Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
If I had a dollar for each time I was asked “So what are you going to do with your degree?”, I would have enough money to pay for my ridiculous tuition.
As a Bangladeshi English major at an engineering-oriented and predominantly white institution, I am all too familiar with the odd looks and awkward small talk that comes after I reveal my major to other students. In fact, I have grown amused at how predictable the rest of the conversation is (“So you want to teach?”, or, “Are your parents OK with that?” are the two most common questions, if you were curious). I have always taken pride in my culture as well as my major; never would I have imagined that these traits would become a factor in a battle that made me my own worst enemy.
It began with an interview. A simple, 30-minute session for a professional organization on campus. When asked about my major, my interviewers looked at each other in both confusion and amusement. Here we go again, I thought; placing bets with myself on which tone-deaf response they’d use first. After answering their questions, I walked out of the room convinced I would not be admitted to the organization, but happy to get out of my interview heels. I was surprised to receive their email a week later, congratulating me for securing a position on their team.
The first meeting was when I realized I was in for emotional upheaval. The organization consisted mainly of male business majors, with few BIPOC students. Immediately I felt discomfort; there were few people in that room who looked like me, let alone thought like me. Over the next few meetings I attempted to make friends, but was either dismissed after talking about my major or met with cold professionalism that made it difficult to engage in genuine conversation. I began to not only feel incredibly isolated from my teammates, but found myself blaming the lack of connection on myself for not fitting the image I had associated with the organization. With each meeting I grew convinced that I was only accepted on the basis of my major, gender, and ethnicity. I felt that I was the token South Asian woman to assuage any accusations of monoculturalism. I was paranoid that my background in the liberal arts was being utilized to advertise the ”unique perspective” of the organization. Above all, I believed that I was not good enough.
I was consumed with intense impostor syndrome. I felt the need to work twice as hard to prove myself, to prove that my major did not define my success. After a while, I wasn’t sure who exactly I was proving myself to. My insecurities from being in the organization morphed into so much more; they became grounds upon which I trampled over my self-worth. The qualities that once instilled a sense of pride became taunting mantras that would replay in my head throughout the day; reminding me that I was destined for failure.
In college, it is easy for a negative experience to become a source of insecurity that can eventually lead students to develop toxic mindsets against themselves. When you become your own worst enemy, the battle seems endless. But for every negative attribute you associate with yourself, know that they are outweighed by the positive. Growing out of an impostor mindset takes time, courage, and most importantly, self-love. The qualities that had provided me with pride and a sense of individuality were being inadvertently warped by students who were as inexperienced and normal as I am (and if that wasn’t insulting enough, they were wearing clip-on ties in the process, but I digress). What was once the source of pain and self-loathing became motivation to rise above circumstance.
I am a firm believer in everything happening for a reason, and with support, was able to realize that I belonged in that organization for a reason. I, along with so many other students who suffer from this internal battle, deserve to take pride in how far we have come and look forward to the things we can accomplish. Our time here is short, but the perception we create of ourselves is long-lasting.
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