Farmer: Recent events call maturity, responsibility into question

Are you a grown-up? I don’t have children of my own, and I am centuries older than my students, but I still wonder if I’m a grown-up.

I have learned from having nieces and nephews and being the auntie for friends’ children that “grown-up” is an actual thing, a noun. When these small humans are stuck with me, I am the grown-up. Like it or not, my behavior is circumscribed: I must be the grown-up. If I see a small child, I am seasoned enough not to ask, “Are you lost?” What does that mean to a frightened child? I know instead to ask, “Where is your grown-up?”

Being a grown-up: Isn’t that what we’ve all wanted since we were children? Being a grown-up and having a grown-up: Isn’t that what we all want in our lives?

If you are telling yourself no, think about it. What are you looking for in a club or a sorority or a girlfriend or a professor or a fraternity or a gym or a dance group or a sports team? We all want to be grown-ups, and we all also seek grown-ups to help us be grown up. It’s just how humans are.

The thing about actually growing up is the need to realize that we need to be grown-ups to the people around us, and we need to surround ourselves with grown-ups. This is much harder than it sounds, and it has nothing to do with age. I grant that it is harder for the college aged – not that young people are incompetent, but the rules are harder and the really hard lessons are often yet to come.

Being a grown-up, surrounding oneself with grown-ups, is an aspiration that must be sought through every day, every hardship, every friendship, every joy, every crappy Upstate New York gray sleety miserable hating-the-world day.

I’ve not yet figured out how to do it. But I do know some things. If you are so afraid of life and classes and your professors that you are cowering in fear, you need to learn how to be a grown-up. If you are so in awe of others that you allow yourself to be doused in alcohol, you need to learn how to be a grown-up. If you witness harassment and racism and ridiculing of others, you need to be the grown-up.

Grown-ups do not hide, they do not assume that victims earned it, and they do not rationalize things by saying, “Well, it was just that one person. There’s no systemic problem. I’m certainly not at fault.” Grown-ups don’t think an individual just chose to get hazed, have alcohol poured into them until death – or luckily, in this case, just near death – get raped or get stabbed for being a minority. They acknowledge that if such things happen in their vicinity, they must stop it.

Studying at Geneseo is a wonderful opportunity that we can keep or lose. We must live up to our reputation. We must challenge ourselves to be grown-ups.

*Editor's note: Victoria Farmer is a professor in the political science department.