As students navigating through a thriving university culture, we grow and so do our expectations. This grab-bag of opportunities and the meta space for intellectual development, can arguably, be the driving force behind the complex and toxic competition between students in terms of cognitive performance. While developing expectations from academia, students often falter in gauging what is in turn expected of them.
The expansive academic space is so narrow in social, economic, and cultural sensitivity that the method of learning and eventually living of each student is uniquely affected and influenced by it. The unsaid obligation to move up the social ladder, to fit in, to know, to be informed makes a badly-mixed college cocktail.
University “intellectual” circles, in all its glory, can prove themselves to be judgmental at best, and virulent at worst. Once a student is exposed to this reality, their perception of academia, as well as their yet adolescent hopefulness starts changing. One was perhaps seeking to be challenged academically, or to expand their mental horizons through the learning-unlearning process. However, the widely propagated culture of shaming students into learning or assessing them (mostly belittling) throws their curiosity and potential into a state of constant questioning.
This practice facilitates an alleviated self-confidence, a feeling of estrangement and psychological distress. The struggling psyche of students to move through in an environment of intimidation hinders their personal advancement, which is precisely the opposite of what academic spaces claim to do. While being deprecated for not being as learned, an additional condition of equating each students’ idea of growth only aggravates the already flawed structure of meritocracy.
The fundamentals on which academia operates is largely unmindful of the socio-economic background of students. The shrewd demand of being well-read and well-informed emanates from a place of privilege. What if someone’s first book was not an English classic or that deemed to be “high art”? The supercilious and lofty undertones in this determinative of the cerebral capacity of students is not only ethically wrong, but is fundamentally problematic.
Additionally, it channels itself into an impenetrable barrier for students trying to shape their identity and find their purpose in academic spaces, along with organically growing as individuals. As young adults, entering the bigger world, we are still malleable with highly impressionable minds. If our identities would be constantly scrutinized on the basis of how much we know or how “intellectual” we are, then most likely, we will be pushed into a self-critical phase, wherein we lament our academically less-than-ideal personality while starting to believe what snobbish university intellectuals have to say about us.
Students are put on a ladder marked by elitist temperament, prone to unhealthy standards of growth. Many fall for this inferiority/superiority swindle and eventually to a disservice to their own long-term and short-term goals. Making persistent efforts towards being better, on your terms, is what academia should promote – not setting an unfair and unsound litmus test for filtering students. An academic system should not be defined and controlled by a one-dimensional perspective. Building symbiotic relationships, sustaining and advocating diversity, and being inclusive of people outside the conventional intellectual groups should be the primary focus of universities.
Not having read enough or not being as informed is in tandem with access to books and to resources enabling critical thinking among students. To have the agency and avenue for pursuing traditional “intellectual” activities is expensive. Not only that, it is also a subject of proper guidance and direction being available to the person. Hence, concentrating power structure within those who come from a place of generational wealth and wisdom is exclusionary. It should be normalized to not already know critics, scholars, authors, philosophers or theories; students enter university to learn. They were not privy to the debased traditions of shaming and judging.
The hustle culture within academia and the disproportionate importance given to the art of articulation; the discreet pressure of consuming only a certain standard of art; the necessity put on knowing a certain language; to be grammatically sound; the acute demand of being able to contribute in debates and discussions are the ticket to the group of so-called intellectuals. This leads to the gradual fading of one’s individuality. Devoid of exercising their choice, academia can suffocate its beneficiaries. It might also take away the opportunity of tapping on one’s potential where they could have rationed their time and energy in making the best out of all available resources.
In this global mosaic culture, if we are unable to be multiculturally sensitive and open, in what line would our progress fall. Academia should not be sustained as en elitist space, it should be broad, inclusive, understanding and available to all those who are a part of this and to those who need this. Internal deterioration is not an academic aesthetic.
Nuzhat Khan is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Malaika M Khan
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.