What I Learned at the Premier Place for Liberal Learning
I just graduated in May 2017, so this will be my last blog post for Oberlin College. It also means that this is a good time to reflect on what I learned in the last 4 years.
Informing people you attend(ed) Oberlin College is often a politically charged statement--at least for the people who know about the school. Oberlin often plays the star in a narrative seeking to devalue, discredit, and even damn higher education generally, and liberal arts colleges specifically. The story, as I've heard it, goes something like this: colleges are churning out a generation of whiny, overly sensitive, liberally-minded young people, to support the agenda of the Left. These young snowflakes are also teaming up with the mainstream media (except, of course, the dignified Fox News), in a movement that will leave the country in ruins if something is not done. As a young, twenty-something recent college grad, I keep seeing this term "snowflake" come up. While I suppose I would fit into this seemingly derogatory categorization, I think it is important to offer my perspective on what I believe I actually did learn while attending, as someone put it to me at a conference last year, "the premier place for liberal learning."
Before we get into that, let's try to clarify this negative sentiment toward college students, and liberal arts college students in particular.
I did a quick Google search to find some key words and phrases equated or related to being a snowflake. Here are some of the things I found:
- Being offended by everything
- Politically correct
- "If your feelings are more important to you than reason, logic, common sense, or a fair and free election... you might be a snowflake." -Tomi Lahren
- Overly sensitive
- "The left is shutting down the right systematically, and with support of the law enforcement."
If you need an official definition of snowflake, let's use this one: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/the-less-lovely-side-of-snowflake
Here I take up the question: Am I just an indoctrinated, whiny, liberal arts college grad, snowflake?
Some seem to think so.
In the middle of the school year I received an unexpected Facebook message from an old family friend. At first, I found it a little odd because we weren't friends on Facebook, and we hadn't spoken since I was a young boy. We exchanged messages off and on for a couple of days as I tried to keep up with the right-wing opinion pieces she must have an infinite supply of. It became obvious that she was attempting to impart conservative viewpoints upon me, under the premise that I wasn't receiving any exposure to them. Presumably, this was because I was attending Oberlin College, and she had an idea of Oberlin College based on the information she's received and how she's interpreted it.
Usually it's more of a covert thing when dealing with people who feel this way about my having attended Oberlin College, but this time it was overt.
After reading a blog piece she offered to me called "Why Progressives are so Violent," by Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D. I said to her: "Very insightful stuff... [especially] for an opinion piece with no backing or citations."
Her response: "Yes an opinion but obvious based on the type and amounts of riots coming from liberal art universities. Sounds like your [sic] getting indoctrinated as well."
As a Psychology major, I honed my ability to think critically about bias, including my own. After being challenged in this way, I further investigated my own existing impressions. This attempt at self-awareness is why I may actually end up reading and watching more right-wing oriented material even though most people would probably categorize me as more aligned with the American Left than the Right. I can't necessarily speak for all Oberlin students, but at least for me, this woman was wrong to assume that I wasn't receiving a decent dose of conservatism.
I'm perplexed as to how this idea of colleges and universities being hubs for indoctrinating young millennials to become liberal, politically correct, naïve, leftist snowflakes, etc., also assumes that there is not dangerous indoctrination going on elsewhere. And if there is dangerous indoctrination going on elsewhere, doesn't that mean that these arguments are not about the danger of indoctrination per se, but are an attempt to attack mainstream liberal ideas, to the detriment of room for critical thought and searches for truth?
It's likely that indoctrination per se is not what people who argue such things are worried about. With help from Dictionary.com, let's define indoctrination as teaching or inculcating a doctrine, principle, or ideology with the aim to persuade someone that such is true, correct, or right without question. Or, we might say that to indoctrinate is to create ideologues--people who advocate for an ideology because it is that ideology. If it was the case that people were worried about indoctrination itself, then wouldn't they be consistently searching for other ideas outside of their own? For more on these sorts of questions, I highly recommend checking out Jonathan Haidt's book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Disagree on Politics and Religion. I spent some time bouncing around the book, and found some good insights. In short, Haidt argues that people respond to morally charged subjects quickly and find justifications for those quick responses later. But I digress.
Indoctrination seems to be a part of the broader phenomenon of Groupthink.
Psychologists have long identified this phenomenon. We should all be privy to Groupthink, which is what it sounds like. Oftentimes when people get into groups, they come to more extreme, or faulty, or less creative conclusions. This likely happens when people in the group put harmony and cohesiveness above all else and end up conforming to an idea. There should be no doubt that groupthink occurs on college campuses, because it occurs everywhere there are groups of people. Groupthink likely occurs in your neighborhood, your place of religious worship, in our Presidents' cabinets, your Facebook newsfeed, and many other places.
Oberlin College, like other institutions, is a place where students are essentially paying subscribers--similar to how you might subscribe to paying for the New York Times or Netflix. People pay money presumably because they want the product which, in this case, is the education that Oberlin College offers. If this is true, then people who attend Oberlin College may be like-minded in some ways and might differ in other ways.
With that being said, Oberlin College is a unique place. While it resides in Ohio, there are as many international students as there are students from its own state. To this day, the people I encountered at Oberlin are some of the smartest people I've ever met. Oberlin is a place that attracts people who have likely never fit into the status quo, and that's what makes it such a special place. While it is likely true that most Oberlin students would probably define themselves as liberal, some other words that come to mind to describe Obies include smart, curious, compassionate, conscious, driven, eclectic, caring, and thoughtful.
I learned more from the people at Oberlin outside of the classroom than I did in it. I wish everyone could have the chance to meet some of the people I have, attend some of the talks I did, engage in some of the conversations I had, find powerful mentors like I did, and play competitive ball with intelligent players just as I was able to throughout my time at Oberlin. Yet some people seem to think schools like Oberlin College ruin many of our youth--a detriment to society entirely.
To the contrary of those naysayers, during my time as a student and varsity athlete at Oberlin College:
- I furthered my curiosity of the human condition
- I improved my capacity to think critically (useful when reading fake news, or when you receive unexpected messages on Facebook with articles containing little to no citations)
- I learned to share ideas out loud and on paper
- I improved my leadership skills so that I can better advocate for myself and help empower others to do the same
- I learned that balance should be sought after--it's okay to have eclectic interests
- I furthered my appreciation for other people
- I found some of my passions
- I learned that the inequalities in our education systems are worse than I previously thought
- I realized that race is a social construct
- In that same light, I realized that people are operating under different definitions and meanings
- I recognized the need to be cognizant about why we believe the narratives we do, as many can be ill-founded
Maybe the most important thing that I took away from my time at Oberlin College was how much I have to grow. In other words, it has become colossally important that I have a growth mindset. For much of my life (and maybe yours too?), I and others around me have had fixed mindsets. Some of us are led to sell ourselves short. In some ways, I believe I have so far. As a recent Oberlin College grad, I want to minimize fixed-mindedness and maximize my growth. My time at Oberlin taught me that this will mean grappling with different ideas, especially the ones that might not taste good immediately.
Signing off as an Oberlin College graduate (and snowflake).
With this being my last blog for OC, you can find me moving forward at zachmooyoung.com
See you there!