Writing Authentically In an Institution

By September 23, 2016Writing about Writing

In the eighth week of Fall Quarter last year, I called my parents to tell them I was dropping out. I had spent the previous week talking to relatives and friends, developing my reasons for why after having my parents shell out thousands of dollars for school, I was giving it all up. At the time, there didn’t seem to be much of an alternative. I came to DePaul to live in a big city, to challenge myself academically, and to become a better writer, but nearing the end of my first quarter, I was feeling burnt.

Looking back, I think that at the root of my unhappiness was a struggle to find my voice within an institution. It seemed that my writing was always on a sliding scale— when I was writing in my voice in a way that felt genuine, I felt like I was compromising my grade, but when I wrote to what I thought were the expectations of my professors, I felt like I was compromising myself. This dilemma is one that I think many college writers face, and because of the social expectations put on college students today, I feel that many students, including myself, are choosing the grade. With the price of college and the competitivity of the job market today, there is a lot of pressure on students to perform. In our current educational system, the way in which we measure how well someone performs is determined by their grades. By the time we get to college, we have a decade of experience in this system. Before syllabus day is over, I can pin down the way I think most professors will teach their class, if they will give extra credit, how much homework they will give, and maybe most importantly, how they will grade it. Because of the increasing pressure put on achieving high grades, I know I was taking this information and tailoring my work to fit the standards of the class.

For someone who is passionate about writing, this process felt disingenuous. It never felt like I was putting in my best work. As a writer, I still struggle with this, but there are a few things that I learned that helped me stick it out another couple years:

Talk to your teacher.

In my experience, this has been especially true for teachers in LAS. Most professors will love it if you are excited about any kind of writing, so if you approach them about ways in which you can work what you want to write into their class, you might be surprised by their response. I had a first-year writing professor that allowed me to extend a paper I was working on in place of doing another assignment because I was so excited about the topic. He worked with me on the piece throughout the quarter and ended up submitting it to a DePaul writing conference.

Write outside of class.

Give yourself time to write. It is all about priorities here. College students are some of the busiest people there are, but if you really want to write your most genuine work, do it on your own time, in whatever way works best for you. 

Ask yourself: why do you want the grade?

In writing to fit the expectations of the professor, I think it’s crucial to ask yourself why the grade is so important? You might need to maintain a certain GPA to keep your scholarships, participate in certain clubs, or get accepted into certain internships. However, when I really considered the reasons why I thought I needed to get a 4.0,  I realized that it really came down to my need to feel validated. 

I implore you not to fall into this trap. If you only ever try to succeed by someone else’s standards, you lose out on the opportunity to create your own. Take time to evaluate what you want to write and how you want to write it—for you. Like most things, this is a process that won’t happen overnight.

I didn’t drop out. I think at some point I realized that I had more to learn from and give to this institution. Over the past year, I’ve been working on developing my own voice, setting my own standards, and trying to meet my own expectations with the collaborative help of  professors, staff, and my peers here at the Writing Center.  Don’t burn yourself out. The University is a tool for you to use, but it’s up to you how you decide to use it.