College is good for several things. In the USA, it’s good for learning facts about history and the rest of the world that high school either didn’t tell you or flat-out lied about. Without college, most people would never encounter the academic resources necessary to unlearn lies and biases instilled by the overwhelmingly USA-centric, whitewashed viewpoint taught in most school systems, or the vocabulary needed to ask after those resources.
If (and only if) you are already extroverted and gregarious, college is good for making friends. It’s probably good for some other things too.
But college is not very good for many of the things it supposedly does for people. College appears to be good for personal growth, but any environment with unfamiliar people, new experiences, and a large library would do. In fact, the academic rigors of college are probably mostly incidental to personal growth that occurs there. You learn about yourself in college in spite of, not because of, the rigid and demanding academic expectations, which serve to cement you further in what you think you already know about yourself because that is safer than discovering you might be something totally different.
It also doesn’t prepare you very well for any other environment, because it is so different from any other environment you might encounter. At least in the USA, there are hardly any communities that are similar to college. College has an environment of communal living among mostly same-aged people, numerous public spaces, an endless hemorrhage of community-run events, and constant mother-henning by the institution as they encourage you to take advantage of all the services they fail to do a good job at providing. Authority figures are clearly delineated from peers and you have a clear hierarchical relationship with people that are not also students. It is an opportunity to practice adulthood, but one that supports you in the wrong ways and fails to support you in the right ones, both stifling and neglectful.
Colleges are brutally insistent on this peculiar style of community structure that you probably won’t ever encounter again in your life, all the while being incredibly unforgiving if you fail to adapt to it. There are lots of rules, some of which are plain-attired descriptions of consequences as real as a granite wall, most of which reflect nothing except the fact that someone in authority would like to prevent a specific type of bad-faith exploitation of a more forgiving policy. The pure-hearted student is supposed to be able to ignore these rules and be judged according to the unspoken, more forgiving policy that is invoked when an authority likes your vibes.
This means part of surviving college is cultivating the right vibes, and part of cultivating the right vibes is being abled and not experiencing any extenuating circumstances ever. If you are having a mental health crisis that is stopping you from succeeding, the truth is as good as a lie; of course everyone struggles with mental health in college in these specific pre-cut ways, have you tried breathing exercises? If you are stressed and terrified all the time and whenever you sit still it feels like the universe is screaming through you, you will be abandoned because crisis is rare and interrupts otherwise normal life, and everyone claims to be having a crisis right now. “This system works!” and if we just repeat it hard enough the system will start to work.
If the truth is as good as a lie, then a lie is as good as the truth, and the ability to receive help when you need it is determined not by actually needing help but by being a better liar.
What if people lie to get accommodations they don’t really need? I don’t know the answer to this, because I find a different question more compelling: What if people lie to get accommodations they do really need?
Institutions are terrified of the possibility of a person that pretends to be disabled, and often they impress that terror into disabled people, who become terrified that THEY are pretending to be disabled, when probably almost all disabled people must pretend to be disabled because the raw Reality of what they experience as a person would be a brain-melting arcane and eldritch encounter for an Institution. Institutions don’t see us. They see broad human tropes, masks worn by any number of actors. Some people are diligent students and some are lazy; some hone their potential and talent and others refuse, for whatever reason, to unlock it. This belief is so fundamental to our entire philosophy of shaping and educating students that if it directly encountered the Truth (whatever that may be), the truth would not survive.
If you want to be a good student (and I wanted to be and I was) the mask will become welded to your face and you will forget it’s a mask partly because you will like how much better you were treated with the mask on. I sit in a therapy session, thinking, “Why am I framing my pain in a way that makes it seem less complicated and more solvable but doesn’t cut to the truth of the matter? Which one of us benefits from that?”
The world is slowly, woundedly crawling into being a performance where everyone competes to pretend that they aren’t dying. I have a version of me that struggles with school because I am autistic, but secretly I suspect successful, well-adjusted college students that manage their mental health and friendships and work do not exist in the way we think they must. After all, what of the numerous college students that cheat, that plagiarize, that make ChatGPT write their essays? My professors can all give examples of students that did, and their poor and shoddy attempts, but all this suggests is that the clever and cunning ones seldom get caught. In dealing with institutions, anything an honest person can do through their honesty, a good enough liar can do better with their lies.
这个世界正在慢慢地，不知不觉地变成一场每个人都争相假装自己并没有死的表演。另一个形式的我因为患有自闭症而在学校里挣扎，但我私下里怀疑，那些成功、适应良好、能够管理自己的心理健康、友谊和工作的大学生，并没有以我们认为必须的方式存在。毕竟，那些作弊、抄袭、让 ChatGPT 写论文的众多大学生又怎样呢？我的教授们都可以举出这样做的学生的例子，以及他们糟糕而低劣的尝试，但所有这些都表明，聪明和狡猾的学生很少被抓住。在与机构打交道时，一个诚实的人可以通过他们的诚实做任何事情，一个足够好的骗子可以更好地利用他们的谎言。