It’s that time of the year. The days are growing shorter, a slight chill haunts the evening air, and St. Catharines braces for the annual migration of Brock/Niagara students into the city. Yes folks, it’s back to school time. Unlike elementary, or secondary school, returning to university or college is a bit more exciting – especially if you’re from out of town. As in year’s past, a new crop of fresh faces will grace the campus, eager to begin their first year of studies. It’s been a few years (although not that many), since I graced the halls of the Ivory Tower, so when I was asked to write this piece, I’ll admit my concern was sounding like the old dude in the corner, muttering something about, “back in my day…”. Then again, university was a pretty tumultuous affair for me. My university experience was dotted with massive failures, existential crisis, eventually resulting in a very nice, very expensive, piece of paper. In short, I know a few things, and have the OSAP debt to prove it.
Sitting down to write this, I figured I’d talk to someone with an up-to-date perspective on university life. I turned to an old friend, who is now a professor of political science at Loyola University Chicago. I wanted to know if there was any truth to the myriad of stories about political correctness on campuses. Are today’s students really that sensitive? He was quick to respond that for the most part, not much has really changed. Aside from a few isolated incidents, it’s not an issue he, or his colleagues, have really had to deal with. To quote, “despite what you’ve heard, the kids are alright. You’ll be alright too. Do your reading”. Taking it a step further, I asked him what other advice, if any, he would offer to a new student stepping into the lecture hall. Essentially, succeeding at school comes down to a willingness to be challenged and have your assumptions questioned. Passionate participation, and questioning, is an important part of the educational process. The advice makes sense if you consider that you’re not paying thousands of dollars just to have the shit you think you know confirmed. However, if that is your attitude, be prepared for one Hell of an intellectual come-uppance.
To avoid said come-uppance, I would suggest the Socratic Method – and I don’t mean questioning your friends to the point of frustration. I mean adopting the wisdom of knowing nothing. I thought I knew a lot when I arrived at university. I had spent the summer before heading off to first year being a total dork, and reading things like The Prince by Machiavelli (I took Political Science). I thought I’d get a jump start on being a smart ass. Turned out, my new classmates were far more prepared. I spent most of the first few months picking intellectual debates with kids who were just better read than I was. I would have been better off spending my energy listening, and doing my readings, instead of pretending I knew what everyone around me was talking about.
St. Catharines is also a much different city than it was when I was picking schools. I went to Denis Morris High School – literally down the street from Brock. I ended up going out of town for my post-secondary, partly because I felt that Brock would feel too much like an extension of high school. I liked my friends from my DM days, but all of my siblings had moved away for school, and I wanted the same experience. St. Catharines was also in a bit of a funk. The downtown had none of the interesting record shops, cafes, and venues that it does today. In 2017, you’ll find life outside the classroom in this city. No doubt you’ll make yourself at home in one of the downtown cafes, where you will annoy the shit out of me. No offence, but if I had a nickel for every time I’ve had to sit next to a conversation about Marx, I’d have a least 20 cents.
But, like the feverish little wanna-be Bolshevik you are, debate Marx you shall. Or at least whatever theory or issue from whatever subject matter you may be studying. That’s the point of University – it is the space for such discussions. And let’s face it, you’ve got a few years before society actually places any expectations on you. Enjoy. Just remember to get out of your residence room every so often. St. Catharines has a great scene, avail yourself of it. Blow some of that OSAP money on a few shows downtown (just don’t do what I did and blow ALL of it). That said, this ain’t high school. You are responsible for your own education. Don’t ask the prof what’s on the exam. It’s the dumbest question you can ask, and will no doubt invite the answer, “everything covered in the course”. Don’t feel you have to make a comment at every lecture for the sake of hearing your own voice. Your classmates will hate you – and rightly so. Texting in class is rude. The prof can see you, and will kinda hate you a little bit for it. Now that I’ve successfully come off sounding like the old dude in the corner, welcome to the 2017/2018 academic year, and welcome to St. Catharines.