Paige Ourada, Chemistry major/Spanish minor, class of 2016
As a child, I remember being competitive about everything by the time I was in first grade. In elementary school, teachers assigned “A” books to the newest readers and “Z” books to the advanced readers. Of course they were hoping we would improve our reading over time and slowly work our way through the alphabet - the primary goal being that everyone would reach “Z“ by summer break. However, after our initial reading tests, it was clear that half the class was at the upper reading level, and half the class at the lower reading level. This split never changed, because we all subconsciously believed the people towards the end of the alphabet were smarter than those at the beginning of the alphabet.
In high school, my Spanish teacher would announce every student who received an A on his or her test to the entire class, and it was always the same people. Getting an A, and therefore getting your name announced to the class, was supposed to be motivation for students to do well, but instead it created a bar that the majority of the class did not feel they were capable of crossing.
Now in college, I see how pressure put on students can create dangerously low academic confidence. This is worsened by the intense competition among students – to the point where students don’t want to see their classmates succeed. The greatest problem I have encountered in college, however, is the increased stereotyping as related to intelligence and probability of success. As a premed woman in the science field, I feel as though some have lower expectations for me. When I revealed my college plans to my dentist, for example, he was quick to say, “Good for you. There are not that many women actively involved in the sciences. I’m glad to see you’re defying expectations and stereotypes.”
I never wanted to view myself as a deviation from the norm because I thought society had moved away from those generalizations. It frustrated me that my dentist spoke those words with such ease, as if there wasn’t that much expected of me, but he was happy to see I was trying. These stereotypes are completely ridiculous, and even though I try to use those comments as fuel to make a point of myself and prove that I can be successful, it is still difficult to ignore the subconscious thoughts telling me that those comments must be true if someone is brave enough to say them to my face.
It saddens me to see this increased pressure that is put on students today. We are all young, yet we already have so much stress in our lives that some of us have aged far beyond our years. Our educational environment can make us feel intellectually inadequate, and while this is intended to motivate us to go above and beyond, it ultimately tears us apart.
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