A Letter to UChicago’s Class of 2020

First of all, welcome!

The UChicago community is so excited to welcome you into the fold. Here, you will be challenged, you will grow, and you will experience a range of viewpoints — often contradictory to your own. You will create your own support group for late nights in Harper that happen all too frequently. You’ll laugh with your housemates and explore the unique wonders that Chicago has to offer.

These sentiments may not have been entirely clear in your first welcoming letter to one of America’s most prestigious universities. I’m sorry that your first welcome from our administration was tinged with such a negative tone — a tone that signals hypocrisy and a fundamental misunderstanding of what the administration is actually trying to counter.

UChicago is a rigorous community that needs the freedom of speech to allow for the academic growth you will experience (and I can promise you that you will). You’ll likely get into some arguments in your Sosc class about what exactly Marx means when he talks about the commodity fetish. You’ll maybe think that Freud is absolute garbage or that Adam Smith is incredibly dry. Or maybe you’ll think the opposite. The great thing about UChicago is that you will be held accountable for your opinions. You’ll be pushed outside your comfort zone. You’ll face great discussion and sometimes some not so great discussion. Either way, you’ll experience personal growth.

Freedom of speech is something that is upheld on our campus, for the most part, and I am glad that it is. I hope you use your own freedom of speech to question the world around you and engage in the controversies that will eventually be buzzwords on campus and YikYak. Hold your administration to their views and demand a diverse community of students. I hope that you learn to recognize your place within the community around you, and how your own upbringing tinges your worldview. I hope your own freedom of inquiry can lead you to the realization that freedom of speech and supplying adequate resources to students in need, don’t necessarily stand in opposition to each other.

In fact, they generally support each other. Our freedom of speech allows us to listen to marginalized groups’ experiences and learn from them. Our freedom of speech is only enhanced when students feel that they will be respected and are able to speak freely. I hope that you feel this respect when you enter the classroom this September. I also expect that you respect the viewpoints of your fellow classmates. We all thrive when we are able to extend empathy and compassion to those around us. Our campus grows when diverse viewpoints are able to be debated and discussed.

This letter, however, wasn’t meant to convince you of my own viewpoint on two polarizing topics brought up by our administration — trigger warnings and safe spaces. It wasn’t meant to talk about the pedestal of privilege that UChicago stands on. This was meant to give you a warm welcome to the community that I have come to love so much, albeit its flaws.

While the administration was fallacious in their own letter to you, I can assure you that the community as a whole isn’t always so callous. We’re a lot better than the comments on Overheard would lead you to think. I’ve created an incredible support group on this campus — one that I am thankful for everyday. I’m thankful to have a group I can bounce ideas back at and receive constructive criticism.

When you finally join us this fall, you will be welcomed by a house that is truly so excited to have you there. You’ll be nervous, you’ll be excited, and you’ll be a little bit sleep deprived (but all those late nights in the lounge are worth it). You’ll have a whole lot to do and whole lot to talk about. You’ll take your first Hum class, and if you’re like me, have a professor that was so excited to teach you, he talked so fast you couldn’t understand him. You’ll likely not do so great on your first paper, which is a good sign that there is room for improvement — which you will. You’ll join some amazing groups with some incredible people that you’re really lucky to know. You’ll think back on all the nights you got enough sleep and wonder why you didn’t get more. You’ll drink one too many Red Bulls and finish a p-set in a fury of caffeinated glory. If you took Self (which I encourage you to do), you’ll make a lot of references to collective effervescence or Freud, and have an existential crisis. You’ll get your participation points for the day by going on a scathing critique of an outdated philosopher (whichever one you pick). You’ll enter a challenging environment that sometimes gets the best of you — and you’ll lean on your friends when it does. You’ll take some Core class that you groan about going to everyday. You’ll complain about a pretentious classmate at the house table, all while eating your third bowl of cereal. But overall, I’m hoping you have a good time.

As a rising second year, I remember the feelings of nervousness and excitement all too well. I remember sitting back and being amazed by the group of students I got the privilege to join. I remember looking through all the RSOs I could join and planning to join at least ten (which PSA: isn’t feasible). I remember feeling that I found a community I fit in with and being amazed by the people who really knew so much more than me. As the year came to a close, I remember being frustrated with our own administration.

There’s a lot to experience at UChicago and I hope that experience, at the end of it, turns out to be a good one. Welcome to the University of Chicago!

Catch ya’ in Harper this fall,

Katie