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College and self-deception

Jee Seun Choi | Monday, April 30, 2012

Ten years from now, we will remember the college experience at Notre Dame as we remember our childhood. My childhood memories somehow represent a place where everything was ideal. Yet, the fact that I will never be able to relieve those memories creates this sense of nostalgia. When I was young, my life consisted of my family, friends and teachers, and the corner shop owners and their children. It was a perfect world.
At the same time, when I look more deeply, my childhood had problems I consider petty as a grown up: The continuous battle over food and TV channels with my sister, all the toys and pets I wanted but my parents wouldn’t get for me, neighborhood bullies and scary kindergarten teachers. Those are issues that made me sad as a child, even though I had very loving parents. But in the end, the feelings of sweetness precede the difficult memories. Thus, the memory became a sanctuary.
Maybe that’s why adults tend to idealize their college lives, just as we idealize our childhoods. My parents told me college was the one of the most carefree times of their lives, so I should enjoy it as much as possible. There seems to be a notion that college is supposed to be a perfect, happy place where your life only blossoms. Our lives do blossom, and I have enjoyed the past four years at Notre Dame. But I am noticing the negative sides of the college life are underestimated.
Diversity issues at Notre Dame seem to be one such side. This year, the Notre Dame community lived in the delusion the situation for minority students was better than it actually was. The fried chicken incident happened, and other cases of discrimination were revealed through the Town Hall meeting and “Show Some Skin.” Racism and discrimination are not just exceptional experiences of some minority students, but a stable part of the Notre Dame experience. Many students who are not a minority face different kinds of difficulties due to the homogenous culture at Notre Dame. Students who are in a minority, such as sexuality, religion, nationality, political identity or family background, have their own challenges.
A friend of mine who hates the party scene at Notre Dame said he had a hard time his freshman and sophomore year finding the right group of friends, even though his roommates were “great guys.” I have seen many of my friends suffer due to the discrepancy between the hard reality they faced in college and their preconceived idea of college.
After a breakup, one of my friends said, “I think when I look back my senior life after graduation, I will only remember happy things. I guess [the fact I suffer now] is okay. I just need to go through this.” Maybe in her case, it is good to detach yourself from the reality and try not to get too immersed in the situation.
However, when the problem requires any action on your part, this kind of detachment is very dangerous, as it disables you from accurately assessing the reality. This year has been a tough year for the race relations. Many realized that somehow we have been deceiving ourselves with the sense of normalcy that everything was fine when it wasn’t. Realization is the first step for advancement. Maybe when I graduate, I might end up remembering my times at Notre Dame mostly with nostalgia and happy memories. But the struggle will continue for those who continue to live in it.

Jee Seun Choi can be reached at
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.