How Do Institutions Fail You?

Throughout the semester, we talked about how institutions fail us, whether it is related to academia or something on a larger scale. This concept came up again on Friday as we were discussing as a group what our favorite quote from Big Machine was. Personally, I had said that my favorite quote was “AND YET, no matter how earthshaking a moment is, there’s that minute right afterward when you return to the unconcerned world” (page 246). The reason I had chosen this quote was that as a college student, my world can feel like its collapsing with every poor grade, overcommitment, and constant pressure to succeed. However, things always seem to pan out, and if it doesn’t, life isn’t over and we return to reality….failure is inevitable and we must keep moving forward. As we went around the seminar circle I formed a liking for a quote that Courtney Statt had delivered to the class as her favorite from Big Machine, “The dread you feel when institutions fail you” (page 290). I fell in love with this quote at that moment, it was like love at first sight. I began to think about our discussion earlier this semester when we discussed how much we trust our institution to take care of us, and I decided to turn to my peers for more input on this discussion.

I reached out to my housemates, friends, Ultimate Frisbee team, and Royal Lady Knights as a way to understand how they feel about the question: “What does it mean when someone says an institution has failed them?”. I asked for consent from my peers to publicly post their responses in this blog, and whether or not they wanted to remain anonymous. These are some of the responses I received, ensuring their integrity…

-“It means to me…that they have not provided me the necessary education/resources to be successful”- Stephanie Wall

-“That the government that was created for the people has broken their promise. I think I would say that I was relying on this system to help me, but it didn’t help or support me” -Tess Robinson

-“I think about it meaning colleges or even high school, I think when people say that that they feel like they aren’t prepared enough for after college life, or they haven’t been taught the things they think really matter in life. Basically, I think this question means you haven’t gotten everything you wanted from that institution” -Jordan Penkitis

-“When I’m led to believe that a certain institution, like a university, is guiding by certain principles and they fail to uphold themselves to it” – Alexandros Anton

-“If an institution fails me I think that means that not all people are equally represented by that institution, whether it be the government, college, the public school system or what have you. Representation is a huge part of not being forgotten and pushed to the sideline, and if we’re being honest, large institutions like the government and many colleges, are not very representative of minority groups. So, for example, the government fails me when the pay deficit is greater for African American women than both men and white women, and so on and so forth. If an institution is failing me that means it’s also probably failing a large portion of the population I identify with, so it’s never as simple as just me, it becomes a societal issue” -Isa Higgins

What I have gathered from these responses, on top of many others not shown, is that institutions tend to fail us as students frequently. One way I personally feel like I’ve been failed by an institution began in high school. Coming to college, I was not aware of all the difficulties, obstacles, and life challenges I was going to face. In many ways,  I felt betrayed. I was promised at graduation that I was prepared to take on college, and by all means, I was not. I didn’t know how to do basic life skills; write a check, file my taxes, pay my bills, and many more. You may be laughing at me, but think about your first semester at college…did you really know how to do all of these things? I don’t think so, and if you did, you’re a lucky one. Thankfully, I have a great support system here at school as well as at home that has guided me and helped me with the problem-solving. The responses from my peers have helped me understand that we all feel the same way; when we come to college, we are promised that we will be safe, make life long friends, and our futures are their number one priorities. I frequently ask myself why I feel disappointed in my institution(s) then. Why is it that I am nothing but a number to them? Why does my GPA define me and my abilities? If we as students don’t meet the requirements of the university, then we are tossed out…and my response to this would be “I was relying on this system to help me, but it didn’t help or support me” as my friend Tess Robinson put it. Why is it that the moment we start to “fail” in GPA terms, we are so easily forced out? And in this way, the institution has failed us as well as themselves.

When reflecting on my colleague’s posts, Nicole Fyvie’s really stood out to me, Trust and Doubt. In her post, Nicole said “Through reading this story I’ve learned that trust is a big concept, but also it goes hand in hand with doubt. Looking into these two valuable words I have come to find that when we have no trust or when we have distrust, we therefore have doubt”, referring to Big Machine. This links to her question she asked McCoy’s class, ” “Who can you trust in the world, or are you alone?”. I feel like Nicole’s question relates back to the topic of institutions and how much we feel like we are being failed by them; once we feel let down by the institution, we lose trust in them. If they are filled with empty promises, how can we trust the institution to take care of our careers and prepare us for the future? Nicole says that trust and doubt work together. Therefore if we lose trust and faith in our institution to uphold themselves to their promises, then we will constantly doubt their efforts to help us build a future- how do we keep moving forward and after this earthshaking moment?



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