Why I Came to Kent State from New York City

Words by Jason Cohen

A lot of people hate small talk, and as of late, I am one of them. As a senior in my fourth year of college, it has lost its novelty. My least favorite question recently is: “Where are you from?” 

Here is how the conversation usually goes:

Them: “Where are you from?” 

Me: “New York City.”

Them: “Wait, actually in the city? Where?”

Me: “Upper West Side of Manhattan.”

Them: “I don’t know where that is, but that’s awesome! Why the hell did you come to Kent State?” 

Me: “My grandma and dad went here, so I got scholarships for that. I got academic scholarships and I got invited to the Honors College. Also, I didn’t like living in a big city, so Kent was perfect.” 

Them: “Oh, that makes sense.” 

The truth is, there are deeper reasons I am here, but I have not had the desire to disclose them lately. However, since it is my last semester, I feel it’s important for me to reflect on them now. 

I went to Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School from 7th grade through 12th grade. It’s a private school in Manhattan and is known for being one of the most expensive schools in the city. In fact, President Trump’s youngest son, Barron, attended the school before moving to Washington, D.C. Going to such a pompous school was not something I enjoyed even remotely. It was highly competitive and I felt overwhelmed by it. The popular students all wore the same designer brands that my family would never consider buying for me, and they all seemed like they lived perfect lives. They probably didn’t, but that’s how I felt. 

When college application time came around, students were stressed. They freaked out, saying things like, “Oh my god, I’m not gonna get into college.” Meanwhile, they were applying to (and eventually getting into) Ivy League schools. It made me want to take it easy to avoid the panic and stress they felt.

In addition, I had recently become spiritually inclined and began following my intuition along with what I referred to as “signs.” There were numerous signs pointing me toward Kent State. As I previously stated in my first blog post, my dad passed away when I was nine years old, so I did not hear anything about his college experience from him. That made me want to go to Kent State like he had to experience something similar to what he experienced. 

My dad always seemed cool to me as I am sure most fathers seem cool to their sons at a young age. I remember hanging out with a friend at my apartment and my mom informing me there was a phone call for me. I took the phone call and then came back to my friend. I said, “That was my dad. He’s cool.” (My dad lived in Pittsburgh, so my friend never met him.)

Me with my dad when I was a baby: 

These were the factors that initially got me interested in attending Kent State. I then visited and fell in love with the beautiful campus. It was an attractive contrast to the concrete jungle I had lived in for the past 13 years. While visiting, I learned information that made me want to go even more. Due to my dad graduating from Kent State, I was entitled to a huge scholarship. I also was just within reach of the Honors College if I got all As for the rest of high school, and my SAT score just barely qualified (more “signs” for me). Being accepted to the Honors College meant better dorms along with many other perks, including more scholarships. 

While I visited, my grandparents told me to go to Hillel, the Jewish center on campus. While I was there, I met people who were in the fraternity my dad was in, Alpha Epsilon Pi. They were cool and excited to learn my dad was in the fraternity. Joining would be another way to connect with my dad, so I considered it to be an important opportunity. 

My second choice was University of Pittsburgh, to which I was accepted. It is a great school and many people in my family have gone there, but it was in the city, and it did not have the connection to my late father that Kent State had. 

Lately, I have not felt forthcoming enough to discuss this with people when the question comes up, but I am grateful I reflected on it now. It was quite a decision to come to Kent State from New York City and not be a fashion major. It has been a journey I will never forget, and I am sad that it is ending soon. I only hope I will be courageous enough to make meaningful decisions like this for the rest of my life. 

I took Buzzfeed’s “How Privileged Are You?” Quiz

Words by Jason Cohen

I took Buzzfeed’s “How Privileged Are You?” quiz to check my privilege. The quiz consists of a checklist of 100 “privileges” spanning different areas such as race, sexuality, gender, wealth, education, travel, family, ability, mental health, body image, religion, bullying and self-acceptance. 

I expected this quiz to be an opportunity to reflect on my privileges with gratitude and validate some of the struggles I deal with and have dealt with. While it did generally fulfill these expectations in terms of gratitude, it was not much of a validating experience for me. I think Buzzfeed’s intention with the quiz was to highlight the privileges, and lack thereof, they feel are most impactful and which the quiz taker may or may not agree with. 

