Brionna Jimerson | Respect Your Elders
A B.A. in ‘Minding my own business’
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 14, 2013 22:02
To date, I’ve named and claimed over 15 majors over the last four years. Now take a breath, and smile−−you are officially more decisive than I am. For about a week, I was a biology major, and then political science for upwards of a month. Somewhere between being a child development major and an International Literary and Visual Studies student, I was in engineering psychology, but I’d rather not talk about that part of my past. We will call those the “bad weeks.”
I went from one major to another for about three semesters−−but in secret, I had declared a psychology major in my freshman fall semester as a placeholder. During my sophomore spring, after earning decidedly average grades in every psychology class and realizing that I wasn’t as passionate about the field as I thought, I went to an associate dean, sobbing and riddled with uncertainty. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Not unlike most freshmen and sophomores (and juniors−−you know who you are), I was undefined, undeclared and insecure with my scholarly self.
After more trial and error than I care to admit to, I declared a major in American Studies, and I finally felt like I’d found my academic home. I nested in the basement of Eaton Hall and followed professors like Christina Sharpe, Sarah Sobieraj, and Jean Wu around campus like a lost academic puppy.
Considering Winter Storm Nemo: You’re walking knee−deep in snow (probably waist−deep for me!), with hundreds of companions on your left and right. Stay with me here, I’m a sucker for weather metaphors. The only road behind you is the one you’ve trudged−−and ahead of you untouched (academic and social) snow. Some folks have their next steps planned out, with freshly shoveled and salted gravel beneath their feet. And there I am−−without salt, shovel, sand or as much as a “Hey, kid! Go that way! There’s less ice that way!” So each maneuver is a virtual first, and that makes it all the more important and shaky as hell. Each step is the first one ventured, and I am being monitored from afar and compared to the steps of others. Cue the insecurity.
Still, most phone calls with my mother are reduced to a despondent pause, followed by a sigh of uncertainty on her end. Then it comes: “Brionna...what is your major again?” My mother knows this. She’s known for two years now, but each time she asks I can’t help but feel like she wishes I’d spontaneously change my academic direction toward something a bit more “marketable,” as she says. “I’m an American studies major, mum, with a focus on institutions and power in the US,” I tell her from rote. Another sigh. “What are you going to do with that?” Then there’s my answer, and her perplexed “Oh...what’s that mean?” I explain. Next, the contented “huh” before she politely moves on to the next topic of listless conversation. The silence between first generation students and their parents can be deafening.
I’m at the point where I want to say, “I’m going to do whatever I darn well please with my degree, thankyouverymuch.” While you don’t have to welcome the probing, I encourage you to find sound footing in your (un)chosen major. It’s just life, it’s only undergrad, it’s about realizing that you don’t have to sacrifice anything, you just can’t do everything at once. Worst−case scenario: you stalk professors via Twitter, and blindly enroll in each of their courses each semester. And that’s the worst that can happen.