Sometimes Academia is Toxic, But I Know Knowledge is Beautiful | Claire Barnes

We will leave this institution with seals burning marks on our right shoulders, but we will also leave with sleepless nights and tired souls. Talking with my friends about time, and time here, we all came to the same conclusion: WE ARE TIRED.

The institution draws many things from us — our funds, time, energy, expectations and intellectual property. For some, this drainage is much more personal and monumental than others.

Whether this exhaustion comes from the foreignness of the campus — for those whose lives were not prepped for success by the system — or from the sharp sting of rejection or unproductive criticism, it’s hard to say. We have each given in our own ways, and we have been drained.

The release of the drain goes “pop!” and the water circles from the sink into an endless oblivion of pipes and waterways.

While my reflection so far has been critical of Emory, the sink holds us up. What is the sink, you might ask? For me, the sink is knowledge.

Knowledge, despite the toxicity of academia’s production culture, is deeply beautiful.

When I sit in class and become enamored with an idea or person, I feel excited. When I sit on the quad and think about the nature of humanity and the world, I feel hopeful. When I hear other young scholars speak and challenge existing hegemonic forms of knowledge production, I feel inspired.

The drive of our generation to constantly create, remake and critique knowledge gives me tremendous joy. The joy of producing new knowledge exists in our lives outside of the academic system. Our curiosity and creativity will persist, strong and dynamic, regardless of the measures that judge their validity.

My buttress to the cruelty of the system exists in the embrace of this knowledge — which like all, is subject to change and growth. We are enough, and we are more than our resumes. Our joys and creativities are valid. Our lives are valid. Our feet do not always need to be running, dashing, towards the next thing. Taking a breath is okay. Our truths are different, but our conversations at the intersection of these differences are important.

My (somewhat) wise heart seeks knowledge. To invoke our University’s motto etched in the common space of Dobbs Hall, my first-year dorm, “I seek the future.”

Claire Barnes is from Los Angeles and served as an IDEAS Fellow and senior resident adviser. After graduation, Barnes will pursue a master’s in international political theory at the University of St. Andrews under the Bobby Jones Scholarship.

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