Interdisciplinary Studies: You don't have to color in the lines!

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Kyle Aaron Reese
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As a kid, I never colored in the lines – literally and figuratively.   I could never pay attention to anything at school and my kindergarten teacher became concerned when she noticed that I’d turn my head anytime someone entered the room. I still don’t see the problem there, but I was diagnosed with ADHD seven years later.  In first grade, my teacher sent me home with two months’ worth of incomplete homework that amounted to over a 100 pages. When my mom saw that I would painstakingly create designs on simple coloring exercises, she pretty much completed the work for me. I could never understand why I was being taught things that I considered completely arbitrary, though I generally understood that some would be useful in life.

I’ve always had big ideas and my own ways to reach my goals, but because the establishment and academia are so insistent on traditional paths of study for students pursuing their academic goals, I struggled to find my way.  I should note here that I am transgender, and many of these lines that I refuse to stay in are gender norms.  I grew up assigned female at birth and could never understand why the boys didn’t want to play with me. The boundaries between academia and gender often blur for me.  After high school I fell into drug addiction. I made a lot of bad choices, but going to college was always in the back of my mind. I finally got clean some years later then went to a technical school to become certified as a medical assistant.  I had a great career, but it was low paying. Then I got sick and could no longer work in that field.

So I came back to school, but I was so lost.  Medicine had been my life for ten years and I had no idea what to do.  I settled on studying psychology at first, but that didn’t quite feel right.  I was restricted to a field that I didn’t always agree with.  I want to de-pathologize and destigmatize transgender people, but psychology seemed to pathologize every human behavior. 

That’s when I discovered CUNY’s BA program – short for City University of New York Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies.  It’s a mouthful to say the least, but through the program, I could build my own major and the sky wasn’t even a limit.  I draw on psychology, sociology, anthropology, and gender studies to build my major.  Every class I take leads directly to my goals of teaching and researching a specific theme.  I have a great mentor and every professor helps me on my journey. Now I am focused and efficient.  I still struggle when I have to take a prerequisite course – why I have to know that Ongka gave his rival tribe in New Guinea 600 pigs is still beyond me – but I know that it will lead to great things.

I hope that anyone who reads this that is struggling to figure out what they want to do takes this to heart.  I am 34-years-old and about halfway through my degree; I still have five years of a doctorate to go after that.  It’s never too late to start and you do not have to be tied down to a single academic field.  You do not have to color in the lines!