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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Actions speak louder than degrees

<re I came to Carleton, I liked to think that I was very socially aware. Had I ever actually done anything about my beliefs? No, not really. But I believed them.

Then I came to Carleton and learned a lot of things very quickly. One of the biggest of these things is that it’s important to put action behind your words. Not everyone is going to be the busiest activist, but espousing ideals and doing nothing about them is not productive. But something that has preoccupied me for the past few years is how to reconcile my idealism and the realities of my day-to-day life. I think it’s possible, but it has to be conscious.

Carleton can teach us about intersectionality and oppression and activism. But going to college doesn’t automatically make you more socially aware. It doesn’t force you to burst out of your bubbles of privilege; it can let you stay in them unless you undertake your own self-education and start working your way out of the bubble on your own. All you have to do is look at bias incidents that have happened on our campus and on others to see that.

And above all, college can create a new bubble of privilege that might not have been there before. As college students, we are all living, working and studying in “academia.” Going to college has taught me a lot of big words, has gotten me to read a lot of articles and has led me to write a lot of papers, but what does my new knowledge of how academics talk about privilege and oppression and intersectionality matter to people who don’t have the privilege that I have had of attending college in the first place? We can talk for hours in Sayles about economic inequality or access to healthcare or pretty much anything, but does increasing our own knowledge and understanding do anything to contribute to the liberation of oppressed groups? To me, it does not—not by itself. But we can take action while we’re in college, and we can take action through whichever path we choose in the rest of our lives.

Not everyone at this school is going to become a full-time activist or politician. Some are, but most aren’t. The necessary complement to a Carleton liberal arts education is individual, active consideration of how your academic path and career goals will—to use a cliché phrase—actually make the world a better place.

I am not always the best environmentalist; sometimes I mess up and forget to bring my reusable thermos to the dining hall. I am not always the best debater; sometimes the other person is better at arguing than me. I am not always the best activist; there are marches and protests that I have not attended. And I know that I will not always use a reusable mug, I won’t win every argument, and I won’t attend every protest in the future. But we can still use our future goals to advance social justice.
This is something that I think isn’t talked about at Carleton enough. People are passionate about their causes, but how can we apply those passions to our lives after Carleton? Doctors can advocate for equal access to healthcare. Computer scientists can combat gender discrimination in places like Silicon Valley. Teachers can educate students about inequalities in today’s society. Maybe I’m oversimplifying, but I think it’s a simple thing to ask yourself what you don’t like about the field you want to enter, and then ask yourself how you can change it.

To me, this is the way that those of us who don’t plan on becoming full-time activists can make a difference. At this point, I don’t see how I could live any other way. What do my career goals mean if they exist in a vacuum? How does my education matter if I don’t use the knowledge I have gained and will gain in the rest of my time at Carleton to incorporate social justice into my future life? I don’t want to graduate and start simply regurgitating and perpetuating the systems that are currently in place. We all need a reason for why we will do the things we want to do. Our education, and certainly our educational system, is not perfect. But once we’ve gotten that college degree, we have the ability to use it to make actual change.

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