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The Carletonian

In response to negativity

<e are plenty of students at Carleton who do not experience the things that you write about, and I can't understand why you feel the need to complain, week after week, that Carleton students are unfriendly, hate their school, etc.
Carleton Senior, on the Carletonian website

First, many respondents spoke positively about campus climate. These findings should be noted and credited. However, upon further reflection and analysis of the data, many of the respondents who shared encouraging and affirmative feedback about the campus climate were members of majority groups.
Executive Summary, Carleton College Climate Assessment Project

Before I begin, I have a public service announcement.

I love watching people do things they’re good at. Love it. You think you know a person, and you get to see this whole new side of them, and it’s awesome.

I’m lucky to have a trusty little square of paper where I get to throw tantrums every week. I know that at least some people will see me do what I do best. But most Carleton students have something like this, some passion that defines them. This isn’t really fair, because our events are sparsely and/or sporadically attended.

So please, do yourself a favor and make friends with the NNB. I’m speaking from experience here. You do not know Carleton until you’ve seen Caroline Giese (’11) dance or Clare Franco (’12) run, or laughed at that kid in Lenny Dee whose name I can’t spell.

The main problem is finding people to go with. Everyone is busy, and more often, everyone hates on everyone else because it’s easy (Cujokra isn’t funny/theater people are lame/The Cave sucks). My life drastically improved when I gave up and started going alone. You might feel like a loser at first, but just remember: If you care, the haters win!

Okay. Now that that’s established, I’m going to explain why I’m so critical all the time.

In 2007, I read the book Class by Paul Fussel. It ruined my life.

Its basically a field guide to the American status system. Fussel describes in dry British wit and brutally accurate detail the ways in which our class trappings express themselves in our clothing, our food, our language and our colleges.

It opened my eyes to how much of a middle-class boor I could be, and to how many upper-middle-class values I harbored. Family quirks I’d always been ashamed of (disdain for television, loyalty to natural fibers, etc.) suddenly made sense. But what was I doing at a second-tier college? If the whole game of higher education was about class, I was losing. I was enduring the charade of liberal arts enlightenment with none of the real challenge.

Surely at a place like Carleton, securely in the top tier, no one would feel compelled to conflate intellectual pursuit with social climbing.

But I was wrong again. Carleton might have been egalitarian once, but the school my parents went to had changed. The ’80s happened, and worse, the ’90s. Along the way, some jerk invented the Common App. There were still white kids in jeans and sandals, but now they had Joes Jeans and Chacos. Even the earthiest granola kids bonded over life-changing, $5000 canoe trips.

And yet we were still not Harvard. Our insecurities were even more buried, and our hypocrisies even more unshakable.

For a while, I tried to ignore this. I had enough privilege and academic skill to get by, and I was determined to win here. I would get my pedigree and have all the fun this fantastic little bubble could offer. If other students were struggling, I would avoid them like the plague. Let them fend for themselves. They were probably just bored and/or boring.

But they weren’t. The more people I got to know, the more I discovered that I was surrounded by talent, and insight, and heartbreaking anxiety.

President Oden used to say that there is no such thing as an average Carleton student. I’m here to remind people that there is no such thing as a Carleton student with no secrets.

Maybe Carleton Senior, that brave Internet commenter, was a disenfranchised black lesbian who’s defied all the odds and enjoyed every moment of her Carleton experience, in which case I respect her opinion. But here’s a thought experiment: Let’s pretend the fictional people I wrote about last week each had a different psychological issue – chronic depression, an eating disorder, alcohol dependence and a learning disability. Would that make it easier to understand why it’s so important to talk about feelings of isolation?

I cannot write about being black, or gay, or physically disabled. I think trying would just be offensive. But I do know about social and academic alienation. And until everyone here is happy, until a lot fewer than 35 percent of students have seriously considered leaving Carleton, I’m going to keep finding things to criticize.

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