College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

‘A Resistant Mind,’ What You Ought to get from a Liberal Arts Education

Getting into college is a game — the college admissions game.

Former Yale professor William Deresiewicz spoke at the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College Fall Convocation Monday night about college students.

According to Deresiewicz, the college admissions system has created a funnel for getting in that is creating a narrow student — one who is part Ivy League elite, also known as a 19th century aristocrat, and part 20th century technocrat.

“You take advanced classes, standardized tests and spend the rest of your time on extracurricular activities,” he said.

“There is no such thing as time off; there is no time for yourself.”

On top of that, the student also has to be athletic, personable and passionate about a particular subject, but not so much so that they slack off on all the other subjects.

If that isn’t enough, the student has to be committed to service and leadership.

“It is not enough to be in student government — you have to run it,” Deresiewicz said.

And this system of resume-building does not stop once students get into college, Deresiewicz said.

Students have to continue to strive for excellence and not do anything unless it improves their resumes for work or graduate school.

Unfortunately, Deresiewicz said, students on this path look better on paper than they do in reality.

“The system has taught you to avoid risk,” he said. “You learn to measure yourself by other’s standards and not your own. Thinking stops once you leave the classroom.”

Students are not taking time to learn about themselves or what they really want to do, but rather are becoming what other people want them to become.

Deresiewicz thinks students should resist these molds.

“Being resistive means taking risks, not playing it safe,” he said.

“We have to unthink what we know. Reach your own conclusions.”

Deresiewicz said that to do this, students have to learn that solitude and loneliness are different things. Solitude is actually a good thing, which allows a student time for inner communication.

Deresiewicz recommended four broad ways to seek internal knowledge through solitude: sitting still, whether by the shore or in your room; keeping a journal; having long conversations with a close friend; or through reading.

“By friendship, I do not mean 968 friends on Facebook bouncing messages off of each other,” he said. “That is not friendship, that is a distraction.”

Deresiewicz said one of the best things about college is a door that students can shut and be alone with their thoughts.

“A liberal arts education should give you recognition of yourself — humanities are a different form of knowledge than science,” he said. “Science is about external reality, while humanities are concerned with internal reality.

“It is not quantifiable or variable, and it changes from person to person.”

from the Daily Mississippian by Cain Madden