What I Wish I Had Known About College: Code Switch

What I Wish I Had Known About College: Code Switch

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Code Switch admonishes with the following:

  • Build a portfolio because being creative requires a product.
  • Review scholarly sources and quote them. Innovation is building upon other authors, not going it alone.
  • Learn from your feedback. College is about failing and learning from those experiences.

african_american_graduatesThe Opening
Being a first generation in college student was difficult enough. I didn’t have the benefit of parents or even extended family members who could set the expectations for me. I did not have the benefit of what my children will take for granted. What was more challenging, the culture I brought as a product of my home life and my academic tendencies up until college were incompatible, and in some cases, opposite to those expected and needed for success in higher education. My frustration is that no one explained the difference to me. No was was able to bridge the experience of a first generation college student and the best of college opportunity.

I heard a lot about “hard work,” doing your best, working independently, and the guarding against the failure that loomed if I did not apply myself. What those speakers did not realize is that those admonitions created barriers for me that other students did not perceive. Their inability to recognize my starting point meant that they were articulating policies that impeded my growth, experience, and success. It was only failure that educated me to the fallacy in my understanding and the ignorance in their speeches. They failed to realize that a code switch was needed.

As a first generation college student, I had a lot to prove. To me, that meant participating in multiple groups on campus, getting a job, and excelling in classes. This stemmed from upbringing that included those voices I interpreted to say, “You will never amount to anything,” and “You aren’t consistent enough to complete anything.” My determination was to engage in the opportunity and prove them wrong. The problem: I didn’t know how to create.

As a college student, you will do well to build a portfolio of your products. This means that the tasks, clubs, service, and employment you select must work to your advantage. Your Proof must change to Create, and that creativity requires products. Consider the references, the contacts, the projects with authorship credit, and the publications you can produce through your activities. Being on the program is nice. A paycheck is useful. But, tangible evidence and resume fodder are MOST important at this stage of your experience.

I thought relying on someone else’s ideas was cheating. Even if you did not pull answers from their paper, you were cheating to begin with another person’s thought in order to arrive at your own. In practice, this meant that it was unprofessional to read someone else’s work before your ideas were clearly formed. This stemmed from upbringing that prized original thought, self-sufficiency, and individualism. Those ideas are what got me to college. Surely, they would propel me to success.

Innovation is building upon other authors, not going it alone. Reading content from multiple and competing sources allows you to place your ideas in the context of the literature–what has been written about a certain topic. You must be critical of the content that you read, comparing it to your own ideas and the ideas of others. What is written is not fact, truth, and immutable. It is the best guess or even supported theory to explain the topic at hand. Your research and discovery can confirm, call into question, or even disprove a standing theory, but it will do neither if you are not conversant in the research and discovery that came before your work. It is not cheating to explore their work. It is vital to a valid learning process.

I thought failing had many options, and all were to be avoided. Failure included asking for help and admitting that you did not understand. In practice, this meant that anything turned in was final and no longer useful for anything but receiving a grade. I didn’t think that I could submit early to professors or seek their counsel or correction. This all stemmed from my upbringing, which informed me that I was lucky to be in college. Don’t mess it up, and don’t embarrass yourself.

Seek feedback from your professors, mentors, and peers. College is about failing and learning from those experiences. The more feedback you can gain, the more you place yourself in a cycle of self-reflectiveness and self-reactiveness. You are able to can build a network of supports for various project, term paper, and research needs. This model will serve you well as you engage with more difficult assignments in college and real-world tasks as a professional. The most contrary idea among producers is that they would produce anything and it would be perfect the first time. It NEVER is. It can’t be because perfection is only achieved with interaction.