Confessions of a State School Ivy Leaguer (Part 1)

Some notes that I think should precede this post:

  1. I have been trying to write this for a while but I can’t seem to “finish” the post. It’s making me anxious to keep editing and rewriting so there will likely be a part 2 (at least). This is a starting point. We all have to start somewhere.
  2. I never thought I’d amount to anything better than state school (whatever that means). I feel like I was always “expected” to go to a public university. That being said, I LOVED UConn. My entire undergraduate experience was truly incredible and unexpectedly unbelievable. I learned SO MUCH! I grew so much. I’m incredibly proud to be a UConn alum and wouldn’t change a single thing about my experience.
  3. A part of me feels like there’s a lot of expectation for me to succeed here and not only represent myself well but also represent UConn well. It feels like any performance that is less than exceptional is unacceptable. I carry this burden (partially unwillingly) but also proudly. A part of me wants to prove I can do this. But it’s also a lot to deal with, especially when things aren’t going nearly as well as expected.
  4. Brown University isn’t a bad school. This writing is reflective of my experiences here NOT the institution itself.

When I was first deciding to come here, I had to confront a lot of my own insecurities and worries. I had to convince myself that my experiences and my aspirations aligned with the program I was accepted into. Essentially, I had to convince myself I was good enough, smart enough, intellectual enough to be here. Impostor Syndrome is real ( I didn’t know that then). Impostor Syndrome makes you work harder at everything you do while simultaneously forcing you to undermine and question your accomplishments by comparing yourself to your own perceptions of who and what is worthy of an “Ivy League Education”.  Basically , it makes you feel like all your accomplishments are a consequence of luck or circumstance. Basically, it makes you feel like YOU didn’t earn or deserve your opportunities or recognition. It makes it easy to prefer to be acknowledged as “mediocre” because then you don’t have to confront the disconnect between how you view yourself and how others perceive you to be. The best example of this I can recall, from my experience, is when an outstanding TA once said to me, “It started from my confused reaction to seeing such amazing things in you and also seeing that you didn’t see those things. I wondered to myself how things might change for you if you could see yourself the way I saw you.”  These words were super powerful for me!

Surprisingly, everything that challenged me about coming to this school (with regard to my own intellect, ability, and how “deserving” I was of this opportunity) became mostly obsolete (I realize that’s an oxymoron) once I got here. Admittedly, now (hindsight is 20/20), I NEVER could have predicted the real disappointments and challenges I’d face at this “elite” institution. That’s super frustrating! An advisor once told me that in life there are no counterfactuals (YAY economics!). He was super correct. Even when we think we’ve played out every alternative and every “what if” the truth is, we can never anticipate what we might experience and that reality coupled with the daunting feeling that once we choose we can never look back makes these decisions even harder.

In my opinion, Brown University oversells the name and undersells the quality. It’s one of those things you’d never know or think of until you’re here. No wonder I didn’t consider this! That’s the beauty of the signaling power of Ivy League universities. We find ourselves in these privileged spaces that are conceptualized as incredible and exceptional. [side note: taking a second to acknowledge there is privilege here regardless of how it’s created and maintained] This privilege is reinforced by how others think about and imagine “Brown University”. The thing is, I feel like this is a front. Because, the education I’m receiving doesn’t much different (certainly not better) that what I received at UConn. In fact, I recently found out that the professor I was so exited to do research with is collaborating with some of my professors at UConn on a few projects! So, in the world of academia everything is relatively interconnected. The name holds power and is desirable to employers BUT that’s probably and mostly because they don’t know any better.

I have yet to experience conscious conversations across or between difference. The kind of conversations where we separate the message from the messenger and critically consume what people are saying with the intention of crafting a collective learning space. I have no problem being challenged or having my perspective better (or differently) informed by additional viewpoints, opinions, experiences, or questions. I’m pretty sure that exchange is called learning. What I do have a problem with is feeling small. I have a problem feeling like I am constantly being judged, like my worth is decided before I speak based on anything I’ve said before, based on how others have interpreted my contributions, or what my peers believe to be my experience, intentionality, or privilege.

I absolutely realize the policy world is messy and challenging! I get that. What I didn’t expect was to confront this environment in the classroom. I expected to be exposed to a constructive, collaborative, communal, safe, eclectic learning space. Instead, what I walked into (and keep coming back to) was a condescending, unilateral, opinionated, inflexible, tense environment that is dominated by a select few voices that we’ve collectively put on a pedestal and allowed to be privileged in our space.

I’m tired of talking myself out of participating or preemptively convincing myself that my contributions are worthless (so others don’t do it for me). I know that I’m smart enough and intellectual enough. Those concerns may once have been my foci but that’s not the problem here anymore. Now I’m more preoccupied the toxic space we’ve created where I feel small and insignificant. It’s a space where I feel like my opinions don’t matter and my contributions are only considered to the extent that they can be criticized. The thing is, nobody is asking me my opinions – hence this blog! I realized recently, if I didn’t put myself out there, I’d never be heard because I’d never be invited to speak. Why is that? What does this say about our class dynamic? What does this dynamic indicate about whose voices and who, specifically, is respected, privileged, heard, or acknowledged?

I feel like I left what I knew and where I felt entirely comfortable. When I left, I jumped, deep, into something that was built up to be so amazing and stimulating. That basically left me with farther to fall. And I went because they pushed me! [side note: I’m really trying not to be mad about how forced this all felt] I left something so great for what I presumed (and certainly others presumed) was better.  I guess you can’t know or truly appreciate what you have til it’s gone.

Overwhelmingly, Brown University hasn’t met my expectations.

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2 thoughts on “Confessions of a State School Ivy Leaguer (Part 1)

  1. I’m sorry you’re experiences haven’t been great, but you do have a strong voice and one day you will be heard. Although you may not directly change this one place I suspect the experience will make you stronger and more determined

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