To Freak Freely: An Ode to the Freaks of Academia

Stephanie Fail

It is almost every day at UMB that something occurs to break a pattern. Whether it is the surprise of entering a class and finding a

John Donne poem about being raped by God being studied or an impromptu dance party up in the ballroom with free food and a scattering of dancers breaking down, this peninsula is full of surprises. People that you see normally in the role of Campus Center employee or the quiet girl you have yet to meet whom always wears witch boots, cutting splits that make you wince and circling hips like they’re a hula-hoop machine are par for the course. People gliding across the floor with a flow of grace and so lightfooted that their everyday backpacks seem like only a hallucination!

I used to be of the camp that believed college was only for people who were too chicken to cut it on their own and create their occupation from scratch. To me these people seemed like the Betty Crocker mix-users of human knowledge. Instead of diving in deep into the oceans of information within libraries and the internet and art, the student intentionally enters a hierarchy of minds. Within defined roles, we pay teachers to tell us what to do and judge us upon it.

This is what I thought about university, until I began taking classes at UMB. My first semester went great. I took an evolutionary bio class with this professor whom squeaked with excitement over the elegant forms of survival constant change has produced. He was one of many teachers that I have had, who have had a highly original approach to the presentation and interaction of students with their specialized information.

His topic ranged from bioweaponry, to politics, to agriculture, to the sublime beauty of life evolving together and supporting each other. In each class led by a passionate teacher (of which were the majority) the mood of the class was always a bit chaotic and bursting with ideas and information. The charge one gets from 30 individuals focusing on one topic radiates as one giant mind analyzing something and blooming with an ever-evolving vision of truth.

By attending a university, we become like neighboring organisms in a dance of intellectual coevolution. Supporting each other, raising each other up, continuing the flow of intelligence (we hope!) into the future.

Yes, the one rule of getting a degree at this school is getting a set number of credits and jumping through a few general ed hoops. Yet beyond that, if one just looks at the variety of people drawn to this campus to learn, teach, and support it every day you can see that this institution is full of individuals in a period of high speed transformation, where all of their paths are beaming simultaneously, full of energy and optimism about making the future a better place.

It is these proud individuals, here with a fire of purpose (or at least good intentions) under their rears that motivates them to work hard. All minds drawn to this university are drawn here for the common intention of pushing the evolution of human knowledge, old and new, to the horizon of the fierce Atlantic. No matter what happens to conditions on the rest of this fragile planet I hope intellectual jungles like UMB continue to produce a new creature out of each one of us.

May we all become as freaky and confident as our many whackjob professors whom give the students of this generation the inspiration to follow our fields where no mind has gone before.

There was this anthropologist, Barbara Myerhoff, who had the opportunity to try peyote as a gift from the Huichol Indians and went into a vision. As part of her vision she reached a point where a mythical little animal disappeared into the center of her composition. She invested the last few moments of her vision trying to extract the message from his appearance and she noticed something flicker in the corner of her view. Another being had popped in and out of her consciousness trying to tell her something, and she in her writings lamented how she had spent too much time trying to control what it was she learnt that she missed the point of the lesson.

In her words she has “lost my lesson by looking for it too directly, with dead-center tight focus, with will and impatience. It was a practice which I knew fatal to understanding anything truly unique. It was my Western rationality, honed by formal study, eager to simplify, clarify, dissect, define, categorize and analyze.”

My plea to you as an academic “freak” (i.e. one whose study takes a universal approach to human knowledge verse a segregated one) is to keep your mind so wide open that the controlling urge to block out pure reality by organizing information into fields does not get in the way of your education. All that we achieve worth recording within this university we have done standing on the shoulders of freaks. It is the members of society whom think outside the box that get to sculpt civilization. Don’t be afraid to bust out of the category of your academic discipline and push your field somewhere new.

After all, it is the innovators of each discipline whom we study. It is our job as miners of this knowledge to make it accessible to all as a service to civilization. As exemplified through the laws of evolution and expressed eloquently by the singer Seal as a species, “We’re never gonna survive, unless, we get a little crazy.”