Are We Humans or Are We Students?

It’s a question that’s plagued humanity since the dawn of university itself. Are students less than human? More than human? If you cut me, will I bleed in Wits’ colours? Will I bleed at all? These are questions that no one has ever asked, and today, I plan on answering them. To be clear, I plan on answering the questions that don’t involve me getting cut. I’m not that committed to finding answers… So, join me, dear reader, as I reflect on what it means to be a student, and the anxiety of remembering that, at some point, you’ll have to be something else.

Six years ago, I entered university as a human of 18 years, and I’ve been a student ever since, making me an ideal candidate to explore these issues. Though I will be exploring my subjective perspective of what it means to be a student, I first want to outline what we know about students in general. The word ‘student’ is derived from the Latin term studium, which is a verb which either means “to study” or “painstaking application”. The latter definition of course doesn’t apply to all students, and I would argue that neither does the first, because I know a lot of students, and I don’t think either happens very often.

However, students aren’t monoliths, and you will find students who are incredibly hardworking and devoted to excelling at university… but you’ll also find students who are incredibly devoted to day-drinking and wasting their parents’ money. Both are equally valid expressions of studenthood, and it’s important to find a balance between working hard and hardly working. I would say that I’ve struck a fine balance between the two, but an unbiased person would probably disagree. I’m lucky enough to have experienced both sides of being a student – the anxiety-inducing, breakneck sprint to meet a deadline, and the lazy, fun days spent ditching lectures and relaxing with friends. What’s important is that you never let one side consume you, and to always remember one very important thing: you won’t be a student forever.

I know that doesn’t always feel true, but it is. University is a stepping stone towards employment for many people. It’s a liminal space between High School and the Real World, where students are given more freedom and independence, while still being tethered to a school system. Attending university is about building a future – and that is terrifying for a lot of people, myself included! I’ve been tutoring for three years now, and in every class I’ve tutored, I’ve had students approach me talking about how anxious they are about what comes after university. A lot of students feel as if they’re approaching a cliff, and are running out of time to figure out how not to fly off the edge. So, what do I say to these students?

Usually, it’s something like: don’t panic, it’s going to be fine. You’re not running out of time; you have your whole life ahead of you. You won’t be a student forever, but you will still have room to manoeuvre and grow as a person. You’ll still have room to change and to learn, to find your place. Life is full of opportunities, and as scary as it is to leave this chapter of your life behind, it’s important to do so. You can’t fight it, so accept it, and everything will work out. At least, that’s what I assume will happen. I don’t know for sure; I’m still just a student after all.

Just between you and me, dear reader, sometimes I wonder if the real reason I’m applying for funding for my PhD is to prolong my time as a student – to delay being a human, just that little bit longer…

How to Fight for Freedom and World Peace for All: A Student’s Guide to Solving the World

On the 14th of July 1798, heads rolled in the streets of Paris as the Bastille was stormed; and on the 14th of July 1999, I was born – two equally significant events! The spirit of rebellion and a drive for freedom percolates through every fibre of my being, inspiring me to push back against any threats to freedom I see! And, as a good-looking, straight, cis man, my freedom is, of course, threatened constantly. Granted, I have way more freedom than anyone who is anything other than a good-looking, straight, cis man… but I still have something to say about the fight for freedom! So, if you’ll permit me, dear reader, let’s talk about freedom! And rebellion…

There’s a famous quote by French philosopher Albert Camus about how “the only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” I’ve not read the book the quote is from – and I believe anyone who says they have is lying, and probably just watched a YouTube video about it – but it is a great quote. Camus has this incredible ability to find triumph in bleak circumstances – to present you with an unfree, volatile world, and show you how just existing can be something awesome. Our world can be incredibly bleak, and it’s easy to get swept away in the seemingly endless slurry of bad news and dizzying discourse that saturates our social media feeds. Camus teaches us that we can’t ignore the state of the world, or downplay society’s issues – instead, we need to acknowledge reality for what it is, and choose rebellion.

So, how do you actually choose rebellion or become as absolutely free as Camus wants you to be? Well, I think you do so by embracing empathy, and love. I know, it’s very clichéd, but maybe it’s a cliché because it’s right! Not everyone shares the same level of freedom, and a lack of freedom often stems from societal apathy, bigotry, and greed – all of which are the antithesis of empathy. By choosing to be an empathetic, caring person in a world that profits off bigotry and sustained apathy, your very existence becomes an act of rebellion. Our world has never been this liberated and accepting of diverse identities before! The struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community, people of colour, and differently abled people have never before been acknowledged at the levels they are today. It feels like people are starting to take notice and speak up against these inequities – and that should be celebrated! But we can’t ignore the fact that the freedom these communities have earned – the freedom they are currently fighting for – is still under threat.

At this point in the blog, you’re probably wondering how I’m so young yet so wise. The truth is, I got really lucky in the parent department. Both of my parents embody the values of love, empathy and freedom perfectly. My father’s charity, Waja Ka Meno, provides free oral and optometric care to differently abled children and adults in South Africa, and my mother… where do I even start? There does not exist a more caring lady than my mother! I know you probably think your mother is better or more caring, but you’re wrong, and that’s okay. Growing up, my parents stressed the importance of actively practicing empathy, encouraging me to get involved in food drives and volunteer work – and I will always be grateful for that. Because of them, I’m not just a good-looking, straight, cis man… because of them, I’m a good-looking, charitable, straight, cis man!

It’s scary how persistent hate is. It’s scary how easily our culture can regress. We can’t ignore the reality of the situation, but we can fight to change it. It’s our responsibility to fight to change it – a responsibility born out of our shared humanity. It’s what Camus would have wanted… at least I think it is; I don’t know, I’ve not read his books. I just watched a YouTube video about him.