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What It's Like To Have Your Undergraduate Experience Defined by the Politics of the Time

... and what we can do to make sure future students don't suffer the same fate.

By Steven Christopher McKnightPublished 3 years ago 5 min read

Preface. I am straight, white, and male. My rights and value as a human being have not been under attack these past four years. However, as a young man in the arts, the rights of the people close to me, specifically women, people of color, and LGBTQA+ individuals have been. Not only that, but the elderly and the immunocompromised, many of whom are close friends of mine, are being treated as subhuman and expendable. No generation is without its share of conflicts, I admit. For my grandfather’s generation, it was the Nazis. For my father’s, trying to live peacefully under the constant threat of nuclear Armageddon. We, too, face our share of conflicts, and while in part that threat stems from Nazism (no one likes a rerun, but this time, they’re American, so that’s original), our generational conflict stems from a sudden awareness of the inequities within the system we were born into and the death throes of that system.

I am not here to espouse a political opinion. As I said before, I’m a young man in the arts, so you, dear reader, can divine from that just how far left I stand. Rather, I am here to offer some semblance of testimony discussing what it has been like to have had my university years, my formative years, defined by the presidency of failed steak salesman Donald J Trump. Early November of 2016, I woke up to the news that he had been elected President of the United States of America, and there was that pit in my stomach. Naturally, I tried to make light of the situation. The first person I saw that day on my way to classes was a fellow first-year student named Anna. I told them, “Happy Doomsday,” and they laughed that wry laugh and went on with their day.

As a theatre major, the majority of my education was spent discussing the philosophies of artifice on the stage: what is real, what is unreal, what is truthful, how the realities portrayed in the artifice of the stage may not be realistic but may be truthful to the shared human experience. All the while, I was taught by socially and politically active professors who used their art to express what it’s like to be a woman or a person of color or queer in former Home Alone II: Lost in New York cast member Donald J. Trump’s America. Through their lesson plans and their example, my professors taught their students how to be politically, socially, and historically fluent people, which is something everyone ought to be. But there’s a greater dimension to that.

Culturally, the United States is in conflict with itself, and at its core is a war of culture. We saw it rear its ugly head when the terms “Fake News” and “Alternative Facts” started coming to light in regards to the news media, wherein the media became a cultural tool more so than an informative one. Attitudes toward current events, police brutality, peaceful protests, moments of Ill-Advised Airline Semi-Mogul Donald J. Trump’s garish pageantry, it’s all become filtered through the lens of news media, and individuals who ascribe to certain sources (not naming names) have had their views fed to them by propaganda machines masquerading as those news channels. It is these individuals who have constantly undermined the fight for American progress, and have turned it into a battle against American regress. My entire undergraduate experience has been spent gearing up for the cultural conflict against such individuals, and that’s reached its apex now when the lack of action from Negative-Millionaire Donald J. Trump’s administration in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and protests against police brutality and systemic racism. The fact that the propaganda machine can look at these existential threats to the nation and to human lives and say, “They’re not real,” is even more existentially terrifying. The fact that a third of America seems to believe them is even worse.

What I’ve come to realize is that a good percentage of my cohort was not able to rest easy during their entire undergraduate experience. Many of my close friends have had their rights tossed into limbo by the state of our current administration, and the fear I feel for the future doesn’t even compare to the anger and resentment they must be feeling right now. That is why I have already voted in the 2020 Presidential Election, and in all state and local elections as well. My last year at my university, which was unfortunately cut short by the Covid-19 Pandemic, introduced me to all sorts of brilliant young voices. As one of the leaders within my writing and theatre departments, I could be a mentor and guide, and I wanted to help these strong young voices be able to make art because they wanted to, not because they had to be in conflict with a disgusting mainstream culture of perverted truths and radical injustices. And even after this election cycle is over, the fight won’t be over. There are still millions of Americans who are not guaranteed the protections they have a right to, but we can fix that once we turn the tide.

To current university students and recent graduates, I say this: Vote. If your vote was meaningless, those in power wouldn’t be running ads constantly. Those in power wouldn’t be constantly trying to take your vote away from you. Vote for someone you know won’t wreck this country and this world irreparably, because your successors deserve the right to learn without the anxiety of the world crashing down.


About the Creator

Steven Christopher McKnight

Disillusioned twenty-something trying to meander his way through this abject mess of a world. Aspiring garden hermit. Future ghost of a drowned hobo.

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