In 24 hours, my college town will double in size. Every year close to 30,000 people come out for a Halloween block party. 30,000 twenty-somethings take over the main drag of Athens. The city shuts the street down. People wander in and out of the dozen bars on the street and bands are booked for different alleyways. It’s a great time.
Except last year, there were 50 arrests.
The year before that, there were 78 arrests.
I don’t think anyone comes here expecting to get arrested. Probably, the vast majority of these people are good kids in the wrong place.
But, I have an issue. We have created a world in which the end all of “blowing off steam” is participating in a party that is rife with illegal activity.
In 24 hours, religious zealots will descend on my liberal college town to stand in the middle of a block party to hold signs reminding people of hell. They will tell the costumed college students that fornication and drunkenness end in death.
I don’t think these zealots are hateful people. I just don’t think they’ve ever interacted honestly with a costumed college student.
And many costumed college students will come to the conclusion that God has nothing to offer them but death and punishment.
And all of this sucks.
Fifty miles away, in the heart of rural southeastern Ohio, is a 10th grader working on his homework. He is in a special education program. He loves to read. In fact, he has read the book his class is currently reading four times already. When asked about the book, he gets excited and can talk about it for near half an hour. Most of that half hour is summary, but it’s the most detailed summary you have ever heard.
On Monday, he will go to a school where teachers will applaud him for that rambling summary, believing that to be the precipice of his academic achievement. Meanwhile, the “normal” 10th graders will be asked to analyze symbolism and figurative language in poetry. None of this higher level thinking will ever be asked of our student in the special education classroom even though he obviously has the capacity to connect to a text in a profound way (since he has read a book four times).
A costumed college student at the OU Halloween party will be arrested. She will call her parents in the morning. After the initial shock and anger of their daughter being arrested, conversations will happen about why she engaged in the behavior that led to the arrest. She will site stress or peer pressure.
She might go to therapy for a while. When she is finally able to see herself as a “good kid” again, she will leave therapy. She will go back to hanging out with her old group of friends. She won’t get arrested again. But her grades will suffer. No more Bs; Cs and Ds now. She will graduate, won’t be able to find a job, and will move back in with her parents.
She will spend months, years complaining about information overload or “how busy she is.”
I am tired of having to hear about the costumed college student while the book-loving 10th grader is struggling.
My generation is wasting our time. We are wasting our time with “inspirational” blog posts and with quotes with cool pictures on Tumblr and with inventing things to complain about. There is plenty to complain about. When drunk drivers kill innocent people, for instance. Or when bullying and “slut”-shaming leads to suicide.
Or when half the country isn’t getting a quality education.
Or when your country uses drones to kill people from other countries.
Or when 20% of women report being sexually assaulted at some point.
But, instead, my privileged middle class peers and I choose to spend our time talking about how Facebook poking is cramping our dating game. Or how corrupt and evil everything is except our three closest friends. Or “blowing off steam.”
I have been told more times than I can count that I need to enjoy my senior year. Why? Why is that so important? I appreciate the sentiment, but with all due respect, I am only here because I had the privilege of growing up in a family that valued education and because I went to a public school that expected I end up here and because I am hardly paying a dime for my schooling.
And what is this enjoyment anyway? Does it really require that I go to a block party that was invented so that my peers could perform illegal activities without consequences? Does it require that I go to a small bar with my close friends and toss back a cold one?
Or can I, like, fix things? Would that be okay? Like, if I took all of that energy I put into trying to figure out how to make myself happy and spent it on figuring out how to save lives? Or would that be a waste of my senior year?
Of those partying, .002% them getting arrested sure sounds like Athens is “rife with illegal activity.”
A large portion of those partying will be underage and drinking. Just because they aren’t arrested, doesn’t mean they aren’t partaking in illegal activity. My phrase is accurate, but yes, those arrested is a small fraction of those that party.
I admire the work you are doing, Spencer. It is awesome and intense and totally worth it. But, coming from someone who was arrested at a Halloween, survived (without shaming parents or therapy or suffering grades) to work her butt off senior year in school and work, and is working to challenge gross educational inequity in this country, I can say, enjoy your senior year however you find enjoyment. But the shift from college work to teaching work is HARD, no matter how hard you worked in college. And you will have so much more responsibility placed upon you than ever before, that you will have moments where you say “why didn’t I do more irresponsible shit when I could?” SO many people I know here have said it (or something to that effect).
And recognizing personal privilege is necessary and worthwhile and important. But just because you have that privilege doesn’t mean that your personal frustrations or struggles don’t matter and you shouldn’t try “to figure out how to make [your]self happy.” So if that involves not participating in Athens Halloween, then that’s cool. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other, right?
In no way do I think college years are the best years of one’s life. But they’re awesome. And once you’re done, you’re done. You’re entering super responsible work. And you may (or very well may not) wish that you had taken just a little more time for yourself when you could, instead of needing to when you have less than 1 hour in a day for yourself.