The Cost(s) of an Education

Ben Shoemake, Columnist

Second semester is upon us, and as a senior Gender Studies major, that means it is time to get cracking on my thesis. Some of you might be struggling to fill your distribution credits, deciding on your major, or, for Jan-starts, just getting your first taste of the college experience. As someone who is on their way out, however, I am granted the opportunity  to look back and think about what I’ve gone through in my time at this college. The conclusion I’ve come to is this: College is hard.

“That goes without saying,” you might say, but hear me out. I continuously find myself pulling all-nighters and grabbing food on the go because I don’t have time between class, meetings, homework and work to fix myself something to eat. I have friends who say, “I got eight hours of sleep last night!” like it’s an accomplishment. I have experienced guilt for going to bed because I still have more to get done but cannot keep my eyes open a second longer. I have experienced guilt for maintaining social relationships outside of discussions in class.

What does it say about our educational system when it rewards behaviors that actively harm their participants?

College is hard, and it gets harder when you have more than just college going on. Two classes and a thesis might sound easy, but when you factor in not being able to get a good night’s sleep because of low self-esteem, not being able to get out of bed for two hours because of depression, the several hours of paid work you need to do to afford sustenance, and the time you have to spend maintaining relationships so that when things go south you have someone to turn to, suddenly things seem a lot less manageable. Then factor in the fact that in order to graduate, you have to average not two, but four regularly scheduled classes. You may well spend a good chunk of time maintaining good health in the gym, running, and participating in extracurriculars, too.

What does it say when our educational system is only manageable for those who already come from a place of privilege?

Despite the incredible difficulty of college, there are a lot of Whitman students who are able to do great things for our school–the existence of initiatives like Power and Privilege is a testament to the dedicated and hardworking nature of many of our students. However, Whitman students in general have a reputation for passivity. Many positions in ASWC run uncontested each year, and there have been attempts to change our mascot for literal decades, none of which have been followed through to completion. I do not believe that this is a result of a lack of passion nearly so much as it is a consequence of having no available time to get involved.

What does it say about our educational system when we aren’t afforded time to pursue the things we care about?

These are questions, not answers, but they are questions I feel we need to be asking more often, and whose answers we have the right to demand. If we are paying large amounts of money for our education, why do we not have a say in what form that education takes? Why are we forced to undertake physically and mentally damaging levels of labor? While Whitman provides students with resources for maintaining their physical and mental health, what use is a gym or a counseling center in a system that actively discourages self-care and sets penalties for taking the time to put it to use?

It is easy to look at the economic cost of Whitman and rationalize a pattern of self-neglect, but it is important to acknowledge this as essentially setting a price tag on one’s own wellbeing. It is also important to recognize that college takes more from us than just our money. As students, we have (surprisingly) little say in this system. But we can ask questions, demand answers and push the conversation forward. That is, after all, what college is for.