On November 30, comedian Nimesh Patel was kicked off stage at Columbia University, after students deemed his material to be too offensive for their taste. Mr. Patel paraphrases his joke in an op-ed for the New York Times as such:
“I open by saying I live in Hell’s Kitchen, a diverse area in New York populated by, among others, gay black men who are not shy about telling me they don’t approve of what I’m wearing. I try to learn things from everyone I encounter, and one day I realize oh, this is how you know being gay can’t be a choice — no one would choose to be gay if they’re already black. No one is doubling down on hardship. Then I say, no black dude wakes up and thinks that being a black man in America is too easy. No black dude says, ‘I’m going to put on a Madonna halter top and some Jordans and make an Indian dude real uncomfortable.’ That’s not a choice.”
After telling this joke, Columbia University students cut Patel’s mic, and asked him to leave the stage with thirty minutes remaining in his set. Whether or not you find Patel’s joke funny or insightful, it was unequivocally wrong for Columbia students to remove him from stage, and it represents an alarming trend in comedy on college campuses across the country.
What in Patel’s joke was “offensive”? Indeed, the very premise of the joke is addressing a common homophobic claim that being gay is a choice, and that it is a categorically wrong choice at that. Patel, himself a person of color, further comments on the hardships that accompany being black in America, a reality that some Americans deny exists today. In this joke, Patel takes on racial discrimination and homophobia, and gives a defense of the LGBTQ+ community in a manner that is lighthearted, non-confrontational, and perhaps even persuasive.
In doing so, Patel fulfills the real purpose of comedy. Comedy exists to push boundaries, to make traditionally uncomfortable topics accessible to large groups of people. Comedy is supposed to be method by which we can hold up a mirror to an often ugly society and find a way to exist happily within it.
The Columbia students who shut down Mr. Patel refuse to see that reality. It is not enough to take on issues of race and sexuality through humor. It is not enough to use humor to simplify a situation in order to persuade people to reconsider their prior opinions. I would venture to guess that the students who shut down Mr. Patel would fit in with the thirty-seven percent of students across the country who believe that shouting down a speaker with which they disagree is acceptable.
For these students, nothing but absolute, explicit condemnation of the conditions of race and sexuality in the United States would be acceptable. In their minds, we should not try to persuade racists and homophobes that they are wrong in their positions by any means necessary. Instead, we should condemn them, cast them out, and fuel the vitriol of their hateful positions.
What happened to Mr. Patel at Columbia is just one incident in an alarming trend of students denying the right to be heard to people with which they disagree, especially at elite universities. I have witnessed it first hand at my school, Harvard University. When Charles Murray came to campus, the event was scheduled with the intent of allowing students to interrogate Murray’s controversial positions. Instead, he was met with crowds of angry protestors, accusing him of being a white supremacist whose work was built on that of Nazi scientists. This demonstration delayed the event, cutting the time remaining for questions and meaningful discourse at the end of the presentation in half. Instead of arguing against Murray’s positions, they chose an easier course of action: silencing them.
The same happened at Harvard with a far less controversial speaker: Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. When DeVos came for a speaking engagement at Harvard, students interrupted her speech by holding large signs accusing her of “white supremacy” and raising their fists.
Universities exist to allow students to push their boundaries, and the best way to do that is through totally free speech. Comedy amplifies the power of speech by uniting people under a comfortable umbrella of the shared experience of humor, even though individual experiences vary so widely.
As a college student, watching my university and schools across the country continuously refuse to uphold speech rights on campus is troubling. By refusing to uphold the right to express unpopular opinions, universities are teaching students that it is acceptable to silence people with which they do not agree. Harvard’s mission is to, “Educate the future citizens and citizen-leaders of the world.” If our future leaders are being shown that it is acceptable to silence speech with which they disagree, I am deeply concerned for the future of speech rights in general.
Take it from someone who did all of her dorm shopping the week before she moved in during her freshman year: dorm shopping, though it can be fun, can also be extremely stressful. It can be tempting to hit Home Goods like a hurricane and buy every cute strand of string lights and set of decorative pillows you can find, but taking a moment to plan out your shopping trip can be much easier on your psyche (and your wallet)! Below, I give you the dos and don'ts of shopping for school.
