Are you in a class that feels like the most exclusive clique on campus? Do fellow classmates treat your professor as a father figure even with his degradingly superior intellectual prowess? I’m sorry to say, it may be a cult.
Week four of my upper level tiny seminar and it’s beginning to feel as though I may have inadvertently stepped into a cult indoctrination. Been there before? Weeks before classes began, I pursued getting off the waitlist for a coveted seminar, a pursuit that involved emails with the professor and ultimately a written statement as to why I wanted so badly to take the course. I am now wondering if I have unknowingly registered for and am four-weeks-deep into a class that is an intellectual cult, whose founding documents include hyper-specific CC reading excerpts and also the encyclopedia of american history references in our professor’s head, which all other class members acknowledge with slight smiles and head-nods rather than my own incessant panicky feeling that I have absolutely no clue what is going on. Naturally all this mystery has got me wondering…
According to my most trusted source (Oprah Magazine, of course), cults use four basic forms of control: behavior, information, thought, and emotional. Using these distinctions, here are the questions to ask yourself if you have an inkling that your socratic seminar is actually a cult.
- Does your seminar have set meeting times outside of the actual SSOL listed class period?
- Does your class meet in-person, outside on SATURDAYS, for what are conspicuously labeled “office hours” but in fact often come with an assigned reading and the expectation that you will come and stay for hours?
- When attending your extraneous class meetings, is it clear that your professor knows so much personal information about your classmates that you can’t help but assume they got drinks together at Arts and Crafts last night?
- Does it feel as though if you don’t attend both the professor’s and guest lecturers’ office hours weekly, as well as the extraneous meetings that you are destined for ridicule, humiliation, and god-forbid, a subpar grade?
- Does your class not only monopolize your time through it’s normally heavy Columbia class readings but also hoards of mysteriously optional or “suggested” readings that easily amount to a whole other four-credit class worth of material?
- Deception is a key aspect of cult indoctrination; are you clearly not privy to the many side conversations that the professor is having with other students? (i.e. does your professor flippantly mention that a student is on the Vineyard with friends for the weekend?)
- Are the obligations and expectations of the class kept so mysterious that you assume you must do EVERYTHING even if those commitments or assignments are labelled as “suggested” or “recommended”?
- Did your professor ever delegate (outside of class time) a student to start a Facebook Messenger group chat for the entire class to which you were added but because you are not friends on Facebook with a single member of the class, did not receive notifications for and therefore missed supplementary materials and announcements? (If this ever happens, my advice is to leave immediately. Anytime class-wide facebook messenger group chats are involved, abort.)
- Do you feel as though a majority of your small class has been lifelong friends with your professor? Does your professor bring up things that this majority clearly recollects and knows of, leaving you completely lost?
- Does your seminar largely consist of a senior friend group of history and political science majors who attended CC with this same professor three years ago and chose to all take this course together for senior year? (If the answer to this is yes, nothing else is relevant; I am sorry to tell you that you are in a cult.)
- Are class members on each other’s social media?
- Did multiple class members travel to a niche European destination together?
- Did multiple class members spend last weekend at the Cape carving pumpkins together?
- Does your professor only speak in terms of hyper-specific historical figures and their writings, so as to confuse you to the point of believing that all that matters is what Benjamin Silliman, or Mary Wollstonecraft had to say?
- Does your professor email you so incredibly frequently, that you start to live your life only in terms of what needs to be done for this one class?
- Does your professor send you personal emails and continues to respond regardless of the necessity of a response, so you are caught in an endless cycle of communication with him, never knowing when you can stop replying?
- Changing of names and identity is common in cults; does your professor have a nickname that only past students of his use and that is only used when speaking about him or in reference to him, but never when directly speaking to him?
- Has a fear of being ostracized or shunned by the group been instilled in you, to the point that as a once confident in-class speaker you now feel panic when called?
- Is the feeling of being left “out of the loop” leaving you bitter yet determined to do whatever it takes to become a fully-fledged member of the class?
- Does your professor confidently make scary future predictions about the course of political events that are to be taken as fact, leaving you forlorn and clinging to your leader’s words as if they are the only truths out there?
I’m sorry to say that I do not have a solution for you if through these questions you’ve come to the disturbing conclusion that you have, in fact, registered for a cult through SSOL. This is fittingly published on the last day to drop a course; today is the last opportunity you have to save yourself from the sociological torture. By choosing to stay, you may have destined yourself to become one of the very students who has made the course so miserable for you when you were an outsider. On the other hand, by dropping the course, you will lose the exclusive community you have worked so hard to both survive and thrive in. I’d say the choice is yours, but we both know that if you really have found yourself intertwined with a CC seminar cult, that’s just not true.
Image from Bwog Archive