Everyone has unwanted realities in their life. For me, those realities are Canada Goose jackets and asshole academic speak. And I’m not convinced that they’re completely unrelated.
It’s hard to ignore the wealth on our campus. It wasn’t until I came to Barnard that I realized regular vacations to the Bahamas, parents giving their children hundreds of dollars in allowances, etc., were things that some people just did. Like, casually. Or that vacation resort skiing is really popular, and that some people have decided to consider it a completely normal pastime and not a financially privileged activity.
Eat the wealthy? Yes. But also, it’s not just the monetarily wealthy among us in this University that are the problem and deserve to be eaten. I’m talking about the students in class who carry with them academic wealth. Students who bypass even the expected amounts of pretension and outfit themselves in haute literati personalities.
I’m not entirely sure whose benefit this is for, or why it’s happening. But if I had to guess, I would posit that it has something to do with a longstanding link between academia and wealth. I think most of us would say that education is a fundamental right. But for most of history, education was a privilege reserved for the wealthy.
When students at this University tout their high and mighty, decorous, hyper-academicized speech, they are recalling, perpetuating, and even flaunting this fundamental inequity. And they don’t have to be rich to do it, either.
Our language has become a weapon of separation. A separation between not only academics and so called “non-academics,” but our academically wealthy selves and our real selves. Like, yes, I might say “like” in every other sentence when I speak, but at least I don’t say, “By dint of the fact.” We all have our own linguistic cross to bear, but at a minimum, I know that I will never utter the phrase, “Ethics as such.” And if I ever do say the phrase, “[insert -ism] as such,” I give the student body and faculty full permission to cannibalize me.
No matter your economic class, the choice to emulate wealth and fulfill some sort of elitist, self-erasing fetish through your speech is readily available to you, courtesy of Columbia University. As 21st-century students in a more progressive and economically diverse version of our University than it was a hundred years ago, we’ve yet to gain the common sense to abandon the outdated, upper-echelon-imitating jargon that Ivy League culture still tacitly demands. It’s time to give up the ghost of exclusive educations past, and start talking like ourselves in the classroom.
We’ve practically mythologized the idea that certain speech is “not academic.” But class discussions become more inclusive and not to mention, productive, when students stop talking in circles with language that is, dare I say, explicitly intended to flaunt their own (relevant or irrelevant) knowledge and jerk off their egos.
What the lovely boy in my English class meant when he asked, like an apocalyptic neoliberal version of Marx, “But what does politicized really mean?”, I really couldn’t say. What I can say is that academic jargon like this makes me feel distinctly excluded in classroom conversations.
Using hyper-academic language isn’t as benign as an attempt to expand our vocabularies. When we adopt a style of language tied to histories of unequal access to education, we participate in a type of erasure. Our individual languages and patterns of speech implicitly advocate for our own histories. When certain speech is excluded from academia, so are the backgrounds that speech comes from. “Academic wealth” not only invites classism into an ideally equalizing space; it also utterly derails self-expression in the classroom as a result.
Like many who attend this University, as someone who is permitted to stay here because of tens of thousands of dollars in financial aid, reconciling with the omnipresent wealth at Columbia is bigger than coming to terms with the ways people talk out of their asses in class. I have to reconcile the anger that’s been growing inside me: anger at wealthy friends, wealthy acquaintances, wealthy professors, and the wealth of this University’s real estate. I have to reconcile my own lack of that wealth and the feelings of inadequacy that are tethered to that reality.
The classroom is supposed to be a meeting place of disparate backgrounds, worldviews, and identities. The need to flaunt our academically wealthy selves weakens this environment by erasing our differences.
I don’t always have the words to articulate why I’m angry at wealth, but right now, I really need to believe that, at least in class, we shouldn’t have to imitate wealth. And I really need to believe that we can deny wealth inequality access to the sacred space of learning.
The author is a first-year at Barnard College and an associate columns editor for Spectator. She sort of thinks eating the wealthy could be, like... a sustainable alternative.
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