Earlier this year, my Grammar & Politics professor was discussing charged language: if language can lose its charge, change its charge, or have charge that we forget to acknowledge. She asked if the term “college kid” was charged language, a term that undermined us–implying that we are not adults but overgrown children. Several of my peers agreed, a few didn’t, and one brought up the fact that some of us in undergrad are adults: who pay their own way entirely i.e have a job, pay rent, pay for their car. And to me, that does make you a full fledged adult. That being said: I’m not offended by the term college kid because I am one, the majority of us are–especially at my school where 92% of students live on campus.
To me, we are adults with an asterisk: old enough to make decisions that will impact the rest of our lives (like student loans) but still not directly paying our own way. Many of my college peers try to claim adulthood as a point of pride but our ability to postpone the very real responsibilities of adulthood is a point of privilege–one that we should acknowledge and be thankful for.
My own brother has been paying rent since he was 19. He worked for years after high school and then decided to take on the immense challenge of full-time work and full-time college. Now, he is at a 4 year university and works part-time in the school year and full-time in the summer. I’ve seen him slave for years; I listen to him try, and fail, to recall the last time he slept 6hrs. I see my dad leave for work every afternoon and come back when I’m getting ready for bed. I go to work–at my relaxed, cushiony, part-time freelance job–and am ashamed at my exhaustion. I try to imagine balancing a real job, school work, exercise, my sanity, and my social life all with the pressure of survival hanging over me…
It’s not that people in my situation don’t experiences problems–particularly fiscal ones. I’ve pleaded with the financial aid office; I’ve watched FAFSA expect my family to contribute money they don’t have. I’ve paid out of pocket for healthcare because I didn’t have insurance (and then went and got the cheapest insurance I could find just to have something–a monthly reminder that America really sucks sometimes). I’ve been broke. I’m almost always broke because once I get money I use it to tackle the list of needs that has spent months collecting dust.
My story is not unique and should not elicit pity. Yes, there are problems at the institutional level that put up road blocks for college students (whether we hit them now or 10 years from now). Things do need to change. But my struggles are microscopic in comparison to what people like my brother face. So far, it looks like I won’t need to take out private loans this year (as I feared). I have a credit card to pay for my books. My dad is going to step in this year and help with my health insurance fees. I have workstudy so I can buy my coffee, school supplies, detergent etc. And when things come up & my bank account ends up bone dry I can take solace in the fact that–no matter what–I will have a roof over my head in the form of a dorm room (and in my case, a suite!). I will have meals to eat, buffet style. I will have my family, my campus community, and my professors all there to give me guidance and–occasionally–cut me slack.
I am not yet “in the real world” and I am in no rush to be. I’m not ready for it. I’ve seen enough people work blue collar jobs to know that I don’t want to go out there without my degree in hand. So for now, I am more than happy to be a college kid: all the freedoms of leaving your parents’ house but none of the responsibility of paying for rent/food. And when things get hard academically, I will take a step back and appreciate the campus bubble. I will remind myself that life will never be this simple again.
I will do my laundry for free in my res hall, I will enjoy the company of my suitemates: who come from all around the country, I will stop at the salad bar during dinner, I will use the gym (included in tuition of course). I will sip the coffee I bought with my “flex dollars”, take a breath, open my textbook, and give thanks.