One of the first memories I have of my first year in college is Jell-O wrestling. I have absolutely no idea how, on the last Saturday night before classes started, my new roommates and I — perhaps on our way to some black(er?) social event — ended up amongst a crowd of fellow co-eds, standing on the dusty lawn of some random frat house watching students wrestle in a pool of mud and The Cos’ favorite dessert, but there we were, equally befuddle and alarmed by the spectacle. Whitley and Dwayne were not my classmates, but witnessing Jell-O wresting informed me that I was, indeed, in a different world.
Several eons have passed since that late summer night in West Lafayette, Indiana (Boiler up!). I’ve registered and graduated and registered and graduated many times over. In the interim, I imagine, there have been many, many more Jell-O wrestling matches featuring all too eager–and inebriated–co-eds gaining such learning on their parents’ dime. (Seriously, how much Jell-O does one have to buy in order to properly coordinate a Jell-O wresting event? Sounds like a math problem to me.) Since the only thing I’ve ever been in my adult life is a student, I’ve picked my own brain to come up with a few tips. Call it my effort to compile a list of unhackneyed advice that just might help you during your first year (and beyond) of college. You’re welcome.
Pledging is not a major. I know, I know, there is just something about the way those Deltas stroll to “My Chick Bad” (Ludacris’ chick is so bad, she don’t need a verb. That’s bad as hell.) that makes you want to don crimson and creme. And, should a black woman find a man to marry, her sorors will sing at her wedding. But trust me, wannabe neo, your college education is not–and should not be– the spec script for the Stromp the Yard sequel or Drum Line 2 (Dr. Lee ain’t my daddy! — Oh, Nick Canon). There are other ways of finding out the recipe for Kappa Kool-Aid. Besides, you don’t want your life to peak too soon, Half Pint.
Be honest…because frankly, your late paper excuses suck. So you didn’t listen to my first bit of advice, and now you’re totally buggin’ because you didn’t finish your mid-term paper because you were out all night pledging? Ok, fine. Don’t spend the morning fabricating some terrible excuse about why your work isn’t done. Why? Because you sound stupid. Your late paper excuses only sound good to you and your hungover roommate. Trust me. If the work isn’t done, tell your professor it isn’t done; don’t lie. You make it so much worse when you lie. Just tell her that the paper isn’t finished. Maybe she won’t penalize you. Maybe you’ll have to take it on the chin, but you won’t look like an ass. If you still insist on lying, there’s a blog post I wrote years ago floating around the internet about the most convincing ways to get a paper extension without really trying. I’m not going to post the link, though. You’ll have to work for that.
The staff are your friends. And by staff I mean all the folks who aren’t faculty: the janitors, the secretaries, the LOAN officers. Here’s something really simple: Say hello–and mean it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen staff just treated as if they were invisible cogs there to do the dirty work of the students and faculty. If it wasn’t for them, the school would implode. They’re people; treat them accordingly. Clean up after yourself. Act like you have some home training. In a pinch, they may be the folks who can actually help you. But that’s not why you should get to know them. Just don’t be a bastard towards them, ok?
They’re not going to free Mumia, but sign the petition, anyway.
A few books you should (and will) read while in college: Zami, Blowback, Brave New World, Invisible Man, The Wretched of the Earth, The Leviathan, The Communist Manifesto, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Beloved, Notes on the State of Virginia, Simulacra and Simulations, The Origin of the Species, Things Fall Apart, The Stranger, Crime and Punishment, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Democracy in America, and a host of others I can’t think of this Monday morning.
Go Veg (because that’s where the girls are). You’re not going to get a date playing Sony Playstation all day, but you might get one if you become a vegetarian. I’d say the same thing about a women’s studies course, but Fallon might smack me.
Speaking of, become a feminist. It’s now or never. Also, it’s prime time to kiss a girl. Be sure to pick up your free pass from the women’s studies department during orientation week. They should also have condoms.
Protest something. (See Abu-Jamal, Mumia.) Seriously, this might be the only time you’ll have time be an activist. After graduation, you might have to get a real job. (I kid, I kid.)
Open mic. I know. There’s just something about that sing-songy cadence and/or an acoustic guitar that makes what’s being said sound profound. It’s not. Still, go. Heckle.
Music(ians) you will inevitably–and probably should–listen to while in college (because blazing hip-hop and R&B has rotted your brain): Robert Johnson (duh!), Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell (she never lied), Billie Holiday, The Smiths (it happens to the best of us), The Roots, David Bowie, The Mamas and the Papas (don’t hate), Bob Marley (not just for frat boys), The Cranberries (because I said so), Fela Kuti (from the obvious files), Curtis Mayfield, Lucinda Williams, Donny Hathaway, some underground hip-hop courtesy of your campus backpacker, The Clash, The Cure, Carole King, Esthero, Fat Freddy’s Drop. And, of course, a jazz musician. Pick one. If you need help, because getting into jazz can be daunting, go visit a black studies professor during office hours. He has at least one poster of a jazz musician on his wall.
Love will tear us apart. Ten bucks says you and your high school honey are over by midterms.
Be kind to your T.A. They’re people, too. They just made a very, very terrible mistake called graduate school.
Have a great first week of school!
P.S. I co-wrote a blog for the Crunk Feminist Collective. Check it out.