Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Memories of admissions and that odious "Extracurricular activities" box

When I was in high school, I was a lousy student. I will be the first to admit it. I had a mediocre GPA, no extracurriculars that would make a good impression, and did not volunteer for any charitable organizations or events. I think I got into college purely because UM had low standards and because I can write one hell of an essay when the mood strikes me.
I was often asked, by admissions officers and other people taking an interest in my college future why I was so reluctant to sign up for charity work. My more ambitious classmates were devoting all their free hours to beach clean ups, volunteering at literacy programs, all the usual activities that look good on a resume or a college application. And that was exactly why I was not spending any of my time alongside them in those activities. Because that's all they were to them, activities to impress board rooms full of college admissions officers looking for "well-rounded" students who were active in their communities, but in activities that could be happily considered uncontroversial and non-rebellious. Very few of them really were passionate about the activities they were connected to, and very few of them had little more than a cursory knowledge of the charities they were working for. Just ask any high school student I blasted for supporting Autism Speaks, hahaha.
And I wanted none of that. I saw it as the ultimate hypocrisy. Miming an interest in the welfares of others for the sole purpose of forwarding your own ambitions. These able-bodied, neurotypical, mainly white, cisgendered, straight students were cashing in on the system of handing bread crumbs to the poor and the disabled so that they could one day cozy up into sky-high offices and never bother to look back down again. I was adamant that I would do my own activism on my own terms, and none of it would be user-friendly to rooms full of old white academics who were out of touch with the true struggles of those who were on the force-fed end of this system of photo ops and references on applications.
Now I am in college, and my attitude is considerably less harsh towards charitable work done by high school students. I know that many organizations are forced out of scrimping and pinching in order to survive and continue their operations, and I am glad that they have them to count on, even if their motives are less than 100% altruistic.
But my personal feelings towards my own credentials in that field remains the same. I am not your typical "March for Autism" charity walker. Autism is my life. I cannot put on a blue t-shirt, do a song and dance for some cameras, and then jot it down on an application and forget all about it. I wake up autistic, I go through my day autistic, and every night I go to bed as an autistic. My passion for seeing my own people be treated with respect and my crusade to end dog-and-pony shows that treat autism as something to be pitied will not gain me entrance to universities or private clubs.
My outspoken resistance to the efforts to bottle us up and use as as props to show off their giving spirit has been met with misunderstanding, open hostility, and outright accusations of being a self-hating autistic who doesn't know what's good for me. My truth makes people who do faux-charity gigs uncomfortable, because it forces them to question their own goodness in their empty gestures when they hand over their latte money to Autism Speaks after shopping at Toys R Us, unaware or perhaps not caring that it will go either towards posh New York suite offices or developing a method of wiping autism off the planet. It's about giving themselves a reassuring pat on the back and looking good to each other.
But I do not require the approval of admissions officers, an ink-soaked resume, or a spot at Harvard as a token Autie destined to change the world of calculus or chemistry to reassure myself that my activism means something. I can look inside my own mind and see that what I am doing is helping myself come to terms with a world that reviles me and my voice, my very existence.


  1. KA101, via Shakesville

    Nice post.

    I recall an e-mail I sent to one of the high-ups in the local ABOARD chapter: "When I eat, I eat autistic. When I sleep, I dream autistic dreams, Every line of code in my subsystems is autistic."

    Every moment we remember is autism experience.

  2. C: Very true. I particularly like the line about the subsystems.