Getting Out of My Brain to Do Something Transformative

[by Jacob Jardel]

Whenever anyone asks what degree I graduated with this semester, the answer is easy: I got a Master of Arts degree in English with a focus on Composition and Rhetoric. The question that usually follows is some form of “What does that even mean?” I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this every time I get that question. And I can wholeheartedly and confidently tell you: “I’m still figuring that out.”

You see, the thing is, this focus area is similar, in many ways, to what STLR means to the students at the University of Central Oklahoma: there are some foundational tenets and definitions, but the true meaning differs from person to person. It’s about their journey, their perspectives, their knowledge, and how all three of those things combine to create a unique snapshot of what it all means to them.

I came to UCO in the fall 2017 fresh off the highs of completing a Master of Science degree and the sting of yet another round of PhD program rejection letters. I thought to myself, “Might as well get another degree.” I had it in my mind to keep my head down, go through the motions of school, and hopefully remember to eat and sleep to stave off the depression and anxiety I have been dealing with for what experts refer to as “a really, really long time.”

I succeeded in many areas—mainly coursework and sleep. I failed in others, like eating and containing my mental health to manageable levels—especially after my grandfather passed away that November. My plan to keep quiet and make it through my degree without much fuss was not succeeding.

But I thought to myself that, “If I’m going to fail at this, I might as well fail spectacularly.”

cover of Central Dissent, Fall 2019That first semester, I started hanging out in the Women’s Research Center & BGLTQ+ Student Center. Finding this community convinced me to get out of my room and actually, you know, do something. So, I hung out with people who were like me. I talked to people who accepted me. I volunteered my time at events. I eventually became part of the pilot group of Sexual Health Ambassadors, teaching comprehensive sex education to UCO’s Healthy Life Skills classes, to the campus, and to the community. I also became the second editor-in-chief of Central Dissent, the first and only journal of gender and sexuality in the state.

I was having way more fun failing spectacularly than my previous plan of doing nothing.

That, to me, is what STLR is—not the failing spectacularly part, but the part about getting out of my room and my brain to do something truly transformative. In the five semesters that followed, the STLR experience was the guiding force behind what I did in this second grad degree—this wholly unique experience to make my own. After all, what is STLR if not an experience a student can define as they please?

That, to me, is what STLR is…getting out of my room and my brain to do something truly transformative.

Now that I’m graduating and have had time to think about it, I’ve come to learn how I define Composition and Rhetoric. I’ll spare you the jargon, but a lot of it is about communicating your authentic identity to anyone willing to listen, adding to any form of discourse—academic, professional, or personal—not only your perspectives but also the realities those perspectives come from. In the words of Mr. Rogers (the one from the Neighborhood), “The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.”

Doing that involved viewing my work, my reality, through a STLR lens. It involved learning about the lack of access many people have to contraception, period products, or basic knowledge about sexual health. It involved learning about inequalities for women and members of the BGLTQ+ community both within and beyond our nation’s borders. It involved volunteering my skills and time to individuals and organizations who already do more than enough in service of others. It involved giving others a platform to speak their realities to the people who need to hear their voices, whether through my research, through Dissent, or through the simple act of listening to someone else. As Mr. Rogers says, “Listening is where love begins: listening to ourselves and then to our neighbors.”

So STLR, to me, is about listening to the expression of this authentic self and through learning more about the experiences of others. Through the help of faculty like Dr. Jessica Appleby, Dr. Lindsey Churchill, Dr. Laura Dumin, Dr. Leslie Similly, Ms. Shay Rahm, and countless others, I was able to make my academic experience as diverse as possible. And through my time working with numerous researchers, Sexual Health Ambassadors, student editors, and classmates with a dream and a desire for sleep, I was able to have the most rewarding transformation possible. And though I know not what tomorrow may bring, given this period of uncertainty both in society and in the PhD and job markets, I know that I’m leaving UCO a better student, a better person, than I was when I came in.

So, I may have failed spectacularly at my original plan. But I’m happy I did. This one is way better.

I’m leaving UCO a better student, a better person, than I was when I came in.

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