The Anatomy of a Social Movement: the system

One of the ironies of graduate school is that it does actually live up to the root word of skhole, translated as “leisure.” First, graduate school in the humanities has to be something you enjoy doing because it is a grind without much hope of bountiful riches upon completion (though it may seem so compared to most graduate student stipends); second, the course of study, teaching, working on your own projects, and sometimes a second job means that most of your leisure time is consumed by your studies–one of my complaints when I am stressed is that my academic career is restricted to my hobby since I don’t often get a chance to write or research anything directly related to my field in class. With this being the case, there is not much free time and the system is designed such that if you desire an academic, professional career you must persist, particularly during the semesters when there is an immediate grade at stake, but also during the breaks from school when much of your actual writing towards your career takes place (or, as with this summer for me, most of the reading for the comprehensive exams takes place). Some people enter graduate school to prolong college, whether because they can’t find a job, don’t want a job, or just don’t know what they want to do; others enter graduate school because it is exactly what they want to do. The latter group has an even tougher time slipping away.

The extended conversation about graduate school comes from my own regret about not joining the Occupy movement. I wanted to join. I wanted to put down everything and fly to New York, but I want my degree more. I want to have a fruitful and productive career more, so I did not get on the plane. I felt that I was not in a position to leave if I wanted to continue in graduate school. That is the nature of the system–if the opportunity for achieving something the individual values more than change exists, be it money or a vocation or a promise, then the protest ends before it begins.