By Malia Mendez
In a fit of frustration at his students’ begging for exam-pertinent information and disillusionment at his extended philosophical soliloquies, my art history professor (to put it in an academic diction) ~ sorta lost his chill and popped off ~ with the retort:
“We have to get beyond the idea that every fucking thing I say needs to be instrumentalized.”
At first I saw this as a dope move, but as I told more people how bold I found his sentiment, I unearthed his inconsistency: if my professor didn’t want us to be so focused on commodifying his lectures into tangible principles we could study for exams, then why is he giving us exams at all?
After all, he is a tenured professor with a completed doctorate, steady income, and little need to continue impressing this university, or the planet. He holds a drastically different stature than students, and yet he expects us to be able to disregard the realities of academia as he is permitted. I — a lowly humanities student whose successes will largely hinge on my ability to somehow shoulder crippling stress, all the while maintaining decent academic stature for the next four years — cannot simply refuse to commodify my thoughts. In fact, this institution’s entire job is to commodify my thoughts.
All that to say — Stanford is teaching me a lot of valuable things, but it utterly sucks at cultivating my creativity. Looking at the Grind pitch sheet this week felt like staring at an abyss — I couldn’t think of anything to say because every thought I’ve had for the past two months has been dictated by the work I’ve been assigned. My creativity belongs to my papers, not to me.
This past weekend, I went on an intercollegiate faith conference where Stanford students spent free time either unproductively panicking about work or semi-productively doing it. I watched other schools play pickup beach volleyball games, form music circles and even just sit to doodle on the backs of programs. Then there was the cluster of us stress-cases, wondering what it would be like to have a life outside of school. Like genuinely, what the hell is a work-life balance?
I refrain that Stanford is an enormous blessing, and I know plenty of those kids would give a lot to be here. Some days, I do feel immense gratitude. But these days, the frustration is strong. Stanford talks a big game about catering to self-care, but imposes rigid attendance policies and takes weeks to give you real psychological help.
Stanford insists how badly we need sleep, and then professors give homework as though theirs is the only class we’re worried about. Stanford says to learn how to manage our time well and expects us to carve out the time in our schedule to attend help seminars about time management.
It’s not their fault. And it’s not mine, at least not completely. The reality is that the elite university cannot help but push us. 4.3% means you’ve demonstrated you know what it means to work your ass off, even when it’s not good for you. We were accepted here because we were the ones who panicked, the ones who strove desperately for excellence even when we were only demanded sufficience.
In other words, I feel that being a student here requires you to sell a little bit of your soul long enough to purchase it back when the Stanford diploma gets you a job with regular hours and free time to spare. In our jobs (at least I hope), we will leave the work on the desk, clock out, lock our doors and go home to a bed uncluttered with textbooks and papers.
It’s been preached to me that I still have the power here. Surely I can set aside the work, pursue my own creative writing rather than the ten-page, 18-source essay that’s due in a week! But at least at this point, I don’t see the instrumentalization and commodification of my every thought halting any time soon.