Modesty dies on a college campus

Illustration of a young boy leaving his parents at the bottom of a winding mountainous path that leads to school graduation. (Gabriel Campanario, The Seattle Times/ TNS).

Pride means a great deal to those who enter college with a burgeoning awareness on any topic. Sports, politics, anime, history, literature, to name a famous few. Students have to feel as though they can bring something to what they are learning from their interests and passions.

The shameful detail in this is how it is executed. Today, you can meet students who feel as though their expertise cannot be questioned, even by academics or by their more-experienced peers. It is, as Harvard professor Tom Nichols describes in the Federalist, “the ‘death of expertise’: a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between…those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all.”

After four years of being enrolled at CSUN, I have observed this as an ongoing trend. In response, however, the feedback has not been effectual. The behavior on display has been passive yet hard-lining, unwavering and interestingly masculine. On a campus with such a diverse enrollment, this last note was surprising, given the need for declining patriarchy’s sexist role in society.

The worst side effect of this superiority is the attitude toward criticism. If it had a mantra it would be, “I find you offensive for finding me offensive,” to quote a friend of mine who was quoting Eminem, apparently.

This is the near-violent, temper tantrum against critique, constructive or oppositional. As a student in college, this is what you should expect from your professors (the former) and your peers (the latter). Without this mentality, I do not think fake expertise would be a thing.

A god complex is never a good thing in thinking you are a dignified expert. Some of my own friends have this problem where they exert not only their status as an older student at CSUN but treat themselves as closeted chairmen of authoritative expertise. This is only seen among younger peers and even their own equals, who treat knowledge as a learning tool and not a weapon against dissatisfied behavior.

This I find, robustly, to be dissatisfying. Sharing information should not be used to smite your own friends unless you are dedicated to betrayal. It also discourages the point of criticism, mutating it into a form of careless authoritarianism. This is anti-democratic and it is lazy, notably from forms of student leadership, be it campus government, Greek life or other clubs and orgs with their finger on the pulse of the school. Distinct groups come to my mind; I hope they learn from here.

What does this mean? Well, If you do not do what they want, it is not their dysfunctional superiority to blame but their own lack of ability and foresight. A self-proclaimed expert should not be a controlling demagogue who cannot give others the benefit of the doubt.

You may ask, “Well, what makes you the expert in how students behave? Aren’t you just as bad as any other amateur expert?” Well, at least you are asking; you will not find me hastily insulted. I do not consider myself a genius or an expert with PhD next to my name, but I value information and I am willing to use it and even criticize it as a tool and a subject.

I care about knowledge and how it is used to enlighten society, as well as to unleash what is known about history in order for it to not be repeated (an argument can be made that it does not; have at it on your own terms). With knowledge comes information, which is brought to you by researchers and journalists, those who I consider to be historians in their own right in laying a groundwork for modern history.

Needless to say, a wealth of knowledge is good for any human being, and should be shared with all people in society and in the world, to your loved ones beyond the United States.

I also happen to agree with Nichols on this statement: “That greater participation, however, is endangered by the utterly illogical insistence that every opinion should have equal weight, because people like me, sooner or later, are forced to tune out people who insist that we’re all starting from intellectual scratch. (Spoiler: We’re not.)”

If there is to be any hope, meticulously, it would be to think that anyone who believes in safe spaces, who gets called snowflakes and regressive liberals, and thinks activism is catchy and trendy needs to rethink their strategy. Debate, criticism, and reason unite in a form of delegation with our fellow humans. It is how so many other facets of our society, like politics, work.

The climate of student culture relies on this notion that you are at “home away from home,” as I was once told before going to classes at CSUN. At the time this was the kind of school spirit rhetoric you can expect before boredom, illness and exhaustion thanks to the perks of being a 21st century student. But other schools in California, with arguably greater sophistication (CSUN ranks 62 according to Niche) have great strife and the lack of an imperative on rhetorical discourse.

Let us not forget the student at Yale (not in California) who yelled at a professor, “It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It’s about creating a home here!” This has epitomized the college atmosphere nationwide, and it is here at CSUN, albeit not as severe as, say, Berkeley.

While it is admirable that political discourse is returning to CSUN (as my recent piece in Scene solidifies), students involved in politics, activism and journalism must looks toward the tenants of their crafts. They cannot rely on the “me generation” mentality that plagues any chance for a revival of 1960s-style demonstrations. There cannot be any more soixante-huitards, or sixty-eighters.

My goal here is to leave a note behind to those staying to make CSUN a worthwhile school for future generations. As 11,500 of us make our exit, we hope we, as the late musician Glenn Frey once sang a decade ago, “Be part of something good/ Leave something good behind.”

Twenty-seventeen will be the year of great revision in every way in America. War with North Korea is imminent, free speech is in a bidding war, and populism and nationalism are in resurgence in Europe, of all places. In order to bring back those strong figures who can restore some daydreamed Pax Americana, college students need to regain their modesty, their tolerance, their rationale before a diploma rests in their hands.