I went to the nicest college I’ve ever heard about. It’s not the fanciest, or the most expensive (it’s not the cheapest by a long shot!). We’re not churning out folks in congress (we do have one, though). My college isn’t well known, and it doesn’t earn the same amount of immediate “respect” upon mention as, say Harvard or Brown. But it’s a wonderful place where you learn a lot in and out of class and where the people are genuinely nice.
There aren’t really bullies at College of the Atlantic, not in the traditional sense. If you lined up all the students, which wouldn’t be that hard since there are only around 300, you probably couldn’t pick out who the most popular ones were, or the ones who led student governance, or the ones who spoke the most in class. In some ways we’re a school of misfits and outcasts who have a lot of good ideas and found a place where we were told to speak up. You’re in a class of MAYBE 10 other people; if you don’t make your opinions known it’s noticeable. So you learn to be heard. Not necessarily to speak, but to be heard.
I learned to speak up before College of the Atlantic; I was carefully groomed by some well-known LGBTQ organizations on how to speak loudly, proudly, and on topic. I’ve been through more media trainings that I know what to do with, and I know how to pick three talking points and stick to them. I know how to not get injured while protesting and I know how to deescalate confrontation if it needs to be deescalated. I know how to make protest signs that cannot be misconstrued by media on the opposing side.
What College of the Atlantic taught me was to be intentional; that it’s actually okay to “sit one out” when something comes up and you’re just too exhausted for it. It’s perfectly alright to let a chance at organizing, protesting, or giving a speech pass you by and assume that somebody else will take it up. College of the Atlantic was homogenous enough that I was able to fit in and, therefore, relax. I didn’t have to be on eggshells there because I was just another one of the quirks at the school.
There’s this thing about college though; it ends. I graduated in 2010, moved out of town then out of state and suddenly I was back in the real world. The world where my haircut signifies something other than “owns a pair of clippers” and where I can’t expect to introduce myself as Andrew and not have folks question it. The world where it wasn’t accepted that folks would engage in debate about an issue while sticking, somewhat, to accepted rules. The world where you can’t point out privilege to somebody and expect them to know what you mean. The world where people lock their doors at night.
College of the Atlantic, and I’m assuming lots of places like it, gave you enough comfort to fight for what you truly cared about rather than everything that came across your path. I took a ton of interesting classes there but that lesson, of fighting for what I felt was truly right rather than what I felt I had to fight for, was far more necessary than many of the classes. It’s not something you can learn in a weekend retreat or a week long class; it took three years to even start making sense to me, and I’m still sorting stuff out almost two years after graduation.
In short, College of the Atlantic taught me to say, “no” when I needed so that I could say, “yes” to life.
And then I left.
It was almost like having lived in a foreign country during your formative years and then being dropped right back off in your country of origin as soon as you hit your stride.
I’m still struggling a little bit; misspeaking here and there, and having some major flops at times. I forget that it’s not totally acceptable for me to speak up when I feel something isn’t okay in the same way I have been. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but there are existing power structures that I get to play in to as I move forward toward ministry. There are some pretty gross examples of people using their power and privilege over me in ways that I hadn’t experienced before because in the past that stuff would have been called out and stopped immediately. It’s hard for me to step back and say “there’s a power structure here that’s much bigger than me, and I don’t have the right to change it right now.”
This isn’t better than the system at my school. This doesn’t make those existing and limiting power structures okay. And this doesn’t make the people abusing their power and privilege over others right or responsible or okay. And sometimes I’ll explode a little because somebody is being so monumentally ridiculous in private and the antithesis of who they claim to be in public.
But we will get there. Heaven knows how we will get there. But we know within.
Right? Please tell me that’s right. Please tell me we will get there. We’ve gotta.