Shimer College

February 22, 2013

What Does Rich Mean to You?

Of course, rich has many meanings – financially secure and more, deeply textured and full, and many other related meanings. 

(Should you wish, you could check out a dictionary definition here or the wikipedia entry here which is utterly goofy.)

But in what is often one of my rhetorical strategies, those meanings are not where I am heading today. Instead, I am heading to Rich as a last name, of well known poet and thinker, Adrienne Rich, profiled here by Chicago’s own Poetry Foundation

Among the topics that Rich addressed across her oeuvre (aka body of works) are motherhood, sexuality, feminism, and education. It is the latter that is relevant for us today. In 1973/74, for example, she wrote as essay entitled “The Woman Centered University”, available here. In 1978, she wrote “Taking Women Students Seriously” parts of which are available here.

Here are some of her words from her essay “Claiming an Education,” a 1977 piece, originally given as a Convocation address at Douglass College (altered by the addition in the brackets):

“The first thing I want to say to you who are students, is that you cannot afford to think of being here to receive an education; you will do much better to think of yourselves as being here to claim one. One of the dictionary definitions of the verb “to claim” is: to take as the rightful owner; to assert in the face of possible contradiction.” “To receive” isto come into possession of; to act as receptacle or container for; to accept as authoritative or true.” The difference is that between acting and being acted-upon, and for women [and men] it can literally mean the difference between life and death.” (Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence, New York: W.W. Norton, 1979, p. 231; also available here

So: do you think that adding the “and men” is apt? Is this still relevant advice? 

I think it is relevant advice for all of us, though what makes it difficult for each of us to claim our education is shaped by our social circumstances. It is, as Rich pointed out decades ago, difficult to claim an education if one is at risk physically in some settings (is a late library night putting you at rick of rape, for example?)  – or if one cannot afford education – or if the presumptions of those around you are that you are not smart enough or capable enough to be educated? 

How might we better claim an education? Do you claim yours? How?