Wednesday, May 21, 2008

God I hate Reedies (sorry M!)

This fact was confirmed for me today when I sat in my car listening to NPR for two hours in the parking lot at work because I had left my keys inside the night before. (Or so I thought. Turned out they were at home in my pocket. And a co-worker had snuck inside through the front so I could have only waited an hour if I'd chosen to wait where I could see both entrances. But that is neither here nor there.) I really like Think Out Loud, except that it's too short and on at an inconvenient time for me to catch it very often. Today their topic was WW's story on Reed (related to a recent student death via heroin overdose): are their drug policies too permissive? I really liked both Reed's Dean of Students and the WW writer right off the bat. But the longer they talked (and then argued, however civilly) the more irritating they became. And then a recent Reed grad, the 2005 student body president in fact, joined the conversation and he irritated me from the get-go. Ultimately this was about my feelings regarding Reed, but there were some unrelated things that ired me too. I will list them later so I can get to Why I Hate Reedies Oh My God So Very Very Much Seriously Guys Get Over Yourselves. (Don't worry - it's a short list. But poignant. Very poignant.)

Okay, so when I finally got into my office I was going to post on their blog about this. But for reasons that are not worth going into, I was thwarted by their login system. And this is probably for the best. I will copy for you here the text that I wrote in anticipation of a future post and you will see that this is most likely not the kind of thing I want to post on OBP. I'd like to look like, you know, not a huge asshole. (I know, it's a small goal. Baby steps!) Also, when I'm angry and trying not to swear, I come off sounding like a hugely pretentious prick. Keep in mind, I had like half an hour to stew before getting a chance to put fingers to keyboard. You can imagine how pretentious and douchey an earlier draft would have sounded. Also, I've added anything in [brackets] because the tone was kind of uneven and I would have cleaned that up before posting it anyway.

"As I listened to this program, I found myself more and more irritated. Reed students and faculty talk about the school in a very insular way: it's always us versus them. "We" this and "our" that, in a way that is completely different from any other University with which I am familiar. In some languages it is possible to distinguish between "we" inclusive (you and us) and "we" exclusive (just us, not you). English is not syntactically or morphologically one of them, but pragmatically Reedies have found a way to exclude everyone with their We. Somehow when I hear administrators or students from either of my alma maters (U of O and Georgetown) talk about their community, about their "we," it always feels more inclusive, like "we at the U of O" could be extended to "and state schools in general" or "and Oregon Universities in general." As a sociolinguist, I'm almost tempted to study this phenomenon. But as a listener, I'm too irritated to really consider it.

Did you notice how both the Dean of Students and the ex-Student Body President both talked about Reed like it's the only college to ever have intellectual students bent on serious academic pursuits? [sarcastically] Yes, we at the University of Oregon were only interested in cavorting and picking our noses. And at Georgetown… well, don't get me started on how unserious the students were at that place!

Reedies work very hard to set themselves apart, but not in the quiet way of people focused on action and effect; rather in the noisy way of people desperate for attention and approbation from the very people from whom they claim to be so far apart. Harvard alums may mention their alma mater in the first five minutes of any conversation, but that word stands alone as a symbol of intelligence and academic excellence (even when the act of mentioning it without context is irritating and belittling). What does it say about Reedies that it isn't enough to simply mention Reed, but requires a minor soapbox about how intellectual and above everyone they are. Insecure much?"

Yes, I am a mature adult. And everyone cares about my opinion. I MUST SHARE IT WITH YOU NOW!


Sorry. Moment of introspection. ::cough:: I think it's passed now.

I will now summarize the experience of listening to the reporter and the dean argue with this brief one act play.

Reporter: I was working on a different story when this kid died. I interviewed a BUNCH of people. Plus, I live in Portland, so I've heard all about Reed.

Dean: Yes, Reed has a drug problem, but so do all universities. I was a little sad that you chose not to talk about that.

Reporter: Sure, they all have drug problems, but Reed is perceived as particularly permissive and I wanted to investigate that.

NPR Lady: Dean, what would you change about the story if you could?

