05 February 2009

Official Smith College Rant

It’s odd that since I’ve been abroad and, thus, away from Smith, I’ve become more away of the things about Smith that repulse me. You would think that being away from the college would make me nostalgic for the things I love about it, but it’s only given me more perspective to reflect on the elements of Smith that I’m not so fond of. This is not to say that I’m not at least partly excited to return back there for my senior year, but I have to confess that I am glad it’s only one more year.

There are certainly many great things about Smith. I’ve had a number of amazing professors and classes. Their French department is outstanding. This JYA program is one of the best. And despite what I may say about Smithies, I have met a lot of great people.

But I can’t help but think about how things would have been different somewhere else. Although I’m not completely regretful of the last three years of my life, I am almost positive that if given the chance to choose again I would not have chosen Smith.

To be fair, in this hypothetical situation, I would not choose a women’s college at all. Before I went to Smith, I wasn’t opposed to the idea of single-sex education, but I wasn’t all gung-ho about the women’s college aspect either. I figure that going to Smith was a way to allow me to go to the best college I could get into and that I could afford (thanks to financial aid).

Now, I am beginning to doubt the relevancy of single-sex education. Coming out of high school, where I had been taught by predominantly male instructors and was one a few females in my higher level math and science classes, I was excited at the prospect of tipping the balance at Smith. But I quickly grew tired of the equally skewed worldview that Smith had to offer. Constantly reading texts by and about women is boring and patronizing. As far as I am aware, women still only represent 50 percent of the population; continually framing classes around women is as equally exclusive as – if not more exclusive than – the male-dominated history we are trying to correct. What’s more, this assumption that these are the texts that would speak to us, that we would inherently enjoy and understand, is, as I said, patronizing.

Everything does not have to be framed in the cadre of gender roles and norms. It’s a bit frustrating – and equally unrealistic. In the real world, people do not spend their time sitting around reflecting on our differences like this. In a career, the philosophical reflection of the gender gap and women’s roles in the workplace doesn’t matter. NO ONE CARES. It’s only us at women’s colleges who sit around musing on these things over and over. Yes, women have been oppressed; yes, women at times face difficult challenges; yes, the list goes on; but ruminating on it the way we do at Smith only makes these divides greater and creates an us-against-them mentality. Suddenly every man out there in the real world is a secret chauvinist, fighting to uphold the patriarchy. We’re simply weaving a web of paranoia. It’s ridiculous.

Not to mention the social element of an environment filled with overly dramatic, cliquey females, grasping onto the high-school, popularity-contest culture in which they thrived. The whole thing is unbearably drama filled.

Smith is made up of an odd assortment of various self-selected groups. My *favorite* are the East-Coast elite/wannabes, clinging to Smith’s historic “women’s ivy” status (often because they didn’t get in to Harvard, Yale or Brown). I know those individuals don’t constitute all of Smith, but they do seem to be everywhere you turn.

Maybe it’s the East-Coast thing that’s just not right for me or maybe it’s something special about Smith, but either way I never realized how out of place I would feel as a student on major financial aid among a crowd of rich girls.

And the bureaucracy of the institution that is “Smith College” adds another whole layer of frustration. The college is full of its own history and own false sense of self-worth. In the majority of the country the phrase “Smith College” means very little, but while on campus, they would have you believe that those two magic words bear a burden of history and tradition that is perhaps not even rivaled by Oxford. Surely I exaggerate, but they would have you believe that “Smith College” magically opens doors. It’s not true. I’m not really sure if it ever was true; the college has simply become deluded by its own faux power.

With all that being said, I don’t really know how different things would be anywhere else. Obviously, I have no counter-experience with which to compare it. And despite all this, I don’t think these last three years have been a waste. It’s all part of a greater experience that is life, and part of the fun of it is that you can’t do it over again, even though counterfactuals are inevitable – and fun.

I’d just been thinking about all of that lately…

Musique: "Anthems For a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl" Broken Social Scene

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