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So Much More Than Vegetable Soup

LizJ's picture

 My image didn't show up on my essay, so I'm going to try this again...

I came from an incredibly white, rich, and privileged area where in my public schools we dared not openly discuss the topics of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, or religion for fear of offending a “different” person. Most of the time someone spoke of a “difference” it was in a negative or hurtful way, starting with my middle school experience that was especially disenchanting. I remember Mr.Kershner the Vice Principal telling us at an assembly that the school was a pot of vegetable soup and we the students were the vegetables. He enthused that with vegetable soup one puts all the ingredients in the pot in their own shape and size and when the soup is done cooking (or as Mr.Kershner liked to think, cooking and expanding the minds of students) one can still take out all the vegetables and they will still be the same vegetable. At twelve years old, I was thoroughly confused. I think the point he tried to make and failed miserably at, is that we are all unique, we are all of own particular vegetable, and when thrown together with other vegetables, we will make delicious educational vegetable soup. We would come out of the soup, still the same vegetable, just much tastier. I did not see it this way. After four wretched years of middle school, I most definitely did not feel like a “tastier vegetable.” I am pretty sure most of my peers felt the same way.

Middle school was four years of minimal education coinciding with bullying from some stuck up, spoiled bitches. Not only was my mind not expanded by my middle school education, but it mostly felt deflated by the cruelty of others. I did not go out on the weekends, I ate lunch at a table of girls who ignored me, and I was always picked last for teams. One night, two “friends” of mine messaged me online at the same time to tell me how everyone was saying I was a huge dyke and all around sucked in general. Needless to say, their insensitivity caused me to beg my mother to send me to boarding school so I could get as far away from home as possible. I identified with a little Jane Eyre. Constantly not fitting in, screaming to escape, yet sure something would have to get better soon. I did not go to boarding school. I instead continued with the public school system and ended up entering the homogenous world of Conestoga High School.

Known to be one of the elite public high schools in the state and even the country, Conestoga is a school that teaches the test. And they teach that test freaking well. I learned about the absolutist leaders of Europe and the inner workings of a human cell, but I did not really learn. My teachers stuck to a strict phase one “women in history” curriculum where an open forum for discussion on any “uncomfortable” issue was immediately squashed or dialed down to a point where the conversation did not have any real meaning. I was that liberal chick whose dad was gay and therefore might be too because I was going to an all women’s college after all. But high school was different than middle school, in that no one said anything to me, I just had to hear it from whispers, looks, and shrugs. I had a great group of friends, but they themselves questioned my choice of school and were not truly comfortable with diversity in any manner of being. I was sick of the silence, so I left it. Where did all the silence bring me? Bryn Mawr College.

            I have never been so proud to be a woman, than the time I have been at Bryn Mawr. There is so much opportunity right in front of me; I can get overwhelmed fairly easily. I am constantly being intellectually challenged in the classroom, the dorm, and even the dining hall. The atmosphere that is created in a same-sex learning environment is like no other place in the world. I am still discovering all Bryn Mawr has to offer. Not to say that Bryn Mawr does not have its faults, because it does. Bryn Mawr just gives its students the chance to explore and evolve as long as they put in hard work. Ideally, a phase five curriculum would be the type of education anyone would strive for in college, but even at Bryn Mawr I find it difficult to find women included collectively. Most of the time a phase three seems to be most prevalent, and I currently find that good enough. Maybe it’s because I have come so far from my past schooling experience, or maybe I am more ambivalent than I thought. Regardless, I am happier.

I know there is so much more out there for me to learn and take in, and Bryn Mawr is just the starting point. I believe, if not soon, that in the near future I will live in a world where education is about a collective history and will be more accessible to those who are not as privileged as the women at Bryn Mawr. Women like Jane Eyre. Unfortunately, she was never lucky enough to attend an institution that rewarded her for her thirst of knowledge and spunkiness, but instead was at a place that tried to squash out her fire. I had the opportunity to leave that place, and I did. I think Jane Eyre would have loved Bryn Mawr, just like I do, and she deserved to have come here. Instead, I am here. I will try to push boundaries and go places Jane could never have imagined. This is for me and this is for her.


Anne Dalke's picture

On becoming a tastier vegetable...

I'm wondering why you think that, in the near future, education will be both "more accessible" to all, and "about our collective history." How do you see that happening, given the increase both in economic disparity and in the cost of elite educations in this country? What is the data, what the observations, which go into making the story you (want to?) tell?

I'm wondering, too, what role you see women's colleges playing in preserving (or increasing?) diversity? You tell a painful story about the sort of discrimination against gays which is still all too prevalent in U.S. high schools, but what sorts of discrimination are practiced here? What forms of diversity are not encouraged? (For a prompt, see Cantaloupe's essay for a lament about our all "preaching the same message and believing the same ideas.")

Finally, I'd like to learn a little more about the images which both provoke and sustain you. What might be an alternative to that "tastier vegetable soup," as an image for the sort of education you want (and seem to be getting here)? And why is Jane Eyre such a model for you? (She ended up in the woods, after all, with a man who had been crippled and broken...why does that story inspire you?)