I‘m in hiding. Political exile if you will. Seeking refuge from the rest of the world and its outrages of ignorance and intolerance. I’ve retreated to my castle, my fortress, my last bastion that is the University.
My political opinion was for the most part, battened up this summer and I stayed quiet. I could only give a one-minute synopsis of my opinion of the affirmative action decision followed by the same basic questions that didn’t touch on any of the case’s intricacies so many times before I began to retch. When talk at my summer job turned to the news it was about Laci Peterson and other grisly murders.
Finally, I thought I found some outlet with my co-workers one day when Rick Quickly, a construction worker and a 50-year-old father of three, said, “Jess, you seem pretty well informed, and I’m curious, can I ask your opinion on something?”
“Sure,” I responded, eager, finally for some discussion.
“So, Kobe Bryant, did he do it?” That’s all. Nothing real, nothing I could possibly weigh in on.
Sometimes, I just can’t deal with it – can’t handle the constant outrage I feel I must express. The defenses I feel I must erect against assaults on human decency. This summer, in a fit of anger over Iraqi attacks on U.S. soldiers, Rick Quickly exclaimed, “I know this sounds a little prejudice, but all those Arabs here should be forced to go back to where they came from.”
Always before, a comment like that would have provoked me to grandiose speeches about tolerance and our tradition of immigration, but instead, feeling hopeless, I mumbled something along the lines of “Arabs are nice people.” Why bother tying to change his mind, I thought – Rick is a lost cause.
It’s so tiring and stifling being home and having to deal with that. It’s disheartening to know that all the political debates and decisions and squabbles here on campus are lost on so many at home and that blanket statements like “Arabs should leave” rule the day. It’s hard being places where your most basic premise is challenged before you can get to the heart of the real matter. When trying to discuss gay rights with my co-workers, they would not accept the basic premise that gays and lesbians are capable of love. Where do you even begin?
It’s refreshing to be back here amid rational discourse and usually reasonable political differences. But, the pleasure I find in this political asylum that the University grants worries me. Am I becoming too complacent? Here, I can get away, often unchallenged, with statements like, “The United States exploits the rest of the world to subsidize our personal lifestyle,” and, “Gay people should be allowed to marry, adopt and share a will.”
Which isn’t to suggest that I find total agreement on campus – even here I know my politics are not exactly the norm – but just that for the most part, we approach each other rationally. Here the debates and disagreements are on a tolerable level. Maybe the difference is in the approach and my reaction to challenges. Here, when my opinions are questioned it is usually in the spirit of mutual learning and in a desire to truly understand the world. At home, without the shared community and spirit of the University, I feel like it’s an attack, designed to destroy me beliefs.
It’s this horrible paradox, the curse of an elite education. At the University I learn to think and confront the wrongs of our world and feel inspired and hopeful, then I come home with all these great ideas and opinions to express – only to find myself biting my tongue. I can’t invest the time required to share what I need to share. I get discouraged, beaten down, overwhelmed, ready to compromise my ideals.
I want to change the world, maybe only on a small local level, but change it for the better nonetheless. Yet how can I expect to do that if I can’t relate to people outside of an academic environment? Ann Arbor isn’t the world and neither are the other little liberal places in this country. Opinions need to be changed in Middle America and Northern Michigan, not confirmed in the relatively small circles of academia.
So I guess now I’m a liberal elite, unable to relate to the people I supposedly champion. Is that really a bad thing? It certainly shouldn’t be looked down upon – everyone attending the University is an elite, and better to be an elite championing others than one’s self. I knew going into college that my education would elevate me above others less fortunate. Now it’s my duty to elevate as many others so they can begin to live as I do. Otherwise, my brief time in this fortress has been wasted.
Piskor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.