Dean: I was very very disappointed at the characterization of Reed as untouched by the student's death. We were all very upset! VERY UPSET!

Reporter: Yeah, I know. I talked to the kid's friends and family. What I was commenting on in my article was the fact that no policy changes have been made. The administration has seemed virtually unmoved from a policy standpoint.

Reporter: But you're not making policy changes.

Dean: Yeah huh. But we were reviewing that policy before anyway. It's very complex. Reed has a very complex view of the world and its students. But Reed is very open too. We welcome everyone. Our students are intellectuals.

Reporter: I was physically escorted off campus four times.

Dean: Well, we're open all but three days of the year. Our Ren Fair is only open to Reedies. Who are intellectuals.

NPR Lady: Why is that?

Dean: Because, we want to keep out undersirables. But Reed is very open. And intellectual. And complex.

NPR Lady: Undesirables? Did you seriously just say that?

Dean: You know - high school students - it wouldn't be appropriate - and people selling... things... that would be... bad. But Reed is very open. Except during Ren Fair.

Reporter: If it's so open, why was I asked to leave four times?

Dean: You shouldn't have come at Ren Fair.

Reporter: I had a pass! I went through all the official channels - I was the invited guest of an alum! I didn't interview anyone, I didn't ask any questions. But within five minutes of being on campus I heard some kid screaming like an animal on a bad psychotropic trip.

Dean: We have a tent set up for that. Reed is very open. Reed is very complex. VERY COMPLEX! Our community is very complex. We're intellectuals. SO SMART!


So there you have it. The implication throughout was that Reedies are too smart for anyone else to get them. My favorite part was probably when the reporter asked the dean why it is that Reed only graduates 72% of its students whereas comparable "elite" colleges graduate 95%. Could it maybe be the drug problem? I will give the dean this: he started out by saying "It could be, I don't know! I've never seen a study looking at that, so it's possible. We can't know that." And then he went on to say that basically a lot of students come to Reed and don't get how Intellectual and Complex it is; they can't hack it and they leave. Please note: I've only known two Reedies (that I'm aware of). One is brilliant and flourished, graduated and went on to bigger and better things. The other was a HUGE pothead, became a bigger pothead, was suspended (or something), given second chances to clean up his/her act, and then dropped out to go to a school where people just cavort and pick their noses all day. (Potheads are known cavorters.) I don't think that says anything about Reed, necessarily. I think the us/them thing says everything, though. (Please to note: my successful Reedie friend never talks about Reed in those terms. Ever. It's like it's just another school and we all went to school.)

Here is my list of things that bugged me in general. It's only two things; does that even qualify as a list?

1. Both the Reed Alumn and the Dean of Students misunderstood about 40% of the questions they were asked. It wasn't that they missed the point. It was like they only heard 2 words out of each sentence and were guessing at what the question was like some kind of horrible Jeopardy-Scattegories hybrid. The irony of this was intensified by the fact that they both kept harping on how brilliant everyone at Reed is. So brilliant they can't listen to full sentences OR so proud they can't ask for clarification. But mostly the former.

2. There just wasn't enough time. The NPR moderator kept asking for people to call in and they only had time for two, maybe three calls. "Have you ever been addicted to drugs? Have you ever known someone who has? Call in and tell us about it!" Then ten minutes later - no calls answered, by the by - "Are you a college student? What is your schools drug policy like? What do you think of Reed's" and of course none of those calls, assuming there were any, were answered. I would have called in, except I kept expecting my boss to show up and let me in the building and that would have been embarrassing. Also, I probably would have just shouted into the phone "glarbedyglarbdityaaahglefrazzlebagglebaggledybuh!" I was so annoyed by the end. (And the two Reed guys would have been like, "Ah, you must have attended a state school!")

So there you have it. That is my Reed Rant.

Reed: if Georgetown and Harvard can manage to talk about their student body inclusively, so can you. Please get over yourselves, your holistic evaluations, your organic vegetables and your COMPLEXITY and INTELLECT.

