I just got word from the editors that they want me to write about the whole experience of being a mature student at Trent University. You bet! Things have definitely changed since this 54-year-old proto-geriatric late-cohort Baby Boomer first set foot into a Canadian post-secondary institution of higher learning.
First of all, ‘back in my day…’ (as all the old-timers are wont to say, in my case is the year 1981) I was in Quebec City at Champlain Regional College, St. Lawrence Campus at the tender age of 17, fresh out of high school, and was exhorted to write the first of many essays. I believe I had written all of one term paper in all my years in high school, and this with only one piece of primary source documentation, which was the English novel upon which the essay was based! I had written a few major reports on such things as the nickel industry and the human ear, as well as bridges whilst in Elementary School, but always using encyclopedias, or just one primary source.
I arrived at CEGEP (Quebec’s system of tuition-free, community colleges) totally unprepared for what lay in store for me. I not only had seven courses on my plate, but had to do intense library research for several of them at the same time! However, back in those days, I could hand write my essays (can you believe it!?), and submit them in class on paper to the prof on loose-leaf sheets, stapled together, and written in my finest cursive writing. I did not know how to type on a typewriter at age 17 (that was for girls who were going into Secretarial Sciences to become secretaries in an office, not for GUYS!), and was generally resistant to even learning how. Library research was conducted all by hand on cardboard file cards which were categorized by ‘subject’, ‘author’, and ‘title.’ There was no Internet (computers were barely even beginning to be used in offices); there were no cell phones, etc. Social media was a long way off — no e-mail, no texting (or sexting!) — and generally it may have been more ‘difficult’ to obtain information for the purposes of acquiring and spreading knowledge, but life was certainly much ‘simpler’, and less aggravating than it is now.
Fast forward from 1981 to 2018, through more attempts at undergraduate studies than I would care to even enumerate. These attempts were interspersed with numerous bouts of mental health issues, and exacerbated by substance abuse problems, both of which have long since been resolved. There were also more entry-level service sector/customer service and manual labour forms of employment than you could shake a stick at (I have so far scanned over 55 different Records of Employment in my 30+ years in the labour force). I finally arrived at Trent University’s Bachelors of Social Work (BSW) Program in September of 2018! Whew!!!
So how is the experience overall? Mind-blowing, to say the least! So much has changed, whereas other things have not. Students are still students. We are still competitive, albeit more so in this tight job market and neo-liberal environment of austerity. We still talk about our grades, our assignments, how stressed out we are (although that is also a bigger factor now as well), but we also have more resources now to cope with the stress.
When I was first a student in post-secondary, such things as the SAS department did not exist. There was no Exam Centre, no provision for accommodation for anybody’s disability, nothing. There were no Peer Support services; Peer Mentoring; mental health awareness weeks; no sexual violence awareness workshops or sexual assault hotlines or support of any sort for anybody who got sexually assaulted on campus. It took the Polytechnique Massacre of about a dozen women in Montreal in December of 1989, when Marc Lepine walked into the University of Montreal’s engineering school and murdered about a dozen female engineering students in cold blood, that nighttime foot patrols were instituted on most campuses in our country to walk students home after dark.
Also, the whole LGBTQ+ movement had not worked its way into the public consciousness, and neither had the feminism’s #MeToo movement, which is currently taking on the patriarchy head on and stirring up no shortage of controversy on campuses everywhere, and this, all the way up to Parliament Hill in Ottawa and the White House in Washington, D.C.
Most certainly being a mature student is very rewarding. I would not trade it for anything. I get to exchange opinions and debate with young women and men who are young enough to be my children, which is awesome. I see a lot of my fellow classmates as kind of like my nieces and nephews, as well as fellow travelers on a journey of discovery through a postmodern paradigm whose relativist parameters are still in the process of gelling into some sort of more objective reality, which we as scholars are helping to shape through our participation in the process and, I hope, the outcome. So rock on all you fellow Trentites, Mature, or otherwise. The future is ours for the taking!