My name is Gwyndolen Benton. I graduated from the University of Washington in 2018 with a degree in Asian Languages & Cultures. Specifically, I studied Chinese language, Chinese-style communism, North Korea, and in the end of my time at university, I studied philosophy.
Since childhood, I’d fantasized about many jobs. When I was very young, I wanted to be a sailor with two missing fingers, I’d also wanted to be a cowboy. By the time I reached middle school I had a more persistent dream; I wanted to be a college professor. I harbored fantasies of entering a lecture hall in a tailored pantsuit and I would describe to my family how I would stand and talk and the level of scholarly professionalism I would embody. I was enamored with academia.
Academia did not only entrance me, but it also became a world in which I felt seen. I could assure myself as a child that, although I might not have many friends or make it onto the varsity sports team I would excel in my studies. I could write essays with ease and actually enjoyed the process of doing so. I could speak about abstract ideas or objects of study with teachers far more comfortably than I could chat with my peers about video games or Pokemon. I felt a vast separation from my peers that I did not know how to bridge or was perhaps afraid to attempt to overcome. Instead of deep friendships, I filled myself with learning. I filled myself with books and companions made of paper. I let the world of academia be the one to see me and to give me value. I was quite proud of my intellectual prowess and ability to succeed in this world of essays and grades. I truly thought that was all I would ever need and that this would fill my life with meaning forever.
The reality of my university education shattered these immature dreams and I am still recovering from this loss today. University was not at all what I had imagined it would be, this goal I had been building towards was not the place I’d pictured. I had envisioned the intellectually challenging and dialectical exchange of knowledge described by Socrates and Plato or John Stuart Mill, in which divergent ideas were encouraged. I had imagined the world of academia to be a place where these differing ideas could challenge one another on the basis of merit rather than institutional or popular support. I had envisioned another place to sharpen my mind with challenging debate, an endless staircase of obstacles leading me closer and closer to true excellence. I never thought that my skill for following supported facts and using them to draw logical conclusions about information would result in reprimand by professors or further social exclusion from my peers. I’d never imagined I’d be excluded from academic engagement. It quickly became apparent to me that I had missed an important memo. I was out of the loop. University was not at all what I had hoped it would be.
It has taken me years to come to terms with my grief, as dramatic as that sounds. Even now I am still deep in the weeds, coming to grips with the loss of the academic institution I had envisioned. I don’t know my place in this world. I long to be in the heart of learning, to swim in that furious river in the pursuit of knowledge. With the degradation of these former temples of truth, where do we go? Where does someone with the heart of an old-fashioned academic go in a world no longer interested in the quest for the truth?
I recall taking a Philosophy of Feminism course that broke my mind. The material we were being taught was so contradictory to what my good sense and experiential knowledge told me. The material often was even contradictory to itself. To succeed in that class, I believe, one must be a master at silencing their gut. I personally have never been very good at quieting my gut feelings. I can fight them for a short time with a great detriment to myself and my sanity, but they have proven to always surface in the end. Needless to say, I was not very good in this class. I remember writing frustrated little notes in the margins of my books. I’d always heavily annotated my texts, but this was something different. Each note was a little gasp of the reality being denied that I could not entirely squash inside myself. How can that be true? Can we not grow? Why must it be this way? I don’t think this is right.
I’ve always been excited by public speaking, proud to demonstrate my grasp of any given topic, and often the first person to raise my hand to respond in class. However, in this course I found myself starting to shrink inside of myself. I had an overwhelming sense that everyone in the class shared some information that I was not privy to. There seemed to be a right answer to most questions that the others would know and that I would not. Suddenly my ability to follow logic and to draw careful conclusions was to my extreme detriment. I did not know the proper script.
This was around the same time that the panic attacks began. I remember noticing that they would happen most right after that class. The class in which the professor taught us to focus on the ways we had been hurt or made weak. She taught us to shy away from feelings of strength and to focus on the minute details of hurt in every interaction. I remember learning that it was best to view the world through a lens of accumulating hurt and insult under the weight of which a good person can never be anything other than a victim. Our professor imparted upon us a feeling of disgust for those without victimhood. To not be crushed by the weight of the world was inescapably seen to mean that your weight must be what is crushing others. The choices were shown to us: you must be weak or you must be bad.
I crumpled under the weight of these lessons. I finished my degree earlier than I had intended and I fled this world of contradictions and depredations that left me quite literally tearing the hair from my head. I ran away from the corruption of academia to the working world and I denied myself the experience of grief. I have lived with the deep sense of my failure ever since then. I want to cease living as the pathetic perpetual victim of postmodernism that I was instructed to become. I want to value strength, to show courage in the face of adversity. I want to stand up to this postmodern mind-fuck and say NO.
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