Headshot of David Sowinski '25
David Sowinski ’25

David Sowinski ’25 (He/They), Perspectives Editor

My great love of learning was the primary factor in my decision to attend a prestigious liberal arts institution. For some time now, it has been my goal to spend my career in academia, expanding my knowledge and understanding of the structures we live in, and those which led to their establishment. After eight months in college, however, I have found myself contemplating a conundrum that faces young people in academia: we are expected to resolve the problems of our forebears, but are paid little heed by them, who deem us unwise.

It was a lecture I recently attended that solidified my thoughts on the matter. In it, the lecturer (rather hypocritically) criticized elite institutions of higher education—such as Davidson College—by claiming that they are not just and offer little to the betterment of society. Therein lies the conundrum. Society has been flawed by those who came before us, yet we are the ones being lectured on how it is flawed. Students across the country have recognized a number of these flaws and made efforts to rectify them, yet when they do, the very same who lectured us condemn us as hot-headed radicals without the knowledge or experience to speak on such things.

Indeed, at that vain lecture, the lecturer was asked what he thought young people have to offer to scholarly and societal discourses, if not wisdom. He replied that we possess an open-mindedness which is lost over time. While I can agree that oftentimes we are more receptive to new ideas and ways of thinking than our elders, the thoughts we form with this virtue are pointless when they fall on deaf ears. As it appears, then, young academics develop progressive worldviews, are stomped on by their older counterparts, and grow to become the stompers themselves.

For people like me, who wish to pursue academic study beyond college, the stagnancy that persists at the higher levels of education is a discouraging prospect. Learning is my passion, and the education system seems at this point to be the best way of going about pursuing it. I, of course, desire to see it improved, but it has been well-devised to resist change due to its exclusivity and hierarchical nature. Its impregnability is reinforced by the fact that education is the principal weapon against inequity and the systems that uphold it. Audre Lorde once wrote that you cannot dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools, essentially denouncing the notion of taking down an institutionalized system from the inside; though, in a country where education is so valued and commodified, it seems to me impossible to challenge it from an external position.

Moreover, as a student who is underprivileged in more ways than one, it has taken hard work on my part and the generosity of more privileged persons to get to where I am now. I would not soon abandon my place at Davidson College, despite the fact that my enrollment here places me—in Lordean terms—inside the master’s house and arms me with the master’s tools. I know the same to be true for many others, and it seems unfair to demand that they forgo a hard-earned position on the grounds that they are complicit in the faults of the erring higher education system.

The stakes of this problem are exacerbated when applied to the state of our current political representation. The point of higher education seems nullified when one considers that the majority of U.S. senators and representatives are senior citizens, an age at which open-mindedness has apparently expired. Wisdom is revered as a virtue of the elderly, but what is its price if it comes at the expense of the ability to consider perspectives and avenues foreign to one’s own? If these are the people dictating policy in this country, it is no wonder that change is so slowly and painstakingly achieved.

In order to begin to resolve the plight of the academic youth, it is necessary to clarify that this line of thought operates under the assumption that the young cannot be wise and the old cannot be open-minded. I personally know of a handful of elderly professors at this school who are more open-minded than some of my peers. Conversely, I know some of my peers who have displayed a greater degree of wisdom than many adults. The view that young people cannot be wise is a chief reason for their not being taken seriously in most academic environments. Such a view is born of the common assumption that wisdom is inseparable from age, when, in fact, experience is the far more pertinent factor. Some people my age have had more defining experiences than some people decades older, or are simply graced with wisdom beyond their years—a phenomenon which, despite being a cliché, I believe applies to a select few. 

Returning to the Pharisaic lecturer who inspired this piece of writing, I make the claim that the problem with the higher education system is best approached from the vantage point of changing one’s perception of wisdom. Today, open-mindedness and wisdom exist in something of a binary that is both counterproductive and counterintuitive. As are all binaries that sustain problematic societal structures, this one is best broken. Only when young people are free to conduct studies, make conjectures, and engage earnestly in relevant discourses can we take strides to better the world through academic pursuit.

David Sowinski ‘25 (he/they) is an intended history major from Chicago, IL. David can be reached for comment at dasowinski@davidson.edu.