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Accepting the Challenge of a Liberal Arts Education

by Micah Wilkins, Editor-in-Chief

When looking through the Echo’s website for an old photo, I came across a story I had written my freshman year about an on-campus group that educated students about Latin American culture. I scanned through it, barely remembering the details. I came across the words (my own) “illegal alien.” At the time I was writing that article, I did not realize how problematic, how dehumanizing, that phrase is when referring to undocumented people.

What is a glaring inaccuracy to me now was a naive, innocent mistake at the time. I simply did not know the appropriate language. Reading those words over now, two years later, I am embarassed. I know better now, I suppose—on some things, at least.

“Learning is hard,” feminist scholar Catharine Stimpson said in her talk last week that was a part of this semester’s Activism and Academics speaker series.

Thank you, I sighed to myself. Learning really is hard.

This semester, my 50-pound backpack has officially become an extension of me. I leave my dorm at 8 in the morning, not to return until 9, 10, sometimes 12 o’clock at night. I supplement lack of sleep with several cups of coffee throughout the day.

And for what? Sometimes, in all the reading, the studying, the writing, when I feel as though I am up to my nose in assignments, it’s hard to see the end, the meaning of it all.

During a busy week, in a busy term, Stimpson’s talk was just what I needed. Her words were a reminder of the importance of the liberal arts education that we are all currently pursuing. According to Stimpson, liberal arts is the “freedom of the mind, to think things you haven’t thought before.” Going to college for us is more than just preparing for a job. It is preparing us for our future by providing us with the tools to think critically, to explore new ideas and to pursue our interests.

Stimpson brought into her discussion different historical and political figures that I had learned about in my history classes with Melissa Blair, people like the great Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, two of the figures that made up the historic Seneca Falls Convention on women’s rights.

Every one of the prominent feminists that Stimpson mentioned I had studied in Laura Vance’s Feminist Theory class.

After Stimpson’s talk I felt comforted that my hard work is not just for good grades. It is exciting when the material I’m learning in class, these ideas and figures, come into play in my everyday life. In short, it is incredibly motivating to be able to understand and wrap your mind around what a smart person is saying. It has made me all the more grateful for my access to education.

After completing her studies at the all-girls liberal arts college Bryn Mawr, Stimpson felt “more ready to take on a complicated world.”

The way I see it, the harder I push myself, the more I question myself, the more ready I am to take on a complicated world as well.

After reading those offensive words in the Echo’s archives, I couldn’t help but think about how far I’ve come since first arriving at Warren Wilson three years ago. I did not think about the things that I do now—about gender, about race, about privilege.

It’s true that in my time here I have come a long way, but I still have a long way to go. There are a myriad of challenges, injustices and prejudices that we must face and challenge in our futures, and I’m comforted in knowing that, in my three years here, my liberal arts education has at least taught me not to use the phrase “illegal alien.”


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