People spend the whole summer preparing for their first days at Michigan. They’ve got everything for their dorm, books for their classes, plenty of nerves in their stomachs and the words of tour guides, old friends and University administrators running through their minds. But quite often there are some lessons that they’ve never been told. Last year, I was the student lugging all those unneeded books up to my dorm. My heart filled with the excitement of the unknown that was college. People told me what to bring for the dorm and what books I would actually need to buy, but no one ever said a word about the mindset I would need to bring to get through this year.
It is perfectly okay not to be proud of this school
It’s great that people are able to love this school as much as they do, but it is not a requirement to have that same enthusiasm. My freshman year put me firmly in the category of students who bleed red, not maize and blue. And I am quite okay with that.
I go to the University of Michigan, which is very different from being a Michigan Wolverine. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Michigan has a long way to go before I will ever claim the identity of a Michigan Wolverine without it dripping in sarcasm.
While I’m now comfortable with being a student at Michigan without that enthusiastic Michigan pride, I spent my first semester here either making up excuse after excuse for why I don’t feel like part of the Michigan community everyone speaks so highly of, or pretending that my love for this school runs just as deep as “everyone else.” Those first four months of school were consumed by telling myself these feelings of isolation were not due to the multitude of issues that plague this institution; no, it was my fault, I wasn’t doing college “right.”
It took me too long to realize that it wasn’t me doing college “wrong” that made me stand on the outside as everyone else cheered themselves hoarse with each “It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine.” My experiences led me to this conclusion, and that conclusion is perfectly fine. Your experiences will bring you to your own conclusions. Maybe you will bleed maize and blue, maybe not. The only thing you need to do is honor whatever conclusion you come to.
Question your professors
I remember coming into orientation with people having told me that Professor X was just brilliant, and to listen to and absorb every word that came out of his mouth. Don’t get me wrong, Michigan has talented professors, but none of them are gods. Professors say some messed up things and need to be held accountable for it. So even though your friend said to bask in the glory of this professor’s brilliance, take your time and actually listen to what is being said. You aren’t at this school to regurgitate what your professors say; you’re here to learn how to think critically and draw your own conclusions. So start with your professors. Why did they choose to start the semester rattling off their many degrees or showing you a clip of themselves on MSNBC? Just as they ask you for an explanation of your opinions, be critical of what they say, how they say it, who is saying it, etc.
Forget a significant amount of what you learned on tours and at orientation
Once second semester came around and navigating my way around tour groups started to become part of my daily routine, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and recall how the University I was told about at orientation and on tours is vastly different from the one I experienced. Just remember the intention behind orientation and campus tours; they are meant to get you onto campus and then keep you here for the next four years.
Respect the changes that come from this year
I am far from the same person I was last September. And I have lost many friends because of it. These changes aren’t to be feared. Embrace them. Critique them. In the same sense that your experiences will bring about changes in yourself, don’t expect your friends to return home the same.
Allow yourself to ignore what you “should” be doing and instead do what you want.
Some of the best memories I have are from days when I put college as a distant second to the people who have supported me. Forget the paper due in two days and go to a friend’s event; stay up until 6 a.m. talking, dancing, eating; then repeat this the next day with late night runs to sweet shops and philosophical discussions lasting until 4 a.m. We all need these moments to just be and enjoy the people we have found. College is stressful. The deadlines, expectations and stupidity of people will get to you, so these moments when you completely ignore your “responsibilities” will not only serve you well, but will also fulfill your responsibility to yourself as an individual.
Michigan in Color is the Daily’s opinion section designated as a space for and by students of color at the University of Michigan. To contribute your voice or find out more about MiC, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.