Last week, I went to the Hollander language lab. The student employee scanned my ID and paused. “That’s weird,” he said. “Your card says 2016, but the computer system says you graduated in 2015.” This is just the latest in bureaucratic ineptitudes resulting from my status as an off-cycle student. Discovering this fall that the registrar or political science department disposed of my major declaration form at the conclusion of last year is another example. From these two instances and many others, I can only conclude that the College does not care about me. The College doesn’t care about you either. Don’t let the bouncy houses fool you.
The College doesn’t care about me because, quite literally, it has made me insane. For people with genetic predispositions to mental illnesses like depression, bipolar and schizoaffective disorders, the early 20s is the most risky time of brain development. High stress and other mentally and emotionally strenuous conditions (a.k.a. college) can trigger the onset or advancement of these conditions. Meaning, mental illnesses are preventable! I firmly believe that if I had received better care at the College, I would have graduated in 2015.
Instead, what I received as care has ranged from ineffectual to outright damaging. During the height of my depression was an invitation to leave. To return to campus, I was coerced into divulging HIPAA-protected information, the contents of my off-campus therapy sessions, to non-medical profession-als. At the time, there was no 4+ Club for me to find community with other off-cyclists, so I felt very much alone. Without adequate psych services, I had a manic episode. The now-retired psychologist missed it as an early sign of bipolar, so I had two more manic and depressive episodes before he began treating me correctly. His failure to listen to me nearly caused a fatal side effect. I will carry bipolar as a chronic condition for the rest of my life. I have my mental health under control, but it is not because the College cares about me.
The College doesn’t care about you because it doesn’t provide enough opportunities for you to find mentors in your field of your gender or racial background. Because our culture valorizes exhaustion over flourishing. Because it doesn’t truly meet all your financial need. Because it engages in economic and environmental practices that are deplorable. Because it still doesn’t have a department for your history. Because the very structure of “a finals period” sets us all up for unhealthy behaviors. Because tenured professors who have documented histories of preying upon students continue to teach. Because the entry system makes you feel like the unpaid “diversity educator” when you’re the only one of a marginalized background. Because you’re a Junior Advisor and you give your labor for free. Because our sexual assault reporting process, even after all its improvements, still left you reeling. Because some don’t know the difference between “coddling” and accessibility. Because all you are to the College is a future donation check.
To me, care is about holistic wellbeing, which involves nurturing the person behind the student. Each instance of uncaring attempts to strip you of your inherent worth and supplant it with commodity value. The College will never care about you or me because it is an institution and a business. There’s no money in making sure students don’t graduate with trauma. (At least, not until Forbes includes in its algorithm the percentage of demand met by campus counseling.) The College the institution is not interested in preserving our dignity. This is something we must cultivate ourselves.
Stoic philosopher and former slave Epictetus likes to delineate what is in our power and what is not. “In our power are opinion, movement toward a thing, desire, aversion (turning from a thing); and in a word, whatever are our own acts. … And the things in our power are by nature free” even when appearances will have you believe you are hindered (Enchiridion, 11). When I imagine my dignity as within my power, I know it can only be degraded in appearances. In lieu of a donation (which will never ever come), here is a method for fighting for your dignity in a place that wants to squash it: Think about what at the College makes you want to turn away, craft your opinion and move toward that thing. Whenever you come up to an obstacle, hold fast to your power. The College can never take your worth, your dignity or your freedom.
Em Nuckols is allegedly a senior political science major from Minnetonka, Minn. They live on Water Street.