Becoming aware of my ignorance

By

November is upon us. The biting wind is beginning to blow, and the rooting around in boxes and bins for winter gear has a more immediate sense of urgency to it. If I don’t find my mittens soon, I’m gonna lose some fingers biking to campus. But anyhow, I can deal–let’s talk about something else. Ignorance made my time here at Macalester relatively blissful for the first two years. No, it wasn’t that I was ignorant of what was Out There, for I certainly learned a shit load about that. But after two years of learning, critiquing, protesting, about all the fascinating, problematic, and worldly things out there; things finally began to come home. Now I know I speak about the need-blind debate last year almost every time I write, but there is a reason. It is not the issue itself, or the outcome, that changed my awareness of what is right here every single day. Rather, it was the process in which a few of us students participated and created that aroused such a change in consciousness for me.

What happened during that semester gave us, if only for a brief moment, a glimpse into the way things get done at this school: the power structures, the political games, the divisions and cabals. It was like eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Fascinating, freaky, and sobering. I became immersed in the fight and was barely able to keep my head above the water as the weeks went on. And right as all this work was finally coming to a head, I rushed off to South Africa for my semester abroad. Bam. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. I was in another country yes, but the longer I stayed there, the more I realized that the very same structures, struggles, and disparities that are exoticized and pigeon-holed by people living in the West as “third-world” or “developing country” problems exist right back at home. I mean, duh. Going to South Africa made me realize how ignorant a manner I went about daily life in the United States, and it made me vow to keep my eyes open when I returned.

The reason that Macalester exists is so that it can offer a space for the development of global citizens who will go out into the world and succeed. If those who come to Macalester begin to question the space itself, those who have a vested interest in the institution get very nervous and annoyed. Now, changing the nature of the institution is a tall task, and one that I wouldn’t recommend for any student with any sort of desire for sanity, but what can and should be done, is naming the institution for what it is.

Too much of our time at Macalester, and in life in general, is spent talking about, learning about, complaining about, analyzing and discussing the places, people, and events somewhere out there. This in itself is not a bad thing, in fact, it is quite positive; questioning and critiquing is a necessary and vital part of living a self-aware life. But questioning the other must ALWAYS be accompanied by questioning the self for it to have any validity in standing up to those standing elsewhere. And that is something that is not done enough, and marginalized when it is done.

If there is one thing I desire to accomplish this year, it is to raise awareness, increase readiness, and inspire action to question not only things out there, but things right here on our campus, in our city, in our state, and in our country.

We may not be able to bring about change in the structures of domination surrounding us by the time we leave college, but we can sure as hell name them for what they are. I hope you join me for this process, it’s gonna be quite a ride. Until next time, peace.

Seth Schlotterbeck ’06 is a columnist for the Mac Weekly. Contact him at [email protected]