On my first day of college at Santa Clara University I was a healthy mix of extremely excited, a little anxious, and completely out of my element. I must’ve checked the campus map (as inconspicuously as possible – no one wants to look like the new kid) at least five times to make sure that I made it to all of my classes. Of course, there were three different art buildings on the campus map, and I had no clue which would be the correct one for my Critical Thinking and Writing 1 (CTW1) class, which was located in “Art – Art History, Room G.” I decided I would just leave really early for class and try all three buildings if I needed to. The first one I tried out was a construction site, so I figured that I couldn’t have class in there. The second was a nondescript building behind my dorm labeled with a faded “University of Santa Clara Art” sign. It did not seem like the kind of building that an English class would be in, but sure enough, I found classroom G.
It made me feel significantly better that I hadn’t been able to find it easily when a third of the class trickled in late, and the teacher showed up a half and hour into the scheduled time. After the rocky start and confusion, class started, and within minutes I could tell that this was going to be a different of English class than what I was used to. Our Professor, Nicholas Leither (“you can call me Nick, or whatever you’re comfortable with”), jumped right in, prompting us with the question “what is happiness?” And just like that, the twenty or so of us in the class, none of whom really knew each other or what this whole college thing was going to be like, were already out of our comfort zones, facing tough questions. By the end of that first class period, my brain hurt a little bit from thinking hard, and I knew that this was going to be a course that challenged and changed me.
The experience and process of CTW1 and CTW2 through class time, readings, and research, has made me realize the importance of tangible learning. Each person has the ability and duty to interact with the world in a deliberate and impactful manner, becoming more engaged. There is incredible value in intentional learning that leads to unintentional growth and development. By allowing myself to be surprised, challenged, and pushed out of my comfort zone, I have gained an education past writing papers and reading books, I have gained the ability to look, listen, question, experience, and analyze in a meaningful way. I now know that as students, citizens, and simply human beings, we have a responsibility to constantly learn, open our minds, and, most importantly, to change, because change is a ripple effect and each of us has an important part to play.
The CTW process has challenged me to open my eyes and mind to the world around me. One of the first assignments in CTW1 was to watch “This is Water,” a video put to part of David Foster Wallace’s commencement address of Kenyon College in 2005 (Smith). Wallace discusses the importance of awareness, saying that, “the real value of a real education…has (almost) nothing to do with knowledge and everything to do with simple awareness. Awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us all the time” (Smith). This idea that it is easy to be unconscious and drift through life without seeing what is right there scared me as I watched because I could see how easy it could be to fall into that habit. That is not who I wanted to be, especially coming into college, and so I vowed to reject the “default setting” (Smith) of unconsciousness, no matter the difficulty.
It has indeed been difficult at times to acknowledge the painful and real truths that I have been exposed to; it has also been incredibly rewarding. As a class, we went to Safeway after learning about some of the unsavory parts of processed foods, especially added sugars, the farce of USDA regulations, and corporate and media control of the food industry. That trip to Safeway has affected all of my shopping experiences. Walking around Safeway was a surreal experience because I could no longer see it just as a grocery store, but as a part of so many larger and seemingly obvious problems, well disguised in plain sight. As we started to read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, it was very difficult to take in the information. Again, so much was seemingly obvious. It became clearer and clearer that people do not want to be shown the worst of what they are a part of, and I struggled with what I learned. Turning that focus of food toward SCU, myself, and my family made it personal. I had to recognize that not only was the food industry a problem at large, but right in my school, my family, and my life. Looking at myself and recognizing that I as an individual cannot help but be connected to the issues surrounding me, whether I see them or not, challenged me to look for what should be obvious but isn’t.
This led me to see that I, along with every person, am a part of a great deal of systems and conflicts that intertwine and relate, and that being aware of and engaging in the discussions surrounding these issues is essential. Some issues are ubiquitous and affect us all deeply. Food is one such thing that “generates good feelings and creates social bonds” (Foer 55). When something has such a positive affect it can be difficult to acknowledge the conflicts within it and how we relate to it. My Thanksgiving experience solidified this for me. I decided to use my family as an experiment. I brought up how “what we do to living turkeys is just about as bad as anything humans have ever done to any animal in the history of the world” (Foer 249) as we ate turkey. It was uncomfortable and my family tried to skate around it. We do not want to connect to the negative parts of the systems we are a part of but it is important that we do. This experience confused me because I wanted to be talking about the controversy while my family shied away from it. It became ever more important for me to look for the controversies and connections that I knew I was missing.
As we learned about the Columbine shooting and started to look at how food and violence connect, the intersections of seemingly completely unrelated topics became less far-fetched. Through a lot of broad research, I saw how college and the motivations for eating disorders are linked through stress. Then on a completely different topic I researched whistleblowers, people who inform about negative activities or practices associated with an organization or person, and how they affect factory farming and school shootings. While these two research topics were quite different, they show the range and depth of connection between very different parts of society. There is overlap that shows that “shared meaning is the meat and bones of culture” (Kidd 4). This shared meaning between different parts of society and systems points to the similarities between issues, and underlying issues that must be examined and lead to change.
Change is crucial. Ultimately, the awareness and analysis and connections must lead to change and growth within one’s self and through that to the broader community. The form of change is different across the board. For me, the first part of changing because of what I was learning was a change in mindset. I had to change how I view the world, not as simple and completely understandable, but as multifaceted, complex, and sometimes seriously flawed. This led to me becoming a vegetarian. This was a change that I could see making a tangible difference in my life, and perhaps leading to awareness and change in others. My choice and change could make a difference, and if in my food choices, why not in other areas of my life?
Continually throughout CTW1 and CTW2 there have been moments of shock, moments when I have closed my eyes and wished that some piece of information or circumstance was different. But those were the moments that also led to change and growth. This class has been a microcosm for what can happen when people engage with the world and with each other in the uncomfortable and unsavory issues that are a part of life. With change in attitude and willingness to learn and strive for change, perhaps it will no longer be true that “The most obvious important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about” (Smith). Maybe those realities can become the ones that we shout from the rooftops and put our hearts into to see, talk about, and change what is not right. Perhaps I have glimpsed a sliver of hope through this class despite the seeming hopelessness of what we learned. I have seen the hope that the truths we learn and the change we experience can leave an impact and create a change larger than we can see, a ripple that can lead to growth and progress in the long term.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.
Kidd, Dustin. Pop Culture Freaks: Identity, Mass Media, and Society. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Smith, Jeremy. “This Is Water – David Foster Wallace.” YouTube. YouTube, 20 Nov. 2014. Web. 08 June 2016.