A Facebook status of a current student just punched me in the chest. The student expressed despair in realizing the disconnect between their classwork and it’s ability to alleviate the troubles that are plaguing their home. Many of us know this despair all too well.
We sit in our classes and listen to pretentious students argue over the semantics of dead white men. We read in our favorites spots on campus but struggle to take it all in because we’re thinking primarily of finishing the absurd amount of text that has been assigned. We type and type until enough bullshit has brought us to the essay’s assigned word limit. Meanwhile, our families are back home, still struggling. They are in the “real world” where real institutionalized racism and real inequality are close to knocking the life out of them. Being here instead of there just feels so wrong.
Pursuing a higher education is supposed to be the way to fight back against the troubles plaguing our homes. But the reality of the situation is that for four years, we’re separated from our homes and no immediate action can be taken to unburden our families. And four years is a long ass time. Being separated for that long makes it easy to latch onto the alluring advice that almost every well-intentioned professor is spitting at us: do what makes you happy…don’t worry about the money. How dare we focus purely on our own happiness and our own pockets? How self-centered that would make us. We for damn sure didn’t get here on our own so why turn our backs on those struggling loved ones who made sacrifices for us to be here in the first place? They’re still hurting, and a lot of it stems from trying to do better for us. Us.
But even when we do try to academically pursue what will seemingly help our families, it feels meaningless. We sit in our classes while our families are struggling to pay the bills. We read in our favorite spots while our families are overworked. We type and type while our families are disintegrating with the cities they reside in. We all come from somewhere and sometimes that somewhere is Baltimore, Ethiopia, or Nepal. Our homes continue to burn while we sit and read and write.
There’s not much we can do quickly here for our homes, and that’s the harsh reality. That part won’t change. But as sick as it may sound, we need to be aware of the fire destroying our homes and we need to let it singe our eyes and our fingertips every single day. The more aware we are, the better. And the stark reminder of our current helplessness towards helping our home situations needs to plunge us forward through these four years so that we can be in a position where we can finally put the fires out. If we do not continue, we will remain in this helplessness. Trying to enact change with a college degree seems to be the most efficient way nowadays.
Toni Morrison is quoted as telling her students that “When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.” Our education is not just a grab-bag candy game. For a lot of us, maybe all of us, we are using our education to empower our families, our communities. No matter how guilty we feel sitting in our dorm rooms writing AC Voice articles or writing a physics lab report, we have to continue. The difference that we want to make feels far away and the work that we’re doing doesn’t seem to effect the change we want as immediately as we desire, but we’re getting there. Really, we are. Important change has never happened overnight.