I found the perfect dress on a spiritual trip to Goodwill. I loved the color, loved the cut, and as I searched for a price, I saw this majestic beast had built-in shorts. The perfect dress was not a dress at all, but a romper (a big kid onesie offering the cuteness of a dress whilst enabling full body movement).
Until this moment, I wore dresses I liked the look of but never felt comfortable moving freely in. This idea, that there was an option to have the look of a stylized dress and the practicality of gym shorts, was something that never occurred to me. Holding the romper, I felt a new sense of pride in finding clothing that worked for me rather than continuing to work myself around clothing––a notion I’ve been trying to carry into my academic life.
Recently, in attempts to get my study abroad paperwork in, I’ve been meeting with a host of faculty members for their signatures.
I expected the meetings to be a quick sign and “how exciting!” However, the interactions left me feeling down and behind. Though most professors gave me the sign and smile, more than a few professors focused on how I have yet to finish my language requirement and how that will “jeopardize my graduation.”
I left angry and confused because my class schedule has been something very conscious and deliberate. Yes, I’m a rising junior who needs to take language, but I’m also a rising junior who has completed their major. I’ve sat in my higher level major classes with seniors trying to balance Comps, struggling with deadlines and being generally over-extended. This inspired me to take the heavy theory and heavy writing classes now. By the time I’m a senior, I’ll be in language 101, entry-level whatever, get through my Comps and call it a day. This is my plan, and though it may not be what everyone else is doing, it has and will continue to work for me.
It was hurtful then to be greeted with doubt, regulations and advice about what I was “supposed” to be doing in an institution that prides itself on supporting students finding their academic way. We walk into Occidental being told we are individuals on our own paths, and then, suddenly, we’re alone in the woods and we find out our “unique path” led us to bears, bad Wi-Fi and CORE classes we have no interest in taking.
In terms of my addiction to Good Will, listening to professors tell me I’ve taken my classes wrong felt like the hokey-pokey zipper dance I do when I’m running late to Christmas dinner, trying to squeeze into last year’s “Nana approved” outfit and wishing I had one of those “laid back” families you hear about in California. I have always been a gym shorts kind of person and always figured my education would follow suit.
I think Occidental (professors, students and administrators) needs to be more conscious that there is no single right way to graduate from a liberal arts college. As an institution that prides itself on being “diverse” (ha) we should be building and supporting all students and their individual paths more than comparing and regulating “supposed tos” and “should haves”.
Yes, we are so young that often we need guidance, advice, teaching, healing, help and tough love, but no matter our age or our experiences, we know more about ourselves than anyone else. And when someone is telling us we are wrong, when we know we are right, we don’t need to feel pressured or belittled by them.
The mindset of wearing uncomfortable clothes just because they look good is similar to taking the job we hate but our parents want us to have, dating the kid we’re not into but our friends love or taking CORE classes first, when we’d rather be exploring our major. To me, getting through college is not so much about doing what you’re told you should be doing, but doing what you know is right for yourself. And, if you take a second to look, you’ll notice the happy people are the ones wearing the comfy clothes.