End of Semester Blues and Varsity Blues

By Tiffany Sowa

I’ve been working on the closing of a seasonal chapter here in the middle of the midwest. I spent the week grading spring semester final papers and final exams in fits and starts, since the last day of classes was Friday and final grades were due Monday. The two days in between were spent attending my daughter’s graduation with her bachelor’s in art and psychology (she plans to be an art therapist, eventually) and then celebrating that accomplishment, so it behooved me to grade anything that was submitted by my students at the moment it was submitted instead of leaving it all for Monday morning. Fortunately, this tactic worked – I managed to submit grades 24 hours before the deadline…only to have an email at 7:30pm on Sunday night (during our grad party) from a student asking if they could still turn in their final research paper. Yikes.

What is it about students and procrastination? I’m not by any means a non-procrastinator and I know several artists of all varieties who tend to do the same, so naturally I assume it is an inborn trait of most creative people. We’re not lazy, we just work better under enormous time constraints and looming deadlines we put on ourselves that send our stress levels to DEFCON 1. It’s all part of the “tortured artist” persona. 

But, students? I repeatedly reminded them for two weeks…”last day to submit is Friday”…”Friday is the last day! No refunds, no returns! Get your work turned in!” so it’s not like they weren’t aware. I’m pretty sure they can’t all possibly be artistic by nature. I have just as many math and science majors as I do liberal arts majors in the average Comp I class. So what gives? Is it age? Maturity? Indifference?

I’m not suggesting I have the answer. I will look forward to reading the comments section for enlightenment. I’m just here to complain about the stragglers.

In my spare moments I have been previewing approximately 20 different books that in some way evaluate equity in higher education among marginalized groups, which then dovetails into Ivy League elitism and the myth of meritocracy. This interest stems from my doctoral thesis statement. My program doesn’t begin until the Fall semester of 2021, but I am getting a jump start on the research by reading samples on my Kindle of numerous books. As loathed as Amazon is currently, I find it immensely helpful for this type of “browsing” because the algorithms suggest scads of books related to my search, and I happily fall down the rabbit hold of “Download Sample ” Wonderland. At the top of my current list currently are:

Paying for the Party by Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton

Academically Adrift by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa

The Inequality Machine by Paul Tough

Broke by Laura T. Hamilton and Kelly Nielsen

(I just realized Laura Hamilton is on this list twice, so I’ll have to look for more of her books)

The Hidden Curriculum by Rachel Gable

Austerity Blues by Michael Fabricant and Stephen Brier

There are 12 more in the TBR (to-be-read) pile, including the book that started it all, The Merit Myth by Anthony Carnevale, Peter Schmidt, and Jeff Strohl. I picked up this physical book a few months ago knowing vaguely what I was searching for but not really knowing where to begin. I got lucky. 

From the introduction:

“…colleges should do more than groom successive generations of governing elite. They should prepare student bodies that look like America for participation in a diverse civil society and equip them to reject authoritarian thinking that presumes one race, one faith, one leader, and one way of life.”

Ahh, yes. I remember now. My search stemmed from the feeling that education had finally, publicly and humiliatingly, failed us in 2016 and I wanted to know the why. What the heck happened, and how the heck do we fix it? I needed to know if it might happen again, and how we could possibly avoid it.

If you’re still unclear about what “failure” I’m talking about, I’ll be happy to take your questions in the comments. I’ll also be talking more about equity in higher ed among marginalized groups in other blog posts, but for now, I’ll just say that Georgia recently saved the entire U.S. of A. from the complete collapse of democracy as we know it, and we can’t allow ourselves to get that close to a dictatorship ever, ever again. I believe education is the answer, but only if it is accessible to everyone.

Until next time, keep reading.

One thought on “End of Semester Blues and Varsity Blues

  1. I can’t wait to read more of your blogs Tiffany, and thank you for such a wonderful reading list on evaluating equity in higher education. And, I can’t wait to follow your PhD progress (I’m your fellow PhD comrade).

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