The way I see it, college failed me, not the other way around.
I ended up being able to turn a terrible experience into one that at least benefited me in a meaningful way.
I fucking hated college.
Just about every time this sentiment has left my mouth within earshot of an alum from my school it's been met with shock, disbelief, and even anger, as if I were purposely trying to murder all of their most sacred hopes and dreams.
In so many people's minds, college = the "happiest times of our lives," and for someone to walk away from those years with anything less than an all-encompassing joy, enthusiasm, and nostalgia means that they've "failed" at doing college "right."
But for me, college was a tremendously difficult time filled with racist administrators, elitist classmates, classist student organizations, dehumanizing social interactions, fucked up "friendships," intense loneliness, severe depression, and other types of mental unwellness.
The way I see it, college failed me, not the other way around.
And I want everyone out there having a miserable college experience to know that it's not your fault, and you're not alone.
While nothing may be able to make your situation completely better, the following tips helped me survive some of college's hardest moments and I hope they can bring you some solace as well.
1. Invest in relationships with people outside of your college.
The only thing more painful than hating my college experience was being surrounded by people who claimed to be having the time of their lives (later on I would find out that they, too, saw all the fuckedupness but chose to ignore it).
Not only that, but more often than not the pain I was experiencing was caused by those most immediately around me.
Because of this, I began to seek out and cultivate relationships with people that had nothing or little to do with my university. I'd do things like going to events at other colleges, signing up to do childcare for political meetings in town, and checking out a number of different centers and institutes unaffiliated with my university.
After several years of extending my social circle beyond my university, I came to develop a network of friends, acquaintances, and comrades that spanned a much wider range of races, classes, and ages than I ever could have created had I stuck to what was available to me at my school.
What are some places you've never been to in your town or city? What events outside of your school would you be interested in attending? What are some neighboring towns, cities, states you could explore? Perhaps the answers to these questions could help you find your own respite from your painful college experience.
2. Spend most of your free time hustling the system.
"If I'm going to stay here, I may as well milk this place for all its got."
This thought changed everything for me.
I had spent my entire first year of college not only hating nearly every aspect of my college experience, but also hating myself for not fitting the typical "happiest time of your life" college narrative I had wholeheartedly bought into.
Then one day I decided that enough was enough. If I wasn't going to have the "typical" college experience, I was going to stop fighting that fact and start taking advantage of everything it had to offer.
I started applying for every interesting scholarship, study abroad program, and internship my university offered and was able to do things like study abroad in Hong Kong, Ghana, and Mainland China (all for free) and spend a summer working for a non-profit that allowed me to gain skills that I still use today.
I picked several campus libraries, institutes, and centers, and systematically went through each and every resource they offered (which allowed me to do things like attend special seminars and faculty dinners, use strange technology like microfilm readers and digital media labs, and look at super old books and maps from the 14th and 15th centuries).
I looked into all of my university's connections to outside people, places, and events and discovered that these ties allowed me to go to museums for free, take classes at the art school next door, and meet internationally renowned writers, thinkers, and artists at special "members-only" events and venues.
Something tells me that had I been more fulfilled by the day-to-day social experience of my school, I wouldn't have worked so hard to take advantage of all of the institutional benefits it offered.
By trying to work through my dissatisfaction in a way that felt good to me, I ended up being able to turn a terrible experience into one that at least benefited me in a meaningful way.
3. Use this time to connect with yourself and heal your spirit.
In-between productive streaks of connecting to people outside my university and hustling the system, I often found myself falling apart, locking myself in my room, and crying my eyes out in fits of rage, sorrow, and despair unlike any I have ever experienced before or after.
The thing about college that most people dealing with trauma, abuse, and/or mental illness are never told is that college is often the time when everything that's been building up or brewing inside you finally comes out.
Between the physical and cognitive development we all experience in our late teens and early twenties, the looming "what are you going to do with your life?" question, and the "happiest time of your life" pressure, college is already a difficult time.
But when you add the emotional and psychological baggage many of us experience in our childhoods to the mix, college can actually be akin to a ticking time bomb of mental health pain and suffering.
For that reason, it eventually became physically necessary for me to seek out professional help in order to continue functioning in my life.
The years of running away from having to face the traumas I had experienced finally caught up with me and getting help (for me, in the form of medication, therapy, and meditation) quite literally became a matter of life and death.
Once I made my own mental wellness the number one priority, I was able to give up believing that "success" in college only came in the form of high grades and prestigious accolades.
Instead I went down to a 3-classes-a-semester course load, dropped out of all my extracurricular activities, and stopped looking at anything less than an "A" grade as a failure. I spent much of my time seeking professional help, crying in my room, and journaling my feelings in an attempt to get to a better place.
This plan actually worked for me, and today I am healthier, happier, and more healed than my younger self ever dreamed was humanly possible.
These suggestions may not work, or even be possible, for everyone, but it is my sincere hope that this at least gives you some sliver of hope that the light at the end of the tunnel will arrive to you someday. Until that day comes, please know that I believe in you and am rooting for you each and every day.