Coming of age is something that is always different taking into considerations the social constructions around childhood and the practicality and expectations of adulthood. For many, this oftens means an active assimilation to and aspiration towards whatever is the functioning norm. And in previous generation this often meant swallowing ones pride and doing whatever is necessary to guarantee one’s success. This is something I can personally identify with as a black person because many times in history I have been exposed to the struggles of other black people of older generations that basically had to bite their tongues and to some extent subjugate themselves to others for practicality reasons. This is a struggle that is materialized in a lot of famous literature, such as the works of James Baldwin, Ann Petry, and Chester Himes. However, there has been in a shift in our generation. Our generation uses stories from the likes of the authors listed above and are taught to use those as ammunition by which we can arm ourselves to fight for what we think is best for our individual selves, regardless of the standing practicality of the norm. For example, wanting to be a CTSJ major often elicits the response from elders in my family that i should abandon the major and instead do something practical with certification that will get me money. However to those of my generation, and those teaching/training my generation, it elicits the response that generally follows “don’t worry about your undergrad major, it doesn’t matter anymore”
This occurrence presents many different levels of the standing problematic nature of higher education. First, it brings up the “Value Gap” that Selingo mentions is a disruption of higher education in his College Unbound. This gap is often the reason why majors like my own, that are unique to certain campuses yet hold the same value, are discredited and seen as impractical dead ends. This makes our generation unique because this is the first generation in America where students who pursue and succeed in exploring higher education still end up financially struggling and failing to achieve the social mobility that was previously promised by higher education. Consequently, our generation is forced to face the unique struggle of navigating the professional world by walking the line between practicality and genuine interest. Where practicality is less and less attainable by the due. Studies show that there is currently a disproportionate gap in the success of STEM students as opposed to others. This makes is so that students, now more than ever, feel forced to like or choose a certain field of study.
On the other front, this is the first generation of many to be so widely educated on how to successfully deviate from the norm. Schools such as Occidental that education students of diversity, equity, activism, etc. were always rare but there seems to be a influx of activism in our generation. This influx creates another paradox for students in which they are forced to engage in the normalized institution yet are trained to oppose it. For a personal example, as a Critical Theory Social Justice major I recieve plenty of knowledge on critiquing institutions such as that of the American judicial system (and its manifestations; I.e. prison industrial complex). The irony is that one of the only practical and fruitful extension of a theory major (according to popular belief) is to go to law school, where I would be learning to navigate and practice in the same institution that I spent the last four years critiquing. At bottom, my generation has been faced with some of the most dichotomous spaces to navigate and are forced to teeter on the lines between their reality and the unidentifiable influence of constructed reality.