Manic Pixie Dream College?
Look at any of the hundreds of college admissions’ pamphlets you got in the mail your junior and senior year of high school. You’ll likely see smiling faces, energetic professors, disproportionate diversity representation, picturesque gothic buildings, dorm rooms that look way too nice with laughing friends, and a general collegiate dream world. This makes sense. Kenyon, like every other college you looked at, is trying to sell itself. They want you. But this romanticized vision of college persists past the acceptance letters and high school graduations.
How many times did you hear that college would be the best four years of your life at your graduation? Or over the summer? Or during orientation? How many times were you told that you will love Kenyon? How many times were you promised intellectual conversation with your new friends while walking down Middle Path? Kenyon places itself on a pedestal with promises of intellectualism, deep and lasting friendships, and a sense of belonging.
But what about when the reality inevitably can’t live up to the hype? Kenyon is not utopia. It is not, despite what a YouTube video would lead you to believe, Camelot. It is not perfect. Upperclass Counselors, Community Advisors, Orientation Staff, Academic Advisors, and a whole host of other advisory groups sit atop of their one, two, or three years of college experience proclaiming the Kenyon Dream, while seemingly forgetting just how difficult the beginning of college can be.
Let me be clear, there are moments at Kenyon that hold true to the image that society espouses about higher education. There are intellectual conversations that happen, you will make important and impactful friendships, and you will experience personal growth. Yet these moments do not occur immediately after arriving at Kenyon. These moments take time. But we don’t say that. We don’t tell first years that they won’t experience a sense of belonging right away, we don’t tell first years that with the highs of college, come lows.
Yes, as upperclass students we should get first-years excited about their new home, but not at the expense of being honest. Instead of normalizing feelings of stress and anxiety by acknowledging that they exist, we hide them under proclamations of perfection and collegiate utopia. During my first year at Kenyon, I found myself wondering if something was wrong with me when I didn’t experience the idealistic image of Kenyon that was painted for me during orientation. In my three years as a first year community advisor, I’ve seen this same pattern repeated again and again in subsequent first year classes.
It’s time that Kenyon stop perpetuating the image of a perfect college experience and start acknowledging that college is hard. It’s time to stop telling students that college is the best four years of their lives. College can be great, it can be a time of incredible growth, but it is also a time of uncertainty and anxiety. Let’s talk about it.