What is Life without Risk?

What is life without risk? Life is defined as “the sequence of physical and mental experiences that make up the existence of an individual.” Experience: to encounter or to undergo. This definition, then makes the opposite true-without undergoing some physical or mental obstacle, you aren’t really living. The mental experience that comes to mind is risk. There is an inherent risk in everything that we do. From getting out of bed to driving to work every day-and yet we do it anyway. Not because we are all thrill-seekers, but because we want what’s waiting on the other side of the risk. When our lives are filled with risk, we are experiencing, learning… living. A life without risk, is a life without growth.

This idea of risk and growth is no different when considering the ins-and-outs of academic partnership and the role that our professors play. In order to help us to fully grasp this multi-faceted concept, Dr. McCoy supplied us with the course’s epigraph from Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild, “If we’re not your animals, if these are adult things, accept the risk. There is risk, Gatoi, in dealing with a partner.” This epigraph will not only set tone for the class but will guide us in our journey of risk and growth. The first point to consider about the epigraph is not the content itself, but the person who supplied it to us. The role of the professor or teacher is to guide the students to higher level of understanding. And while it may seem new for most of us to be handed a course epigraph, we’ve been handed one all our lives, when a teacher would outline their expectations for the year to the class. A specific memory that I can recall, concerned my band lessons throughout my high school career. During lessons, my band teacher Mr. Rotello would lecture on how he expected that we practice outside of school and in return, he would supply us with techniques to support our musical growth. Our hard work in the end, facilitated and conducted by Mr. Rotello at our concerts would reflect the conjoined efforts of the students and himself.

That anecdote serves not to recall my memories of band in high school, but rather to emphasize the role of Dr. McCoy and any professor we encounter from now on. By supplying the course epigraph, she in part outlined her expectations or intentions for the class. And at the end of this class, through her guidance we will have made obvious advancements in our writing and as human beings. Similar to Mr. Rotello revealing his expectations, and quite literally conducting us to our peak performances. This expectation begins with what she expects her students to have completed daily like a specific reading, or described in even more detail in our class syllabus, under Community Inclusion when she includes, “We share responsibility for achieving these goals, to broaden understanding, heighten awareness, awaken empathy, and foster empowerment.” This message, along with essays and due dates was not put into the syllabus to scare the students, but rather to create an element of transparency and allow the students to accept the terms of the contract of sorts.

Transparency is imperative to the academic partnership because students deserve to know what exactly is expected of them.

This level of transparency creates a realm of trust. At any point during add-drop week, after reading the syllabus we could have dropped the class if we felt the demand was too high. But we didn’t. Staying in this class is a risk. We all have our different reasons for taking this risk, but regardless of that fact, by not dropping this class we expect that the due dates stipulated will remain the same, while Dr. McCoy will expect our work to be submitted on time. Despite that fact, she also includes certain caveats in the syllabus, like the one concerning our daily schedule, “Subject to change as class needs change” As the syllabus would suggest, Dr. McCoy has the ability to change class plans and due dates as she sees fit. This opportunity, however, is not one only Dr. McCoy has, but as students we also have the opportunity to request extensions on projects. The risk in this scenario faced by Dr. McCoy is receiving possible backlash from the students if we don’t agree with her decision. While the student’s face a risk of being denied an extension for a due date.  In academic partnership there will always be a give and pull in the relationship as in the nature of risk. However, it is without this risk that we gain nothing. As for the students in this instance, the only way they could be granted the extension is through taking the risk of asking the question.

Without risk, our ideas, our belief systems, our morals are not being challenged. And how are you supposed to grow when you are not faced with any level of adversity?

It is at this point, some of you may be saying, “Adversity and challenges can stop people from growing!” or even “Adversity is not necessary for growth!” But to those points, I want to demonstrate the consequences of deterring adversity – most prevalent in youth sports. It is common to see parents in an effort to do what’s best for their child, make comments such as, “My child should get an award regardless of winning” or “The child on the opposing team is too good to compete, are they really in this age bracket?” While these parents usually have good intentions, if the playing field is always leveled, if the children all get awards regardless of winning, the children may never develop the necessary skills to overcome and cope with these obstacles. The children may never learn different strategies or a proper work ethic in order to succeed. Worst case scenario these children grow up maintaining a sense of entitlement, that everything should be to their benefit. Or even have a fixed mindset, “My skill level will never change so why try.” On the other hand, parents that let their children have an experience unhindered will see a growth mindset. Their children will see an obstacle and through perseverance and practice they will overcome it.

So, it is with these challenges that the roots of character, learning, resilience, and creativity can be discovered.

Our epigraph serves as a marker for a transitional period in our lives as college students. This idea can be noted in the course epigraph, “…if these are adult things, accept the risk.” Even with days of class discussion revolving around the idea of establishing the time that adulthood begins, we have yet to conclude. I mean, the law tells us that 18-year old’s are considered adult offenders and can be prosecuted as such and yet we can’t rent cars – as our brains have not yet finished developing. How can it be that I can be prosecuted as an adult, but they also claim our brains have yet to fully develop? Possibly because there isn’t a pin-pointed age, or it happens at over a long period of time. This transitional period is important because as college students we begin taking actions into our own hands. Our teachers no longer serve as a middleman between us and our parents or act in loco parentis. The very idea of Dr. McCoy providing the FERPA act, “the 1974 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects your right to educational privacy, including your right to choose if you want your writing to be shared outside of our class, or if you want anyone to know that you are taking a particular class at a particular institution.” Between the summer of high school and our freshman semester of college, we have shed the idea of parents being responsible for our education at all, that now lies solely with us.

We are all taking a risk by being in this class, however it is a risk that I am excited to see play out. By accepting this risk, I expect my ideas, beliefs and morals to be challenged. By accepting this risk with open arms, I am in full understanding that it will be a difficult process. One that will require me to do enough thinkING for a lifetime, but it is one that result in me growing as a person. Adversity and challenges are worth the risk when you recognize that on the other side of the obstacle, you will be able to better navigate relationships and the world. At the other side of that risk, you will have grown.

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