When prompted for advice, my initial reflex is to cringe. I know when I receive advice from people, the likelihood that I will listen to their advice is completely reliant on how well I know them. That said, I realize that writing a post dedicated to advice from a (likely) stranger may go completely unacknowledged, but it surely can’t hurt. Here are some things I wish I was told as a woman entering the University of Minnesota.
Find something in this huge community to immerse yourself in. I purposely didn’t write “get involved!” because I know that phrase is thrown around so often that it loses meaning. I’ve never been big on organizational involvement. I’m pretty introverted, and the thought of hanging out with a group of people – even people who share similar interests to me – never particularly appealed to me. But when I arrived to the University, I realized that mentality would waste a huge portion of my experience in college. Because our school is so big, I think it’s critical that students find a way to make it feel less like a business, and more like a second home.
For me, my immersion was through my advising community. I was placed into a first-year course that required me to attend a special class three times a week, which was implemented to foster relationships between the small group of students (who were all in the same advising community) the classes held. Though I hated the program for the first eight months, the end of spring semester shed new light on the experience. I suddenly realized that I had friends (not those gross surface friends who ask you to be their lab partner, only to never say hi to you again after the semester ends), and the instructors of the course knew my name. When I passed my adviser in the hallway, she knew my academic goals without having to be refreshed with her notes (which, I’ve heard, is quite common within an institution this massive). I could walk into my advising office and know the people I was around.
Instead of growing bitterly enraged when I feel the University treats me like a number in its database, I remember there’s an area on campus where I know I’m more than a customer. Discover that place for yourself. When you hear a cold, bitter, monotonous financial aid adviser explain disbursement to you over the phone, and you feel like it’s the right time to drop out, buy a hippie van, and drive through Idaho, that connection to the University may be the only thing that stops you.
Don’t fear your professors. When I recall the professors I had during my first semester, the first word that comes to mind for all of them is “authority.” I was freaking horrified of those people. I went into college thinking professors were scholars over 70, who smoke pipes in their larger-than-life offices. I was always too shy to answer questions for fear of looking stupid—I wouldn’t even ask a professor questions in class, rather I would wait until I could email them.
By the time I grew comfortable in the foreignness of a new school, I began to learn that professors are regular people. When you break it down, professors are just big nerds—they are so pumped about a specific subject that they dedicate a large portion of their time to telling other people about that subject.
It was this logic that led me to dispose of the rose-colored glasses I was wearing, and remove professors from the utopian pedestal I placed them upon in my mind. I participated more in class, asked for clarification when I needed it, and tried to convince myself that my statistics professor would not spit in my face if I wanted her to break down the concept of standard deviation one more time.
Now I’m in the middle of my fifth semester at this place, and you’ll often find me challenging the very people I was once in awe of.
Explore courses you’ve been interested in, but haven’t been able to study. I realize that this list is, so far, pretty gender-neutral; but this is a point highlighted specifically for women students.
When I was a new student, I told everyone I was going to be an English major. I didn’t want to teach—but I knew I liked reading and writing. Because of the little variety or choice I had in the courses I took in high school, I didn’t even know that there were other options for people who like to read and write. Too, being an English major felt a bit disingenuous to myself, as it didn’t address my innate passion for the realm of social justice.
I was randomly placed in a journalism class during my first semester due to scheduling conflicts. I wasn’t interested in the media industry, or the concept of professional writing. I thought news corporations were the sources of most evil. I felt nauseous at the thought of calling myself a journalist. How pretentious is that?
It was that random placement into a class that I thought I had little interest in that sparked my declaration as a journalism major, as well as what caused me to discover my eventual minor, cultural studies and comparative literature.
This point is targeted at women students because I didn’t even know that aspects of culture were studied as they are in the CSCL department at the U, and the most fascinating subjects are often about marginalized groups. Between taking courses on sexuality that discuss misogyny, and courses that address homophobia in American culture, I fell in love with a subject that, prior to admission to this University, I didn’t know existed. Specifically, the department gave me my first real exposure to feminism, which brought me to this very blog in the first place.
If you’re a woman student, try your best to take a course in a subject that you deserve to fall in love with. Take a course on women’s writing, women’s studies, or women’s sexuality. Learn about the traditions you’re okay with only because the system we live in brainwashes you to be okay with them. Embrace the fight for equal wages. Discover why the concept of misandry doesn’t exist.
Most importantly, do what the high school education system rarely does: teach yourself that you matter, and that courses about your gender matter, too.
Ignore the infuriating assholes who mockingly ask why we don’t have a “Men’s Center,” because there will be many. Countless times I’ve told my male friends about the position I have as blogger for the Women’s Center, only to have them smugly question the unfairness of not having an equivalent center for men. The reason smugness is all that exists on their faces is because it’s ridiculous to consider that society’s main source of oppression would need an establishment catered to giving them equal opportunity. Every time a man says something of this stature to me, I tell him it’s like a millionaire complaining that the homeless population has access to welfare.
If you feel threatened with these conversations, don’t. Simply tell these boys to research “patriarchy.” Don’t allow yourself to become frustrated. Direct them to the University Men’s Network, and change the subject.
Ultimately, the best advice anyone can give you is to make your four years at the University yours. Do what you’re comfortable with, explore as much (or as little) as you like, and remember that however you end up feeling about your experience has a lot to do with the choices you make during your first year. Don’t let that scare you; rather let it empower you to make decisions that you’ll look back on in a few years and think, “if I hadn’t done that, I have no idea where I’d be.”
I’m thinking that very thought right now. And I must say, I really like where I’ve ended up.