Guides for the Perplexed

cover of the 2011 UCSC disorientation guide, via

A collection of disorientation guides from colleges across North America.

Universities are among the most widely celebrated institutions of white imperialism worldwide. The university is known both for the experiences it provides to those lucky enough to become its students—formally, a center of intellectual and professional stimulation and education; informally, a sanctuary for partying and fucking with minimal societal constraint—and the lifetime of social prestige and economic privilege it is expected to provide to its graduates in return for thousands of dollars of tuition. Indeed, the financial benefits are seen by those new to university campuses as the primary reason to work towards a degree. But though the economic framing is ubiquitous and compelling, university administrators also try to win new students' loyalty with orientation programs, in which several days of social activities with other students and programming from the institution are supposed to foster a deep and emotional attachment to the school.

In response to the school handbooks distributed with these orientation programs on campuses every fall, student activists with a critical outlook on their campus and society at large have for years assembled disorientation guides, designed to communicate a threefold message: 1) everything is not alright, despite what they're telling you; 2) if you think everything is not alright, you're not alone; 3) this is where you can find those of us who refuse to accept the status quo and will work to change it. In the interests of making sure new students are fully prepared to continue their schooling, we've put together a short list of disorientation guides for and by (primarily undergraduate) students for the 2014-2015 academic year, based on our own research and a Twitter call for submissions.

Aside from the length of list below, its constitution of elite private and public schools in the United States and Canada will likely raise more than a few eyebrows. Since disorientation guides (and pamphlets assembled in a similar tradition) predate the widespread use of PDFs and websites for distribution, it's wrong to read this as if the students assembling the guides below were the first to do so. Perhaps this compilation can be the beginning of a collective project to create, as one former campus activist suggests, "the only healing response to violence of the university: to redistribute its wealth and knowledge potential to the spaces where these things are needed the most". While the creators and intended audiences of these disorientation guides work towards egalitarian visions on their own campuses, it's our hope that a wider group—attendees of schools unnamed, community and vocational college students, online students, middle and high schoolers, and people who never will or no longer have ties to the school system—will find in these links inspiration to do their own work in forging tools to take education, a social process of collective learning and growth, out of the hands of capital and the state and into the context of movements for liberation.

A note: bracketed links are to PDF guides, while websites are given in indented bullet points. "Read" indicates single-page PDFs, while "print" indicates imposed PDFs laid out for easier printing, folding, and stapling into a zine or booklet.