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Finding alternatives to neoliberal values

If you have taken a social science or humanities course at The College of Wooster or any liberal arts college, you’re sure to have discussed the ways in which neoliberalism and capitalism commodify human life and encourage an exploitative and consumerist lifestyle. These class discussions often move towards thinking of ways to subvert such a destructive way of life — a life built on a foundation of colonialism and fueled by self-interest. As it has been proven time and time again, this is a system that benefits a select few while disadvantaging a vast majority of the world’s population. 

Directly following one of my classes where such topics are discussed, I was struck by the hypocrisy of my setting — college. Colleges are an institution that, while teaching students to understand and challenge neoliberalism and capitalism, also encourage the internalization of such negative ideals daily. The structure molds and nudges us into studying, working and participating in extracurricular activities in order to prepare us for life after college. The rewards are provided to those who “work hard”; yet, who does “well” is influenced by race, class, gender, sexuality, education and so forth — in other words, privilege. Our days are packed with responsibilities that sharpen us into tools that are desirable  later, to be consumed post-graduation by employers — or so that is the hope. These actions take a physical and mental toll.

The way in which students, faculty and staff are treated reflects the capitalism of the United States for which a majority of the student body calls home. College is but a microcosm of a capitalist world where individuals are encouraged to commodify themselves and others for social, political and economic benefit. So, the question I was left with is: can it be possible to subvert a capitalist way of life when one has embraced, embodied and contributed to it throughout college? If we immerse ourselves in a way of life where we treat ourselves as nothing but vessels to fill with knowledge and skills to apply to jobs in the future, how can we truly make change? Is it possible to emerge from this educational system better equipped to think of alternative ways of life, or are we so immersed in this world and these actions etched into our bodies that it is hard to think and act any other way? I do not have many answers to these questions. Although, I do know it is important to be aware of and acknowledge the ways in which we as college students are living within the confines of an institution rooted in imperialism and capitalism. The environment in which we live is not teaching alternative practices but instead supporting old ones that have been proven harmful. Therefore, it is our responsibility to keep working towards living and breathing an alternative way of life. 

Ella Lang, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at ELang21@wooster.edu.

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