How college made me a better feminist
It’s been a few months since I graduated college, and now that I’ve received my first loan statement I’m starting to take stock of all the things I learned in those not-so-ivy-covered-halls over the last four years. I could say things like the pyramid writing structure is so integral to journalism, or that there’s actually a word for what trolls all over the Internet have been doing for years. But if I’m being honest, the most important things I learned in college weren’t in any textbook I spent way too much money on; they were in the friendships I built and the late-night poetry slams I went to with my best friend. They were buried in the absolutely awful year I spent living with the worst roommate in the world, and the weeks of missed classes because the snow just wouldn’t stop falling.
One of the most important lessons I learned in college made me a completely different person, made the girl I was in high-school almost unrecognizable and I don’t know if it’s a lesson I would have learned without dorms rooms, and pasta-every-night-for-a-week, and all-night study sessions that left me laughing hysterically about a Snapchat video on the quiet floor of the university library. Arguably, the most important thing college taught me was feminism, and here’s why.
I spent years in all-white-all-Catholic grade schools, and even my public high-school had only three openly gay students and maybe 20 percent of the student population was non-white. To say that coming to college was almost culture shock would be a vast understatement, and that diversity alone taught me so much about how to be a feminist and why it mattered.
I came to college with a bare-minimum understanding of what feminism was. Diverse classrooms, especially in the communications department where I earned my degree, meant hearing hundreds of different points of view on topics I’d previously only known there were one or two views on. I learned what feminism was in college classrooms and while serving beers to very-drunk, very-handsy college guys at one of the local bars; and I learned that feminism had so much more to it than voting-rights (even though that is extremely important).
I’m sure I knew pay inequality was a thing before college, but for the life of me I can’t remember ever having a discussion about it. Before college, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life and even less of an idea of what that would mean for my finances. Looking at high-school girls now, who openly discuss their beliefs and fight for equality, I’m envious of their opinions and their education on the subject. For me, neither of those things came until college, when the discussion of my future career goals became instantly more serious and more real.
Talking to guidance counselors, to professors, to coworkers, classmates, and friends about our future career goals, I quickly realized the differences in what women aimed for versus what men aimed for; and what women earned versus what men earned. In my freshman year, during the brief period when I fancied myself a marketing major and took the prerequisites in that subject, I quickly realized that I was one of maybe 10 women in the entire department, whereas if you ventured over to the English or Communications departments, there were hardly any men.
One of my favorite things about my department was the open forum for discussion it regularly provided. I can’t remember taking a single class in the communications department that didn’t open the room to discussion about a topic at least a few times, and I remember my favorite classes (and professors) being the ones where every class revolved around a debatable topic that students chimed in on.
More than honing my ability to see the multiple sides to any issue, these classes allowed me the chance to learn my own views and opinions, and strengthen them in an argument against someone who disagreed. These classrooms allowed me to hear opinions I’d never have otherwise considered, and to alter my own views accordingly; they allowed me to see points of view I didn’t know existed, and to expand my own knowledge of so many subjects that I now can’t imagine ever having not cared about.