I make it an important part of my life to be grateful; I even have a gratitude journal that I write in every day. I was hoping for this quiz to be another practice of gratitude for me. However, some parts of this quiz had the strange effect of provoking me to focus on issues and blow them out of proportion as lacks of privilege. This may just be my experience and I will share some examples to illustrate what I mean. 

The first privilege is “I am white.” I am Jewish and my skin is not white and I do not consider myself white. However, I will not go into the debate on whether Jews are white here, but instead just focus on appearance. People often ask me my ethnicity and tell me I look Middle Eastern, which is certainly possible, as many Jews are descended from Middle Eastern countries. (I just submitted my 23andMe kit so soon I will find out my exact origins and I am very excited!) However, many people do identify me as white, and I do not consider my olive complexion or my religion or ethnicity to represent a lack of privilege. Therefore, for me, it is not something to harp on, though this may be different for people who are not Caucasian whatsoever. 

Another privilege is “I have never been the only person of my race in a room.” I am from New York City, so this was a fairly common experience for me. Once again, I did not consider this to indicate a lack of privilege, but it was a privilege I could not check off. Being the only person of my race in a room was maybe uncomfortable, but it just wasn’t too big of a deal to me. Perhaps being “racially unidentifiable” was a reason it was not a big deal. Thinking about my racial identity like this makes it seem like more of a privilege than a disadvantage. I can definitely see why it would feel like a lack of privilege to others, but to me, it does not. 

The race section was complicated and did not make me feel grateful or validated, but instead confused me and made me question some aspects of my life. Next was the sexuality section, which was easy for me to answer and did make me feel grateful. I am a heterosexual man and identify as the gender I was born as. If this was not the case, I would have likely faced many issues that the quiz brings up such as hiding, being bullied and worse relationships with parents. Therefore, I am grateful that our society doesn’t discriminate against my sexuality. 

The next sections were related to wealth and education, which also made me feel very grateful. While I did acknowledge that I have felt poor before, it was because I went to a private high school in New York City, and I was comparing myself to other students rather than the population as a whole. I have realized that since coming to college, so it was not a new revelation for me, but it is still important to reflect on. Besides that, I recognize and am grateful for the privilege of not wanting for anything monetarily. Regarding education, I am also grateful and privileged to soon be a college graduate. 

The next section was about travel. I have had the privilege of traveling to Israel three times, studying abroad in Florence for a semester, studying abroad in Poland for spring break and visiting a friend in Mexico City. These were some of the most amazing experiences of my life, so I am extremely grateful for them. 

 The next section was family, a section in which I was hoping to receive validation.  My mom and dad divorced when I was three years old due to my dad being a drug addict. My mom then remarried, but I had a rough time with my stepdad. My dad died of a drug overdose when I was nine, and my brother is currently suffering from substance abuse issues. Of course, I am grateful for my family, because I have a great relationship with my mom and brother, but I definitely seek validation for what I feel is the most significant struggle I have faced. I also believe family is the most important thing in life. As a result, I feel this quiz does not do the issue of family justice at all. It has only three items about it: “My parents are heterosexual,” “my parents are both alive” and “my parents are still married.” I think there should have been more items about this topic, and I did not feel particularly validated. 

This quiz did allow me to reflect on how grateful I am for my privileges, confused me about the extent I have privilege because of my racial identity and briefly validated the areas where I do lack privilege. The quiz values each privilege equally, which I do not think is accurate. It is also confusing that the quiz is so black-and-white about evaluating privileges when there are different levels to them. An example is that, while I cannot say that I have never been told I am too skinny, I do not consider that to be a lack of privilege. However, if I were significantly underweight, I probably would consider it a lack of privilege to be told this.

In conclusion, take this quiz to reflect on yourself but not to be an accurate measure of your privilege. I scored a 58/100, but I feel much more privileged than that and also feel like the privileges should not all be valued as one point each. I think it would have been more meaningful to have the items weighed differently. My dad dying is much worse than not traveling internationally at least once a year and should be valued as such. 

Scoring a 58/100 earned me this message: 

I roughly agree with the message. I do consider myself quite privileged, but I do not agree with the quiz authoritatively telling me “overall your life has been far easier than most.” I think a quiz like this should be sensitive and that is not a sensitive thing to say. It is good that it says being privileged is nothing to be ashamed of, because it is not. Privileges are either things you cannot control or things you earn, so shame is not a suitable reaction to privilege. However, I do agree that those with privilege should appreciate their privilege and work to help others who do not have as much privilege.

Take the quiz here