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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fighting for What Is (or Could Be) Yours

College is supposed to usher you into a new understanding of yourself as an individual.  It is supposed to empower you with the knowledge that even though you are only one person in a world filled with billions of people, you are equal in worth to each and every one of those billions of people.  Your thoughts, your dreams, and your desires are just as important as the next person’s. 

College is supposed to give you a voice to express your needs and ideas intelligibly to the world.


Part of being an empowered individual is not taking “no” at face value. 

When we were children, it was enough to know that something was not allowed because mom and dad said so.   Most explanations (if an explanation was given) consisted of “Because I said so,” and that was o.k.  Not many toddlers would understand an explanation of John Locke’s social contract as the reasoning for why it’s unacceptable to hit other kids on the playground.

As adults, you’re mentally capable of understanding the reasoning behind decisions.  As educated adults, you’re capable of working through those decisions with other adults to detect flaws in the reasoning and/or to negotiate a solution that is mutually beneficial. 

I hope you wouldn’t be satisfied with just “no” if you went to the doctor, found out you had a debilitating condition, and asked if there was anything you could do.  There might not be any options available to you, but at the least you should be told why there aren’t.  

When faced with a decision you don’t like, ask for another opinion. Ask to talk to the manager. Ask for explanations, a justification of their policy. But whatever you do, don’t just lie down and take something without first fighting for your very hard earned dollar (or, in the case of college, your grade).

College is no exception.

This past semester, I found the following e-mail from a student  in my inbox:

Ok, I guess I got an F because I did not turn in my research paper because I never received a reply on if I could turn it in late so I took that no reply as a no

To say I was shocked would be putting it mildly. 

When your grade is at stake, FIGHT for it. Even if you’re the one at fault (for example, you forgot to turn it in), beg to be allowed to turn it in, ask for extra credit, offer to take a 50% grade cut on the assignment if you have to (after all, a 50 is better than a 0), but for God’s sake, don’t just slink around in the shadows hoping for the best.  Even if you’re told there’s nothing you can do, write the paper ANYWAY and turn it in for no credit, just to show your instructor that you’re committed to learning.  You never know, she might throw in some points come final grade time.

Instructors are people too and sometimes we get busy.  If you don’t receive a response, try again… and again… and again until you DO get a response. Chances are the first e-mail just got lost among the dozens of other frantic e-mails we receive from students towards the end of the semester. 

Fighting does not mean fighting

When I urge you to fight for every opportunity you can, I mean “fight” in the figurative sense of the word.  There’s a marked difference between belligerence and assertiveness.  If you don’t know the difference, invest some time right now in finding out. 

There are times when “no” means “NO” and no amount of sweet talking or argumentativeness will change that.   Give yourself the satisfaction of knowing that at least you tried.


Photo credit: GenitalsSky


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