You belong here

Matthew Wallace | Staff Writer

With finals fast approaching, major projects due and those weed-out-but-we-don’t-call-them-weed-out classes—cough cough, Organic Chemistry, cough cough—crushing your spirit with every passing day, it’s easy to lose confidence and wonder whether or not you are smart enough to actually be a Washington University student. For many students, this feeling comes most often in response to extremely high stress situations. But for others, in many cases with those who belong to an underrepresented group or groups, this feeling is uncomfortably common. For groups such as the black, Latinx, Caribbean, Asian and LGBTQIA* communities; those of us who deal with a mental illness; international students; first generation Americans; first-generation college students; students whose families don’t fall above the middle class; and, of course, women—it’s called Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome is an ever-present fear that whispers in your ear, hissing, “You don’t belong here,” screaming, “You’re not smart enough and people know it” and laughing at every attempt you make. It is easy to shut yourself out from the outside world and put on a tired smile, while inside you are grappling with yourself over whether you can even understand what you don’t understand.

But I am here to tell you that voice is wrong: You belong here.

For minority communities, the moment you walk onto the grounds of a Predominately White Institution, you are immediately struck with the realization that this school wasn’t built for you. From the names on the buildings to the portraits that hang in the hallways to the statue of the slave owner in front of Olin Library (remember kids, there is no such thing as a good slave owner!), there are countless reminders that your own grandparents probably would have not been allowed to attend this school. But we are not our grandparents. There have been countless men and women who have fought and died for the rights to study at world class institutions. One thing that has gotten me through tough days is this simple thought: The road that has taken me to Wash. U. is vastly different than the one for my legacy, million dollar-plus home, father-has-a-law-firm-in-Manhattan floormate, but we both ended up here. And yes, there is still a large inequality gap, but in terms of education—something that no police officer, racial slur user or colonial imperialism proponent can ever take away—we will both earn the same $200,000 degree.

College is a different beast for students who are first generation Americans and/or college students—and it’s a different beast for students whose families aren’t upper middle class and above. There are countless ways a student can go through college, but the process becomes a hell of a lot easier when you have money or family members who have gone through it. Knowing how to talk to professors—or to more generally ask for help—is not intuitive, and the lack of that knowledge can derail the brightest, most motivated student. Being the first in your family to do anything is an incredible weight and can sometimes fill you with guilt because your problems center around studying, while your family struggles to find money to keep the heat on in the winter. Having money and a college degree in your family doesn’t automatically make your life unhindered by serious problems, but it does eliminate a lot of them.

With powerful men finally being held minimally accountable for their heinous actions toward women, it is easy to assume that sexism is dead and we’re all equal. But the 13th, 14th, & 15th Amendments; Brown v. Board of Education; the Voting Rights Act of 1965; the 2008 & 2012 presidential elections; the 2017 Academy Awards; and the 2018 Grammy Awards have shown the world that hatred does not stop when a bill is signed, and equality isn’t achieved when a rap award is given to West Coast Slim Shady (or even the original one). Just because there is a new f–kboy getting fired every day from his cushy job, that doesn’t mean your teaching assistant won’t have to go out in a group on the weekend just to protect herself from drunken predators. That doesn’t mean women everywhere will suddenly be appreciated for their talents and personalities in the way men are. And that absolutely doesn’t mean the hatred toward women, especially women of color, will disappear.

I say hatred not as hyperbole, but as fact. The fact that there are people alive in the United States today that remember a time when women were not allowed to vote is depressing. The world constantly views women as less than and incapable of performing to the level of men. That ridiculous viewpoint is even present here, with students not wanting help in a class from the teaching assistant or instructor simply because they aren’t a man. The only reason I have been able to survive here at Wash. U. has been because of the incredibly talented women that keep this school running. We should all take a moment out of our busy schedules and thank at least one of the women who have devoted so much of their lives to make sure we succeed.

So there it is. Most college students have wrestled with Imposter Syndrome before. For some, it is a fleeting moment in time. For the rest of us, it is arguably the most consistent feeling throughout our time in higher education. However, it can be helped by opening up to each other and supporting someone that way you wish someone had supported you. College is both wonderful and terrible. The only way to get through the hellish parts is by working together and supporting each other. But first, you have to convince yourself of one thing that everyone already knows: You belong here.