Hi Huskies! Welcome back to my column that functions as a public diary for me, compiling my long-winded thoughts of the week! Inside Maddie’s Mind may be how I cope with college as the semesters roll by, but I like to think even a one-time reader could benefit from the odd sentence or two.
Over winter break I could not get the idea of college and academia out of my head. This is obviously disappointing that I cannot seem to escape school even when I am away, but I digress. Interestingly, instead of worrying on a personal level about meeting graduation requirements and building my resume, I was instead focusing on a larger subject: the flawed system of higher education in America.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the elitism of academia. And I’m well aware this is not a new or groundbreaking idea that I’ve come up with. I also know that as a college student myself, I partake in it.
This elitism is visible in the college application process itself. Assuming application fees were not an obstacle, when rattling off names from the list of schools you had applied to senior year of high school, the reactions of friends and family were extremely telling. Essentially, anything not well-known (or for some, anything short of Ivy League) produced merely a condescending smile. Even now in college, the same process occurs when you discuss your course of study. Mention something humanities-oriented, the first look will be of fear, mainly for your financial future since you aren’t in a STEM field. Misconceptions about what fields and schools are worthwhile help to fuel this elitism.
With that being said, the language by which academics conduct themselves in higher education (and thus how we as students are expected to speak) can also be extremely elitist. Generally, there is an expectation to conduct yourself (and therefore express yourself) in a completely strict, professional manner at all hours of the day.
This is also visible in academic journals. It’s all too common to find a journal or article that is so dense you need to read it three times before you can even begin to comprehend what the words actually mean. Much of the time these articles are not written in such a convoluted manner because their subjects require such complexity, but as an ego boost for the authors. However, this is just bad writing, because it isn’t accessible. If you really wanted people to understand your work, you would write clearly, concisely and therefore effectively.
This also applies to the professors that aim more to confuse rather than to teach, using huge words in lectures and refusing to answer clarifying questions in a simple manner. Using big words just to sound intelligent doesn’t make you better than your audience. It’s an exclusive practice.
Elitism in the language of academia is like the rest of academia, in that much of it is just for show. You can’t claim to want to spark debate or conversations on important topics when your idea of doing so is confusing your audience to the point that they cannot participate if they have not had the same access to education that you have. Aiming to confuse those that are not “at your level” ruins any good intentions your discussion initially had.
I’m well aware there are subjects in academia that do require extensive studying. I’m not saying I should be able to walk into a 3000-level mechanical engineering lecture and understand immediately what the professor is talking about. However, if you want to discuss solutions to societal issues (like climate change, poverty, healthcare or immigration, to name a few) you need to be willing to include everyone in the conversation. If all you ever do is repeat complex theory, you’re missing the point of these issues rather than inciting conversation around them. The complicated theories that you discuss at the highest level to sound intellectual are the daily realities other people live. Additionally, it’s fair to assume that if you can’t explain a complex theory in an accessible way, you don’t fully understand it yourself.
Academia, and being able to partake in such an expensive and biased system of higher education, is a privilege. Use that privilege for good, and spread your knowledge to those of diverse backgrounds. Benefit as many people as possible by reaching as many people as possible. Don’t limit conversation to yourself and other “intellectuals” that have the same advantages as you.