By MC Raterman
As the summer wanes and the nights grow longer once again, many of us return to a familiar place: the classroom. We spend these newly protracted evenings pouring over readings, drafting papers, and in club meetings. So too, we begin to return to a life dictated by a calendar and a clock.
From the ages we are barely self-aware, up until we can no longer (likely, no longer afford to), we repeat this routine. As children, we may spend our summers with a sense of unbound freedom. We may have been free to wake up and to sleep when we chose to. Free to go where we pleased and do what we pleased. Free to take on as few, or as many projects as we saw fit. As we got older, maybe we spent our summers on long vacations, at a summer camp in a remote forest, or even in love. Summer thus recalls Marx’s description of life free from alienation, “to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner… without ever becoming a hunter, fisherman, shepherd, or critic.”
But, conversely, many of us spent our summers intensely alienated from our labor, performing the menial work that many do not see fit for ‘adults’: working for the lowest wages which the law allows. We were told it would be worth it.
Maybe we gave up these precious moments of summer freedom so that we might have some ‘spending money’ off at college. More probably, though, it was to pay for college itself.
We have also been told that a college degree is the path to security. And that even if it may or may not be the path to one’s self-actualization, it will at least guarantee food on the table. But as many have begun to learn, this promise is nothing more than bourgeois ideology.
In the United States, there is currently an outstanding student loan debt of 1.5 trillion dollars. The 44 million people who struggle under the yoke of this debt owe an average of over 37,000 thousand dollars each. Sooner or later the capitalist class will realize that this is an unpayable debt, and the ensuing crisis will put yet another nail in it’s coffin.
In the same way that this ideology delivers an untenable economic promise which may be the eventual fate of the bourgeoisie, there is also, of course, a social promise.
We are told that college will be the best four years of our life. We leave our families, often our hometowns, and maybe even partners to live these four years. We are told that off at college we will meet brilliant professors who will become our mentors, fascinating people who will become our closest friends, and exciting people who will become our new lovers and our eventual spouses.
Even if some of these promises may indeed manifest themselves to be true, we may still find that we have been deeply misled. Though we are told we will find classmates just like us and fit into a social niche, we arrive to find we are the skipped stitches in tight-knit social cliques. Though we are told we will take courses and study materials that speak to our passions, we must instead sit through mundane classes to complete a monolithic core curriculum. Though we are told that campuses are radical places full of dissident students, we arrive to find the population apathetic, even reactionary.
Indeed, in many ways, the campus is not as much of a social place as it is a pseudo-social place. This is especially true of private universities. Students are involved on campus, but often only as a means to buff a resume. Students are free to start their own clubs, and receive funding for it, but only once the university okays it and every event and publication associated with it. Residential administrators can supervise who enters the dorm, and the goings-on associated with these people. Students elect a president and a cabinet, but their function and impact are ambiguous. A president and a board of donors machinate out of sight and reach from the students. The examples go on.
In truth, college campuses are nothing more than crude reflections of legitimate societies, which impede the intense energy and possible radical nature of youth. But in the same way the economic oppression of campus will turn around to undermine the bourgeoisie, so too will this social oppression.
While one cannot simply refuse to pay tuition, one may indeed refuse to engage with the culture of one’s campus, and instead engage in that of the surrounding city. While not realistic for every university, here in Omaha every campus is in immediate proximity to vibrant working-class communities. There are arts scenes, music scenes, community centers, libraries, and countless radical organization for one to become involved in. It is through this participation by which true social progress, working-class solidarity, and the beginnings of mass movements are built.
So, this Fall, rather than taking on yet another commitment or remaining convinced that changing your campus is worth the effort, contribute to The Triumph instead.