After a few hectic weeks, we are headlong into the semester, and I am thinking about masks. No, not Halloween masks, but instead the masks we wear in an attempt to fit in. Orientation whipped by, then before we knew it Family Weekend and thereafter Homecoming flooded media with exciting pictures and so-called Happy Cobber faces. From the official college marketing to the Social Media Hub to the Concordia website to even The Concordian, you cannot miss the ardent Cobbers decked out in at least one fake cob-of-corn hat. (Do we have a name for that thing?) It is a beautiful thing to share a school with students who adore it. It is undoubtedly one of Concordia’s deepest strengths. With that in mind, I write because I am not one of those students, and I think it’s time to take that mask off.
Most of the time I spend and have spent at Concordia, I have felt like I do not fit in with the Happy Cobber vibe. More than just my being an undeniable sourpuss, I tend to feel pretty out of place here. I have never been to nor led a summer Bible camp. I bristle every time I hear a corn pun. I am, in my extended family of 30+ North Dakotan-Minnesotan college attendees, the second Cobber in my family. My singing sounds like a cat drowning, and I have about as much proclivity for any other instrument as I do for getting dates. The list goes on, but you get the gist: if there is a stereotypical “person who is happy at Concordia” profile, I do not fit it.
And yet — here comes the real unmasking — I am a Cobber, and I am happy. Thanks to Concordia, I have traveled abroad for the first time, worked some life-changing internships, and eaten my first lefse. I may not be a performer, but I have learned to appreciate the breathtaking musical talent we have on this campus. I have made some incredible friendships with students, faculty, and staff alike. At the same time, there are plenty of things I dislike about Concordia. I have had some godawful experiences here. You are much more likely to find me spending my weekends in Fargo than in Moorhead. But that’s okay. There are untold ways to spend your years in any college, and it’s fine (and dare I say normal) not to love it all.
I am worried we don’t express this idea enough, and our silence is negatively affecting our community. Student retention, or the percentage of entering students who do not transfer or drop out, is substantially lower at Concordia than at its peer colleges. I cannot help but think to the countless times I’ve felt out of place here and wonder if some entering students feel similarly. As the Concordia brand gets further into the field of corn puns (had to do it) and Happy Cobbers who’ll love every minute of Concordia, I do think we’re running a risk of alienating those who feel even a bit out of place (and I’ve had conversations that have strengthened this belief).
At the end of the day, Cobber pride is an awesome thing, but so is nuance. You don’t have to study abroad, be a kickass musician, get a Cobber ring, or walk under the Bell Tower with a lover to be a part of this community. There are plenty of students here who don’t fit that mold, yet still find ways to have a great time. I believe studying at Concordia can be a transformative experience for anyone — in my own experience, especially those who feel a bit out of place. And at the end of the day, there is no need to wear a mask — at least not this week.
This article was submitted by Zach Lipp, contributing writer.