I firmly believe that being well-read is one of the greatest assets a person can possess. Reading widely allows us to connect with cultures that are not our own, create a sense of mutual understanding based on shared humanity, and learn things about ourselves in the process.
I personally abide by the code that all books are worth reading, but there are some books that are life changing. These are the books that stop you in your tracks and force you to pay attention. The books that leave you turning the final page over again and again because you cannot bear the thought of the story being over. The books that make you laugh out loud, or fall to your knees and weep. The fourteen books I have listed below changed my life, and I hope that one of them may do the same for you.
Your first college semester can set the tone for your entire year, and maybe even your college experience. During your first semester, you create first impressions of your campus, professors, and peers. These impressions can stick with you until you graduate, so you want to make sure that they are the best they can possibly be! Here are ten tips to make your first semester great:
1. Go to all of your classes. This is probably the first time in your life that you can skip class "without consequences." Resist the allure of rolling back over when your alarm goes off for that pesky 8:30am section because I promise, there will be consequences. You are in class significantly less in college than you were in high school which means that every hour matters. You never know when there will be a pop quiz that you'll have to take a zero on because you overslept. Be strong. Go to class (unless of course you are sick).
2. Sit with new people in the dining hall...eat in the dining hall. No matter how awful the food may be, your campus dining hall is a great place to meet new people, especially during your first few weeks of school. Whether you know no one at your new school or it feels like your entire high school class went to the same university, make an effort to sit with new people. You never know when you could bond with your future best friend over under cooked chicken.
3. Get involved with some clubs. Don't overwhelm yourself with extracurricular activities in your first semester of college, but make an effort to join at least one student organization. Student groups are a great way to meet new people, especially those who share your interests. They can provide a sense of community and belonging on an unfamiliar campus.
4. Attend social events. It can be easy to just hole up with a bag of Doritos and your favorite Netflix series to binge. Make an effort to go out every once in a while to feel a sense of community and connect with new people. Go to a party, attend a sporting event, or gather some people to go to a local concert.
5. Get to know your professors. My professors were the highlight of my first semester. Introduce yourself to your professors in your first week of classes. Attend office hours for classes in which you are interested. Building relationships with professors will help you to not only understand and enjoy the material, but also to get to know someone at the top of your desired field. These relationships are extremely rewarding, and extremely useful when you need a letter of recommendation for graduate school or internships.
6. Try new things. Your first semester of school is a great time to step outside your comfort zone. Do you have a secret love for ultimate Frisbee? Find an intramural team! Are you passionate about singing? Join an a capella group! College is the perfect time to explore your interests. Trying something new can lead you to something you will pursue for the rest of your life.
7. Focus on doing your best, not someone else's. Everyone becomes a small fish in a big pond in college. It can be so easy to compare yourself to others and begin to experience self-doubt, wondering if your accomplishments are good enough. This mentality will only paralyze you and prevent you from reaching your fullest potential. Focus on doing your best, and being the best version of yourself, instead of comparing yourself to other people.
8. Spend time outside. College dorms can be pretty dreary (no matter how Pinterest-worthy). Be sure to get some fresh air for at least half an hour every day. Being outdoors can help you feel less cooped up, and it can help you escape the stresses of your dorm room (i.e. that pile of unfinished problem sets due tomorrow).
9. Explore your area. Whether you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere or you're living in the heart of an urban area, use your first semester to explore your college town. Scope out the best local restaurants, find the best shopping in your area, and explore some historical landmarks. Better yet, do it all with a new college friend!
10. Make self-care a priority. One of my best freshman year memories was spending an afternoon at the spa, followed by a five course Italian meal with one of my good friends after one of the most stressful weeks of my life. I'm not saying you have to go all out on spa treatments and fancy food every time you feel stressed, but make self care a priority. Exercise every day. Take walks. Extend your shower by a few minutes once a week (the Earth will forgive you). Take care of your mind and body. As important as school may be, your personal health is much more permanent.
Escaping the Echo Chamber
People enter college at all different phases of life. Some people walk in on their first day, ready to tell you their thirty year plan. Others have no idea what they want to do, and come in ready to explore all of their options. Neither of these approaches to school are incorrect, and one is not better than the other. No matter what your perspective is though, college is a time to explore new perspectives, develop your beliefs, and begin to solidify your values.
