By Annie Sheslow
The harshest thing a professor ever commented on one of my papers was that “my technique became a parody of what I was trying to achieve.” Admittedly, my strategy of bleeding dry every possible meaning of a William Carlos Williams poem and then continuing to beat it to a pulp with an analytical stick deserved criticism, but I am not sure it merited being branded as the “Weird Al” Yankovic of critical writing.
Though I was taken back by the professor’s biting words, I felt reassured both by the fact that it was accurate and that I knew I could always soften the blow by discussing the paper in office hours.
Both these facts indicate my faulty, misinformed relationship with authority. I am the child of a former Peace Corps volunteer and a Dead Head who guided me to Montessori kindergarten and then 12 years of Quaker school, during which I sang a lot of children’s gospel songs and learned that conflicts get solved by taking time to talk them out on a personal, vulnerable level.
Naturally, my consensus-and-compromise-loving heart chose Kenyon for the tight-knit community and chance to learn from professors who valued similarly egalitarian “Kumbaya” methods of working through issues.
Although I knew I was naïve, I realized just how sheltered my definition of authority was when I worked as a lowly intern for a production company in Manhattan this summer. One day, I made a mistake with the phone and ended up putting the second-in-command producer on hold for two minutes. He yelled at me, and like an adult, I excused myself from the office to break down in tears at a nearby park. I was shocked that a fellow human being existed on such a different plane that his two minutes became more precious than a family scrapbook bedazzled with diamonds. I knew the producer did not want to discuss my mistake constructively in his office, and I had a Dorothy Gale-like realization that I was not in Gambier anymore.
As an editor of the Opinions section of the Collegian this year, I have seen the campus produce enlightening responses as well as argumentative ping-ponging and dirt-slinging to address conflicts. Certainly the College is imperfect, and a quick flip to Yik Yak proves that students (and possibly humanity as a whole) can be consistently terrible.
While fielding the constant criticisms in the Opinions section can be frustrating sometimes, the chance to speak to our ignorance, errors and issues in a space in which constructive comments are encouraged and heard is not a chore but a privilege.
I don’t want to be standing on some kind of already-nostalgic soapbox, but I can say the “real world” outside the Kenyon bubble is almost as scary as MTV’s Real World, in the sense that there is a lot of yelling and no one listens. Kenyon helps students identify, analyze and speak helpfully about what matters, though these voices probably will not be heard on the same clear register outside the College, or will not be heard at all. I know I have little authority to harp on postgraduate reality like some collegiate Andy Rooney when I have barely experienced it. However, I do think there is value in the shelter of the Kenyon bubble, if only for the way it amplifies and echoes our tiny voices.
Annie Sheslow ’15 is an English major from Wilmington, Del. Contact her at email@example.com.