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Writer's Block: School Ties

What is (or was) your college major? Do you use it for your career?

I think most people who have been reading this journal know that I majored in English Literature when I was in college. At the time, this was actually considered something useful, because the thinking was that you could fit yourself into any potential job situation and utilize your experiences to help you, no matter what you were doing. And I feel like that was true, generally.

In my case, I think I made even better use of the extra-curriculars I did than my major, at least in the beginning of my career. While at school I got to be a disc jockey on the campus station and that helped because I eventually went on to be a DJ at night clubs in New York and a couple of other places. I got to be president of Cap & Dagger, which was our acting group on campus, and of course I got to use those skills in several ways, eventually, along with juggling, which I helped teach as an undergrad, and those skills combined may have helped lead me to Clown College.

And, of course, I wrote a column for The Bucknellian called "The Dean's Office," where I would write essays about stuff that affected the students on campus in various ways. Sort of like what you're reading right here!

The most memorable of those essays (and to my mind, the only one worth remembering) talked about the diversity (or really lack of) on my campus, and it was based on a comment I read on the door of a stall in the bathroom of an academic building. Someone wrote that "Bucknell won't truly be a great university until it becomes more diverse." The response some other guy scrawled beneath it suggested that this was an impossibility.

I turned the comment to a challenge our college community to think a little bit more about what was going on with minorities and how some students perceived people that weren't just like they were. It was, arguably, my first ever "thinkpost" in an official capacity (I had previously written a letter to the editor about gun control). And it generated a considerable amount of attention from my fellow students, faculty and even the administration.

Recently, there has been a re-examination of the concept of diversity and the student body and how deeply entrenched the Greek system is for Bucknell. It is difficult. Lewisburg, PA is a beautiful area (a bit less beautiful since a lot of the farmland has been overrun with mall sprawl in the past several years), but there is nothing of note happening there! There are no social options except the Fraternities and Sororities. And if you aren't a member of those organizations, there are even fewer options. Of course, twenty-one is the drinking age anyhow, so it isn't as though there's a lot to do as far as partying. And it's not like Lewisburg is close to either Pittsburgh or Philadelphia... it's not even that close to Harrisburg (that hot bed of activity). So even driving somewhere is a difficult proposition.

Really, nothing has changed; the problems that existed when I was an undergrad are still the same and the same responses are the ones that people in charge are trotting out as a solution. Cut back on the Greek system is always the initial thought. I suspect the same issues will always be in place. Diversity only occurs when it is welcome. And when it is manipulated to happen, it never lasts because the energy required to continue to make that system work will eventually end.

I should mention I nearly minored in Psychology. But that's another story for another time.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 4th, 2012 09:17 am (UTC)
"I majored in English Literature when I was in college. At the time, this was actually considered something useful, because the thinking was that you could fit yourself into any potential job situation and utilize your experiences to help you, no matter what you were doing. And I feel like that was true, generally."

You know, I'm not sure about this because of the many friends I had to were in English Literature as undergrads, I can think of only 3 professions they went into: English Literature Professor, high school teacher, and lawyer. And one person I know who went back to school later and did a second BA in English Lit (his first is in music) is an ex-high school teacher and ex-union leader who now works in communications. He might be the most eclectic of the bunch professionally speaking. Lol.

Still, I found your post really interesting. On diversity at the undergraduate level, this is less of a problem at my former alma mater, but it was at the heart of our biggest university in our biggest city. though back in the early 1990s it was a hot button issue on our campus. Maybe I'll write a response to this question myself and tell you more about those days. I, too, was in the thick of things.

xo M.
Feb. 4th, 2012 09:51 am (UTC)
At the time, I think the gist of it was that corporations were hiring PR people and HR people and office managers and personnel and knowing how to type/word process was the big deal and most English majors knew all about that. We were versatile enough to go into any office setting, pick up the minor points and make it work.

My very very first jobs out of College were for a temporary agency that hired me out to other offices. I worked for an import/export firm in the Pan Am Building for a few weeks. God knows what they were actually importing or exporting... the company was Chinese. It's also how I got to work for the Yankees for a short while, when I got assigned to Yankee Stadium. And I worked for a few other unusual offices around town.

I think if you wanted a career where you used your degree with any practical service, teaching would be the start and finish, with the possibility of being a writer/journalist somewhere in there as well, and some form of tv/radio work as a long shot.

Bucknell is a really unique school in a way. The undergrad totals about 6000, which makes it smaller than some high schools, but to me, coming from a school where my Senior class numbered less than 40, it was (and still is) still the largest school I ever attended.

But there are a lot of legacies, which gives me an eerie feeling when I go back to campus, because the students all look sort of the same, like I aged but nothing else had! And the school has actually gotten even more elitist over time, as the endowment has grown and the tuition has ballooned and the campus buildings have expanded.

Most of the students that attend the school are from the posh suburbs around Philadelphia, DC, a fair number from other parts of PA, some extremely well to do New Yorkers, some from other areas nearby like Virginia, New England (especially the ritzy areas of Connecticut), upstate NY and some scattered from other places. But I suspect their greatest exposure to "minorities" prior to arrival on campus had likely been watching television. Ironic because one of the highest profile graduates from my school is Les Moonves, who runs CBS.

Diversity. It's still very much an issue... and in some ways it seems even more distant now.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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