That said, it can be easy to go into college thinking that you have it all figured out (I am Exhibit A). You may think that your beliefs are set in stone, planted by your upbringing and grown through your resolve. With this kind of a closed mindset, people are likely to seek out individuals and groups that reinforce their preexisting beliefs to provide a sense of security in those values. This kind of thinking, however, is unproductive.
When we engage only with people and groups with which we agree, we lose valuable opportunities for personal and professional growth. These situations create "echo chambers" where we, surrounded by beliefs that mirror our own, can gain a sense of false comfort and feel validated in our positions. These groups encourage us to dig our heels into the ground, state our case, and refuse to waver.
This is exactly what I did when I got to school. A proud GOP member, I immediately enlisted in all of the conservative groups I could find, shunning those that I felt did not agree with my values. As the year went on though, I found myself becoming more radical. I began to question what it was I truly believed in, to question my motives for putting myself in the spaces I had chosen to occupy. This questioning only began though when I was challenged for the first time by a fellow student in the dining hall, who introduced me to the concept of unaffiliated centrism and directed me to an organization that supported moderate, independent political candidates for state and federal offices. Though I still consider myself conservative leaning, I left the College Republicans shortly after that conversation. Today, I am part of a national movement of centrist voters aimed at encouraging nonpartisan cooperation in government. None of this would have been possible had that conversation never occurred.
To break out of your own echo chamber, it is crucial to adopt a growth mindset. Carol Dweck, who coined the term, writes that with a growth mindset "people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment." Adopting this attitude in college will allow you to deal with cognitive dissonance and ideological diversity in a way that is productive, rather than paralyzing.
You can begin to embrace this mindset by actively seeking out groups with which you disagree. Are you a staunch Republican? Try attending a meeting led by the College Democrats to better understand their viewpoints. Maybe you are vehemently pro-choice. Start a dialogue with pro-life students on campus, rather than condemning them.
At Harvard, I serve as the Treasurer of the Network of Enlightened Women, an organization for conservative women to come together on campus. Earlier this year, we hosted conservative commentators Mary Katharine Ham and Guy Benson for a meeting with our group. Several left-leaning women attended the event, and they posed some of the most insightful questions I had heard. After the panel discussion was over, we were able to sit and talk with one another, and several of them commented that their perceptions of our organization and of conservative women in general had been altered just by attending that meeting.
When you go out of your way to seek out constructive disagreement, you will be better prepared to deal with it in "real life." You may even find yourself beginning to change your mind. Hearing opposing viewpoints allows you to question your beliefs, change your mind, or build on your current values.
No matter how you approach constructive disagreement, you will be better off for it. What do you have to lose by hearing from those who are different from you?
America's strength is in its diversity. If we avoid that diversity rather than embracing it, we do a disservice to ourselves, as well as to society at large. Imagine the amount of relationships you might miss out on by limiting your connections to only those people with which you agree. Learning to see beyond ideological differences to recognize the value in another person is part of being a member of a democratic society. What better place to start than college?
Whether you are in your first year of school or getting ready to graduate, chances are you have some kind of adviser. Advisers can be invaluable points of contact for students, regardless of the level at which you are studying. Building strong relationships with your adviser can help you make the most of your college experience by introducing you to new opportunities and receiving academic guidance. Learning how to seek out help is one of college's most important lessons, but taking the first step to talk to your adviser can feel intimidating. Use these 15 tips to make the most our of your advising experience!
1. Introduce yourself as soon as you get to school. I know that during your first week back at school, the last thing you want to be doing is tracking down advisers to introduce yourself, but making a connection early sets a positive tone for your entire relationship. It shows a sense of initiative that your adviser will appreciate, especially if they are dealing with dozens of other students.
2. Go to your first meeting prepared with some questions. All advisers are different. My first-year academic adviser loved to talk and have deep, engaging conversations with me, but some of my friends had advisers that seemed like they preferred more professional conversations. Going into your first meeting with a few prepared questions will help you feel confident, while also mitigating the risk of awkward silences.
3. NO QUESTION IS A DUMB QUESTION. Yes, you've heard this saying a million times, but it really applies to dealing with advisers. Keep in mind that they exist professionally to answer your questions. No matter how "dumb" you feel like your question may be, ask it! It is probably more important than you realize, and trust me, advisers have heard it all.
