While in Amsterdam, my friend and I played a game called “Who Would You Call From Oberlin to Help You Out if You Got In Trouble/Arrested?” We were at a loss to realize that there were only a few people (for her: two, for me: one) that we felt that we could rely on, and even then it would probably come with lots of conditions/backtalk/eye-rolling/patronizing behavior/etc.
I was and was not raised to be independent. My family attempted to be a strong family unit, but the nature of my growing up, especially when I started realizing that I was gay, meant that I did a lot of things for myself and tried to make my own path. After going to college, I found myself in a weird position in which I was more or less expected to be the type of independent young adult I had been for years, and if I needed help, I would ask for it. But I was shocked to find that so many of my peers and faculty had no idea how to support me or each other. A few of my friends theorized about why that was the case. Maybe it was because it was such a high-stress, elite environment, and people were just incapable of giving actual support. Maybe it was because no one ever taught them how to be supportive when they were younger, and so they were all figuring it out together at the same time.
I don’t think it really matters anymore. What matters is that one of the times I actually felt the most supported at the school was when I went to a crisis walk-in at the Counseling Center and had to tell everyone that I was diagnosed with depression and needed accommodations. All of a sudden, everyone was checking in and making sure I was still alive. A lot of the attempts were clunky and awkward, but I appreciated it. But deep down I was upset. My crisis walk-in was near the end of my Junior year of college. Where was everyone beforehand? My story is not unique, and that’s the sad part.
My best friend’s mom says that part of why I deal with so much bullshit from people here is because I’m a very competent person. Because I’ve had to pay bills for my family, be independent at a young age, and juggle jobs and school and really horrible family dynamics, I’ve had to learn how to take care of myself and my shit, since no one else would do it for me. In her opinion, being that type of person makes people look at you as if you can handle anything they throw at you. But sometimes, you can’t handle everything. Sometimes you need a break, even though there doesn’t seem to be time for one.
I thought deeply about that, because the people in my life who are not seen as capable/competent tend to be handled with kiddie gloves, as if they’re not really adults. These are my peers who call their moms in the bathroom while taking a shit and yelling at them about how they don’t know how to do their taxes. Let that visual sink in…
My best friend’s mom has helped me with more shit at Oberlin within a one-month period than most people at the college have in three years. Part of me is saddened by that fact. But I remember an older white woman I met at an Oberlin networking event who was a piano student in the Conservatory but she realized that her teacher before Oberlin was much better than her teachers at Oberlin. so she went back to her old teacher after she graduated. When she told me that, I laughed inside because I thought to myself “Haha, Oberlin tries to play everybody and some people are not falling for it.” So maybe I have a bright future ahead of me after I leave.
I feel guilty when I write negative things about Oberlin sometimes. Then I get paranoid and feel like if I can’t shit on my college for being shitty then I’m a part of a cult or something, so I get over it. I have no warm feelings for being at a place that exacerbated my mental illness. Where people have done all sorts of crazy shit to me because “they didn’t know better,” or “they were stressed, and not everyone can be their best.” Sounds like rationalizing abusive behavior, and that freaks me out.
I say all that, and then I wonder (and maybe you’re wondering too) “Tony, why didn’t your dumb ass leave then?” I ask myself that question a lot. Some people say I’m a masochist, so maybe that’s why. I didn’t know what else I would do if I left. Recently I started telling people that I would have gone to a community college if I had dropped out in my first year. But would I have? I just knew that Oberlin was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to not be like my father. To live a life of stability. And I guess I thought that if I lived through 4 or so years on instability in college, it would be worth it. But someone who would have graduated with me is now dead. And I couldn’t even go to their vigil because I had too many things to do. And I couldn’t even grieve about it until the summer when I finally felt like I had time to grieve. And the same friend who I played the “Who Would You Call” game with was surprised that no one actually stopped what they were doing to support each other, because where she was from, everyone would stop if someone died. But we still have things to do, and it’s been going like this since 1833, I guess. Although, when I talked to the former director of Disability Services last semester (which was its own adventure), I was told that when she was a student in the 70s, there was much less reading then there is now.