I have a lot of regrets about my college education.
I regret that tuition was $40,000 a year, so that my classmates were mostly rich, white kids. I regret that I am paying back thousands in student loans. I regret that my journalism program forced me to take an introductory class on reporting, even though I’d already written articles for my hometown newspaper for two years. I regret that I took two different photography classes, but haven’t snapped a single freakin’ photo since. I regret that I wasted time, money, and precious sanity on a required math class that gave me the anxiety attacks of your worst nightmares.
And most of all, I regret that I took as many gender and sexuality studies courses as I did.Gender and sexuality studies classes ostensibly teach you to analyze the world with a critical lens, focusing on how one’s gender or sexuality impacts their life. Some classes deal with theoretical issues; others focus on literature, history or religion. Lots of gender and sexuality studies students go on to work in law, labor organizing, or social work. (“Women’s studies” is a slightly different field of study, as is “gay and lesbian studies,” but the career paths are basically the same.) The Gender & Sexuality Studies Department at New York University has been revamped since I attended from 2001 to 2005, so I can’t speak for the quality of the current education. However, my transcript from that time includes gems like the History of Prostitution, an introduction to grassroots organizing, and a class about pop culture where we talked about Eminem, O.J. Simpson, and the 1992 Watts riots.
I did learn stuff, of course: The history of prostitution class taught me about sex work, the grassroots organizing class educated me about labor abuse, and the pop culture class exposed me to the work of Anna Deavere Smith, who wrote a one-woman play about the riots. I can say it was all interesting.
But I could have benefited from more politics, history and literature classes — to learn more about the world in general, rather than one tiny little sliver of the world. There’s a difference between what I thought was “cool” to learn about at the time and what has actually proved useful in life. The lowbrow-yet-stylish topics we discussed — whether or not Eminem is sexist and racist, for example — will be out of date 10 years from now. I probably could have learned a lot about sex work and labor abuse by reading magazine and newspaper articles on the subjects. But learning more about colonialism? Globalization? The World Wars? Important books? Religion? Supreme Court decisions? That knowledge would have provided such a better foundation for me as a writer than what I think I received from gender studies classes.
Maybe this is just a case of the grass being greener elsewhere. In any case, I can’t very well go back to 2001 and change how I spent my money and my time. Today I just find myself playing catch-up, reading the great books and researching great moments in history that I should have learned in school.
Headed back to school or just want to relive your college days? Check out The Frisky’s special Schooled section this week!