4. To that end, ask the right questions. Asking your academic adviser about the weekend scene at your university right off the bat may not be the best idea. Start with questions you have about classes at school. Which classes will help you fulfill general education requirements? What courses are good introductory classes for your chosen field? Are there any electives your adviser recommends? My first year adviser was the director of the Sociology Department. I had never taken sociology in my life, but I took a course on Media and Pop Culture at her recommendation, and it ended up being one of the most fun classes I had ever taken. Check out our full list of sample questions below!
5. Ask two questions: "What is your favorite aspect of (X university)?" and "What is your least favorite?" Their answers to these questions may surprise you, but I have always found them to be worth asking. Not only do they give you slightly more insight into your chosen school, but they also reveal something about your adviser's priorities, which could help you begin to build a relationship with them.
6. Talk over your schedule with your adviser. Even if they don't ask you to show them your schedule, you should make the initiative to talk it over. I can vividly remember my adviser talking me out of adding an additional class that would have given me a crippling workload second semester, and I have been grateful for that every day since.
7. Go back after your first meeting! If you only meet with your adviser during the first week of the school year, you will not make the most of what could be an influential relationship. Try to drop by at least once every six weeks to ask more questions, or even just to chat. Keeping your face fresh in your adviser's mind will be good for both you, and your adviser.
8. Keep in touch over email. Even if you don't have time to make an appointment to see your adviser, they are still available over email to answer any questions you have that may arise during the school year. Sending an email will not take you more than five minutes, and I am sure you will be glad you did!
9. Offer a handwritten thank you at the end of the year. Academic advisers are too often underappreciated. Build a solid relationship with yours, and offer a handwritten thank you note at the end of the year. Some advisers have advising as a career, and others do it on a volunteer basis. Regardless, your adviser works hard to ensure that you have a positive college experience. A thank you will mean more to them than you can imagine.
10. Know your worth. One of the biggest barriers to asking for advice is feeling as if you are wasting the other person's time by doing so. I promise you are not. They are there to guide you through the college process, and going to them with questions is not a waste of their time. They have chosen to serve as advisers because they love to help students. Know that your questions are valid, and you are worth it.
15 Questions to Ask your Adviser
1. What classes do you recommend for general education requirements?
2. What classes do you recommend for my major?
3. Where can I find information on campus events?
4. Are there any extracurricular fairs on campus? How else can I learn about organizations to join?
5. Where can I find tutoring resources or information on building better study skills?
6. Are there any events you highly recommend attending?
7. What are the most fun things to do around campus?
8. Does my schedule look okay this semester?
9. Where can I go to find information on applying to and attending graduate school?
10. Are there any professors whose classes I should try to get into?
11. What do you recommend on campus for someone interested in (insert your extracurricular or academic interest)?
12. Should I get a job on campus? Which positions have good reviews?
13. Where can I find research opportunities for undergraduates?
14. How is the (insert your major) department here?
15. What is the most important piece of advice you have to help me make the best of my experience?
I grew up hearing regularly the expression: If you want to make God laugh, make plans. I think that's the tongue in cheek way of saying some things are out of our control and a higher power is really in charge. Well, my take on it is that yes, there is a higher power, but He/She/The Universe wants to collaborate with us on our future. And let's be real you don't get ANYWHERE without a plan, an outline, an idea of what you want to make happen.
Speaking as someone who has designed her life successfully, I can say unabashedly that I made plans, I set them forth for execution, and I am where I am now because of doing so. Did ALL of my plans come to fruition? Um, no. I was not married by 26, a mom by 30, have a sitcom by 35 nor a millionaire by 40. But, and that's a BIG but - I did within those other plans create and design the life I truly wanted.
I wanted to be in a loving marriage with a partner who was a good father. I wanted to travel the world and have work that I enjoyed that allowed me to travel WITH my family. It did not happen overnight. It took years of honing my craft, dating some frogs, and making multiple sacrifices to get here. But I always, in the back of my head, had an idea- a plan, if you will, for the design of my life.
