Somewhat misanthropic? reflections of a continuing confusion

Abigail Thompson

I’ve pretty much been confused since the day I arrived on this campus. I’d venture so far as to say I’m even confused about what I’m confused about, and what’s more – I’m not entirely convinced that that’s a bad thing. Walking around in a relentless, chaotic mental cloud of perplexity has been really eye-opening, not to mention humbling, for me, a completely ignorant Missourian who used to think that good grades indicate intelligence and sense, and that pleasant demeanors indicate virtuous intentions and genuine benevolence.

I truly do not understand The University of Alabama. I just…nothing makes sense to me. I have met people whose literal existences I will cherish for the rest of my life. I believe the world is a better place for their presence, and I am crazy lucky to have met these absolute winners, whom I know are actually changing the world with their veritable love of all that is true, noble and good. I have a few professors whom I admire, a few whom I hate and only one for whom I genuinely harbor no respect. I have realized a passion for learning I didn’t know I had, and am continuously impressed with the resources this school has to offer its students. Lastly, I see a high bar at The University of Alabama – academically, physically and spiritually. Every single day I am awed with what so many of us have achieved. So many days, I walk around campus overwhelmed with the beauty of it all – the profound green of the quad, the ethereal quality of the girl studying on the steps of Gorgas, the contagious joy in the three boys playing Frisbee between the trees, the happy ridiculousness of the student dressed up as a panda, and the stalwart American flag looking over us all – some days I feel so lucky to be here it hurts.

Other times I feel tired, disappointed, and so, so unproductively, destructively judgmental. I wonder how a system, one which is supposed to build up today’s young men and women to be the leaders of tomorrow, can be so dishearteningly and depressingly misogynistic, ignorant and prejudiced. I see young women base their decisions off of whether or not “the guys will be upset,” and the leaders I’m supposed to respect give me key insights like “you don’t want him to think you’re a slut, but you don’t want him to think you’re a prude, either” (I mean…disparaging to men much?) and “go to the party, don’t study – you only get to do college once.” 

I see a student government with the potential to be impactful rendered useless, only perceived as relevant by those who feed its corruption, and seen as pitifully ridiculous by those who have justifiably chosen not to care. At social functions, I see white, all white – literally SO white – this monotony the straightforward result of an inability to perceive the inherent racism in inequality of opportunity. 

I see a system that is bad, but a population of young people that are decidedly not. The worst thing about the Greek system is that one can (rightly) condemn the mass conformity, both the inadvertent and the advertent racism, the unacknowledged misogyny, the inherent uselessness, and then one meets one of us. Surprisingly, a lot of us are nice. Surprisingly, many of us are smart. Surprisingly, most of us want to do something with our lives other than drink, wear big t-shirts and marry the next broski that comes our way. In other words, the individually great members of this disgustingly debilitating system no more fulfill our stereotype than anyone else out there – men and women alike, we have our flaws, our strengths, our goals and our nuances – and we’re all a little confused, just like everyone else. Except we’re in a system that sucks – a lot of us just don’t know it.

This all (maybe?) brings me to my most prevalent point of confusion: do I even like people? Sometimes I think I do. I see the laudable prestige in the Walk of Champions, I see the nascent dreams in the girl sitting next to me at chapter, and I see the profound effort in my professor. I see the beauty of this place, everyday. I can’t wait to get out there, to use what I’ve learned to do good, to make things better for someone, anyone, under a big blue sky of endless opportunity and absolutely no discernable limits. 

At the same time, I see a population of people, bright, unassuming, and just doing the best they can, who are achingly unaware of the hurt they can and do impose upon others. I see those who perceive problems and only solve them so far as their own personal gain. I see those who truly attempt to make things better, but are insulted, ridiculed or ignored. I see those conscious of what’s going on here optimistically choose to ignore it in an effort not to offend. 

I see people (like myself) who adopt the cynic or the coward’s excuse, choosing not to care out of a tacit disillusionment. Most of all, I see a group of young, smart people turned into the worst versions of themselves by a system cultivated by hundreds of years of historical ignorance. So…do I like people? I don’t know. I just…how can people be so good and so bad? All at once? Why are we unable to fix things? Why does no one care – why do I not care anymore? Should I? Why is everything so confusing?

I love this school – I love how it can build people up and harness their talents, preparing them to slay out there in the great wide open. I also hate this place – I hate what it can do to people, how it can depress and disappoint them to a point where they think those things about this place that suck, are actually normal. I wonder if this article means anything – is there purpose in it? Probably not. I don’t know anything, and I’m not sure if I ever will, but I’m glad I was lucky enough to spend this phase of my life on this campus, with these people, at this time. The world is a beautiful, amazing, and humbling place, but it’s filled with flaws we have to fight every day to reach that place we know we can find, together. The University of Alabama is no different; we just have a historical legacy that’s a little worse than most, fighting every inch of our progress like our frail human history tends to do.

Abigail Thompson is a senior majoring in economics and political science, with a masters in applied economics. She will be a Kathryn Davies Fellow for Peace this summer at Middlebury College, and is the recipient of a 2016 Fulbright Scholarship, which she will be using this coming academic year to teach English in Russia.