College and Gender through Books

“One of the insights at the core of the college idea—indeed of the idea of community itself—has always been that to serve others is to serve oneself by providing a sense of purpose, thereby countering the loneliness and aimlessness by which all people, young and old, can be afflicted.”

from Andrew Delbanco’s College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been spending more time reading books just for fun. It’s been a good reminder of how I can learn about other people’s perspectives on the world just by cracking open a book. I know I’m not great at writing book reviews, but I do know that articulating my thoughts helps me make better sense of books. So here goes the rambling…

College

Big Idea #1

The first book I finished reading last week was Andrew Delbanco’s College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be. Delbanco talks about how college as an entity first arose in the United States and how it has evolved since then. The message that really stuck with me, though, was the idea that colleges have done a great job of cementing socioeconomic inequality in the United States. A person’s chance at having a high-paying job is higher if he or she attends a brand name college or university. However, at the same time, the children who are most well-equipped for and most likely to be admitted to those institutions are children who already come from families that have a decently high income. These children can afford to attend quality schools and participate in extracurricular activities outside of the classroom. Thus, the people who are more likely to be effective change makers in struggling communities (i.e. people who themselves grew up in these communities) are the people who have significantly more hurdles to overcome to make those changes. According to Delbanco, “it is often students of lesser means for whom college means the most—not just in the measurable sense of improving their economic competitiveness, but in the intellectual and imaginative enlargement it makes possible.” I don’t have any solutions to this problem, but it does remind me to be thankful that I have the opportunity to attend such an incredible institution myself. I think it gives more meaning to all the time I dedicate running outreach programs and making sure they are accessible to as many students as possible.

Big Idea #2

Delbanco also brings up the idea of meritocracy, which was first coined by Michael Young in The Rise of the Meritocracy. Delbanco explains that we have become

a society “dedicated to the one overriding purpose of economic expansion,” in which “people are judged according to the single test of how much they increase production.” In such a society, “the scientist whose invention does the work of ten thousand, or the administrator who organizes clutches of technicians” is counted “among the great,” and intelligence is defined as “the ability to raise production, directly or indirectly.”

Especially at a school like MIT, this statement could not ring truer. But does it have to be that way? I feel myself trying to tear away from this definition of success and coming up with new ideas regarding what it means to live a meaningful life. I haven’t figured out the answer, and maybe I never will, but I definitely think it’s something worth thinking about it personally rather than blindly accepting someone else’s definition.

Gender

This past weekend, I finished reading If I Was Your Girl, a young adult novel written by Meredith Russo, a transgender woman. The book was written from the perspective of a teenage transgender girl, and it opened up my eyes to an entirely different world. It made me realize that it is quite a luxury to feel comfortable living in my own skin. I can only imagine how lonely, confusing, and frustrating it must feel growing up in a body that does not feel like your own and not having anyone around who can explain what you’re feeling. Anyway, the bottom line was that this book made me think about issues I never even knew existed. Although I am by no means an expert on any of this, I know more now than I knew a week ago.

I’m in the middle of another book right now called Symptoms of Being Human, which is told from the perspective of a gender fluid teenager. To be honest, Jeff Garvin’s novel has been a bit harder for me to understand since I’m still trying to wrap my head around the idea of gender fluidity. It is intriguing, though, to read the thoughts that go through the protagonist’s mind, and hopefully, by the end of the novel, I will have a better understanding of the protagonist’s view on identity.

P.S. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but the protagonists in both If I Was Your Girl and Symptoms of Being Human seem to have a special attachment to the Star Wars saga. Maybe it’s about time I actually watch those movies…

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