I knew from an early age what I wanted was not going to be traditional, yet I still had to do some traditional things like a 9 to 5 job. I had a 9 to 5 job for over a decade on top of pursuing my passion- so I technically had a 9 to 3am job. Along with missing sleep I did go without sometimes because I knew I would get more when my bigger picture was realized.
I also nurtured my plan by associating with people who were living their dreams. I absorbed information and knowledge from individuals and writers who spoke to me and encouraged the ideas for my plan. I cannot recommend enough reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelo and the late great Wayne Dyer's book "The Power of Intention".
What I know, is there will always be obstacles and reasons to stray from your plans/dreams. And sometimes you do have to hit the pause button. But you also have to have the wherewithal to hit "Play" again. Another thing I learned and not just from a Garth Brooks song is that sometimes you need to be grateful for unanswered prayers. God knows if I'd married who I thought I wanted to marry at 26 I wouldn't still be married and I would have never had the beautiful children I have today- nor the level of patience to deal with these beautiful children if I'd had them that young.
One of my favorite, and there are many, Wayne Dyer sayings is that, “Dreams are seeds God plants in us that we then can grow into reality." We don't just need faith that that is the case, we also need to do our part to follow the signs, seek the collaboration, accept the help and put in the work to bring our dreams/plans to reality.
It is possible. I am living proof. So my advice is: Make your plans. Follow your dreams. Design the life you always imagined for yourself. The greatest obstacle you will ever have is you- so get out of your way!
How many times have you heard that your years in college will be the greatest years you will ever have? Even if you have the wisdom to see the falsehood of that statement, it's impossible to deny that there is a lot of pressure to make college exceptional. Your elementary and secondary school years are spent dreaming about it, working to get into that one school, and once you get in, everything complicated in your life will fall perfectly into place, right?
Wrong. Let me preface this by stating that college is fun. It's a time to meet new people, explore who you are, and build connections that will last a life time. And yes, you will probably look back on college and notice that a handful of your college memories really are some of the greatest you've ever made. College, though, is not all fun and games. You have to figure out who you want to be, and most of the time, there's pressure to figure that out right now. What do you want to study? What do you want to do? Will you go into the workforce, or should you try to go straight into graduate school? What do you value? Who are you really?
College is an amalgamation of extreme opposites. You are getting your first taste of adult freedom, while simultaneously feeling restrained by the pressures of school. You feel sure of yourself on campus, while also feeling uncertain of where you fit in the "real world." College is a time in your life rife with indecision, and how you deal with it shapes your experience, while teaching you how to deal with obstacles you will face later in life.
I'm sitting in the middle of the indecision right now as I enter my second year of college, but I've already handled my fair share. I walked on to Harvard's campus in August 2017 an ardent Republican and a yoga aficionado, just knowing that I was going to concentrate in Government with a secondary in English, join the competitive Mock Trial team and the college Republicans, and graduate in three years before going to Harvard Law School.
One year has passed. I am returning to Harvard a fierce political independent and weight lifter, concentrating in Philosophy, and definitely taking all four years to graduate. I never tried out for the Mock Trial team, and I didn't run for student government. I left the college Republicans to form a group on campus for political moderates, and who knows whether I'll be in law school three years from now.
The point is that this year threw every obstacle in my way. Going off to school forced me to question who I am, what I want, and how I am going to accomplish my goals. When I went to college, I made things difficult for myself because I did not want to accept that I did not have my life completely figured out. I could not acknowledge that my thirty year plan might not have been perfect, or even good for me. As a result, I dug my metaphorical heels into the ground, and I resisted change. I forced myself to go to Government events that I did not want to attend. I tried to make myself fit into spaces on campus that I knew in my heart were not where I belonged.
Why? Because I thought it would be easier. I thought that keeping myself in a state of contentedness rather than reaching for real happiness was good for me. I could not bear the thought of taking a risk to find fulfillment, and failing to do so. I was comfortable; why fix what isn't broken?
Clearly, I had a change of heart. It came when I was sitting on the floor of Widener Library at 10:30 pm, discussing Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy with a group of my classmates and my professor. It was the moment I fell in love with philosophy, and I decided to take the words of the Meditations to heart.
In Descartes's Second Meditation, the meditator is questioning whether she exists. Eventually, she comes to the conclusion of "cogito ergo sum," which translates to "I think, therefore, I am." The meditator uses this to prove her own existence; when I heard it, I decided to use it to affirm mine.
