Dropping out means new opportunities
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I like saying “I withdrew” because it sounds nicer than “I dropped out.” It sounds like I am still in command of my education and prospects and that I have not forsaken the opportunity of a college education. It sounds like the institution could not give me the education I wanted, rather than reflecting my inability to handle the education process laid out by the institution. It sounds like I maintain my pride when in fact I wrestle with deep shame.
This is an explanation of my decision to withdraw from Whitman College and some of the events and thought processes that led to my ultimate decision. I share my story because I think it personalizes some of the issues that many students grapple with and may provoke other students to meditate on the importance of education in their own lives.
Initially, my reason for withdrawing was institutionally motivated. I wanted to stay on in order to continue my extracurricular activities and jobs and to be a part of the community. However, I simply could not fulfill the college’s expectations, meaning that I was not up to the task of finishing my degree as a full-time student.
The administration felt, and I agreed, that my flimsy plan to finish my degree (two or three classes a semester) was not sustainable. The administration did not encourage me to withdraw, but I felt that it was the best course of action because of the constant strain my academic work put on my mental health.
Health was a constant battle for me beginning sophomore year. I have struggled with depression all my life, but after lying dormant for a few years, a fresh host of problems emerged during the spring semester. The process is ongoing, but in trying to understand what about Whitman made me unhealthy, I cultivated new educational values that did not match up so well with my academic experience.
Personal relationships with teachers became pillars of support and also inspired courage. I felt I could speak more openly, and with this freedom came the boldness to ask questions that I once might have labeled as stupid or obvious but actually really wanted answered. Sadly, though, this rarely translated into the classroom setting where my insecurities settled back in.
These insecurities were aspects of my character that I did not like. I was competitive and irritable, wanting to demonstrate my own intellectualism and becoming frustrated if the opportunity did not arise or if I did not feel validated by my teacher or peers. These traits limited my ability to think creatively and take risks as a student. I was always looking for the brilliant conclusion I thought my professors were expecting me to find, but in doing so I sacrificed a great deal of actual learning.
Finally, I came to understand the importance of time in my studies. I do my best work and experience the most joy when I am able to work with a subject on my own terms, without the pressure of an intense workload. At a leisurely pace I ask better questions, work through obstacles more efficiently and am able to savor the information as I come across it. However, any Whitman student will tell you that time is one luxury we do not have here.
When the time came to decide about my future, I took stock of my educational priorities and tried to apply them to my experience at Whitman. The personal relationships with professors were there, but only when I could summon the energy to meet with them outside of the classroom. I wanted to feel joy as a learner and satisfied with myself as a person, but this was often denied to me because of my own shortcomings and hectic schedule. So, I dropped out.
I still wrestle with shame, but in spite of that I realize now more than ever that I am in command of my education and my future. I have left Whitman a more learned and aware person than when I arrived, understanding that an education is something I need in my life but that this institution may not be where I choose to pursue it.
My story is my own, and is not a call for those who are frustrated to withdraw from Whitman. It is an invitation to examine the particularities of a Whitman education and what aspects of it are nourishing or stressful. I believe that an awareness of the pros and cons of this educational model will lead to more educational support among students and a greater emphasis on campus health and give students the resources to maximize their educational opportunities, whether that is at Whitman or elsewhere.