because it gave me the language to talk about issues that affect people on an individual level - for example how beauty standards affect women. However, I would have to take two more semesters of research methods, which seemed like a never-ending nightmare. Also, due to the department's lack of diversity in course material (like classes on gender, sexuality, and race) and professors (the department is predominately white), I was unsure whether the psychology department could advise me on the research that I wanted to do.

As a result of these fears and frustrations, I decided to create an individual major for winter term. An individual major (IM) offers students a chance to create an entirely different major that does not exist as a department in Oberlin or take an interdisciplinary path that is not offered within a department. My idea was to create a track within the psychology department that addresses issues that were nearest to me, like how race, gender, and sexuality affect how individuals view the world around them. I titled it "The Psychology of Marginalized Identities" and my senior research project would talk about how the psychological consequences that western beauty standards have on black women. However, this did not feel like I was forging another path. This felt like I was trying to pull strings from other departments; most of the course work were psychology classes that weren't a part of the psychology department. For instance: "A Social Psychology Seminar: African American Personality" and "Political Psychology."

After creating the proposal, picking out classes in the course catalog, and defining my capstone, I realized that I did not need to go through an entire process of creating an individual major. I need a department that is going to accept all my academic interests and support the research that I want to do. I also realized that I want to use my knowledge of sociology, psychology, politics, and history to become a journalist. I love writing, reading, and exploring the unknown that it seems like a field that I want to dig into.

To conclude, Winter Term is an amazing time to discover something new about yourself. My winter term project led me to a goal that I want to pursue later in life, and I'm excited about that. Nevertheless, I have less than a full semester to declare a major that will make me happy. So, I guess you win some and lose some, folks.

Have a great day.

Question of The Day:
How would you feel if you realized that the path that you planned to pursue was not a good choice for you? What would you do in my situation? Would you force yourself through it or scratch it off your list and travel down a different path?

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