Also, is "snuck" not a work? Doesn't that sound right? If it is, what's wrong with my dictionary? If it isn't, what's wrong with English?


Dale said...

I find Reed's culture irritating too, though I know some lovely people who went there.

My list of what I dislike about it is also two items long:

1) Most of the people there are unhappy.

2) Most of them are deeply invested in thinking this unhappiness makes them special.

It is a wonderful school in many ways. I was very relieved when my daughter decided not to go there, though. The last thing most teenagers need is encouragement in being miserable.

SonicLlama said...

In retrospect, I'm very glad that I went to a big school. Eugene may have its own kind of insularity, but U of O still had a decent array of people at it. Sitting around in an ivory tower, for me, would have been like a continued adolescence, especially since Lincoln was very much an insular ivory tower of a high school.

It's easy to get an inflated sense of your own importance in such an environment, and to also have an unexamined world view. I like academia, but if it's your only point of contact with the world, your thoughts and actions can get pretty absurd. You can easily file the edges of complex issues, fit things into your own set of beliefs, and come to believe that that which supposedly threatens your set of ideas also threatens you.

At least that's my experience- the experience of having a set of academic and political ideas that are a bit outside of the mainstream, and envisioning them as assaulted at every turn. If you have defined yourself by your narrow academic ideas, then that which is contrary to them becomes contrary to you. If your ideas are outside the mainstream, then you will indeed find at least small resistance on a regular basis. If you belong to an insular community, then that reinforces the feeling that you have carved patch of sanity out of the world, and that it must be defended and fought for.

But, such insularity and excessive self-identification with academic ideas and ideals ultimately leads to unhappiness, unease, and a bit of fear as well. Contact with the outside world, with contrary forces, with others who do not dwell in your ivory tower, is inevitable. The primal, human impulse is to come into conflict with those others, those who are different, those specious of your ideas and ways, and that conflict, large or small, only aggravates insularity and unhappiness.

Anyway, that's why I think spending all your time in a classroom masturbating your brain-parts is bad. Sounds like Reedies should get out more.

Sydney said...

I don't know - I think the "getting out more" is what's getting them into trouble these days. So long as by "getting out more" you mean "do more drugs."

I remember going to a party either the summer before or the summer after our freshman year in college. A group of Reedies had shown up, I assume they were invited, but no one seemed to know them. It was like, "I think they're friends of..." and then a vague gesture. They didn't talk to anyone, and I remember they were all slender and hip, prob'ly vegan, sipping a microbrew they weren't sharing (where's the love, guys?) and just daring anyone to sit with them. My question, in retrospect, is, what would they have done if I had sat down next to them and made conversation instead of been all full of vim and attitude? Probably they would have silently glared at me and told in-jokes, which was pretty much what they did to people who were just walking near them.

Do Reedies really hold themselves apart or are we also responsible? I think it's probably irrelevant at this point: they could turn the whole perception around by talking about it like its a normal school and like the students are normal bright kids. It doesn't really matter who created the image if the imagined are actively re-enforcing it.

Also, I've also been kind of an old fashioned girl. It really bugs me when people are overly friendly with their professors or bosses. Being friendly? Awesome. Bumming rides and accepting home-grown produce? Maybe a little too friendly. But then again, I don't like PDA either, so maybe I'm just crazy. (Seriously, teen agers!: it's Fred Meyer. Stop making out! I'm here for Cheerios, not super ultra softcore!)

Circe2020 said...

Wow! I love your blog. I have to admit that I had no idea what/where Reed College was until I read this blog and googled it. U of O:(check). Georgetown:(check). Reed: (???). Yeah, not so much. We on the East Coast apparently are out of the loop on that one. But your summary of them was quite entertaining.

Found you while googling "Aztecs in South Dakota" after watching National Treasure 2. Similarly confused. Great summary of dialogue. I KNEW I should have read reviews beforehand.

Sydney said...

Ooh! A new reader! Welcome to this place where I rant about things in posts that are each about 500 words too long! :D I clicked on your name but it did not link to an active blog. Post a link in any comment section if you have one. Also, is there any phrase Google can't find?