Cogito ergo sum. Those three Latin words sent me into an existential spiral. If thinking is the essence of existence, then didn't a constant denial of my innermost thoughts constitute a constant denial of my own existence? Why was I so intent on following a path I had fabricated for myself years ago, when my mind was begging me to move in another direction?
That night changed my life. In that moment, I decided to stop denying my reason, instead combining it with my passions to create a path that made me truly happy. When I was faced with cognitive dissonance, I asked myself why I was experiencing it, and I used my reason to carve a new path that avoided it. I questioned my preconceptions, challenged my beliefs, and constructed a new system of values. These values have led me to some incredible opportunities, experiences that have brought me true joy.
What does this have to do with you and dealing with indecision in college? Everything. College is so often described as a place designed to challenge you, but the challenge goes so far beyond the classroom. You need to challenge yourself. Examine your beliefs, dissect them, and decide which ones are worth keeping. Rebuild your character and your system of values to create a person who is confident, life-affirming, and happy.
When you are faced with indecision, ask yourself why you are feeling it. Trace it back to your values, and reason your way through it. I know, I know: easier said than done. You are right. Dealing with indecision in college is not by any means easy, especially when it feels as if the stakes are higher than ever. Indecision, though, helps us towards inner discovery. It forces us to adapt, to progress in order to address the obstacles ahead.
Face indecision head on, and do not fear failure. Failure allows us to grow. It shows us that somewhere along the line, there was an error in the mechanics of our decision making, and it teaches us to review our mistakes to become stronger. I am by no means the expert on dealing with self doubt, but I can tell you from personal experience that in our moments of indecision, there are no wrong answers. Every time you are faced with a challenging decision, you are faced with an opportunity for growth. Follow your reason combined with your passion, and do not be afraid to embrace change. After all, these are the best years of your life.
Packing for school can be overwhelming. Between reviewing the hundred item checklist you find on the internet, trying to figure out what will fit in your car, and making sure you don't overload your boxes, it can be easy for certain (very) important items to get lost in the shuffle. Here's a list of fifteen items you'll be sure to want at school:
We’ve all been there. We’ve had an experience or a situation that has taken us from our “happy place” into one of despair and misery. Sometimes it can last a day, other times weeks, months and in extreme cases years. None of us are immune to things happening that we can’t control, but how we handle it is up to us.
I have certainly had occurrences where the questions, “Really God?!” and “Why me?!” has crossed the threshold of my mouth and what I have learned is that while those may be the times I feel least like having and expressing my gratitude, those are the times that I most need to go deep and find it. So, I’ve come up with a few tips to get to that place of having gratitude even when you don’t feel so grateful.
Firstly, step outside of yourself. That means stop making everything about you for a bit and focus on someone else. Give some of your time and energy to another person who could use your help or love. One way to do this is by volunteering. It is amazing how not only helping other people puts things in perspective with regard to your own life and circumstances, but it also gives you the reciprocal gift of feeling love and connection to another human being- something definitely to feel grateful for.
Next, just watch the news, even better news that covers things that are happening in other parts of the world. While this may strike a chord, because sadly so much of what is covered by the news is negative, seeing how other people’s lives are being affected in your own backyard and on the other side of the world can certainly help you qualify and classify what you’re dealing with which can in turn give a sense of gratitude.
Lastly, don’t be so hard on yourself. You are a human being. We all have ups and down; some downs are significant and life altering while other downs simply throw us off track for a bit. This isn’t about feeling bad for the sake of feeling bad – what good does that do? But when you are in the valley of disappointment and depression, start making your list. Your list of what you can be grateful for. You may feel at first like you’re pulling it out of where the sun don’t shine, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are taking a positive and progressive step toward being in a place of gratitude.
Here’s what I know about living in gratitude. The more we can express our gratitude, the more God/The Universe hears us and gives us more to be grateful for. It’s part of that wild Law of Attraction thing. So, the real key is to just get started and make it a habit; every day come up with 5 things for which you are grateful and just watch how that list magically expands.
If you’re not sure where to begin here’s a list that you can borrow from until you can create your own.
Things To Be Grateful For
Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash