At the beginning of the year 2019, I packed my belongings and braced myself for the highly esteemed world of academics at the prestigious institution of the University of XXXX. I was determined to learn and take full advantage of this opportunity but I was not prepared for what I found. An institution known for world-class academics working towards educating young African minds. I was naïve enough to think it was all professional and work-oriented, but in essence, they are all just as human as the world they try to distance themselves from if not more.
In comparison, making my way through my postgrad studies this year was like taking a trip down memory lane to high school. Naturally, they were favourites and the cliques were on point and a tad vicious. I have to say I wasn’t all too disappointed in the exclusion; I am an introvert so being able to watch from afar was fun for my observant eye. And just to add a disclaimer I do not in any way intend to offend or claim to not have learnt a tone from my experience, it is the main reason I am writing about my observations.
From the time we enter school a level of superiority is placed upon academic studies, intellectuals are viewed as above almost godly like. But I can confidently tell you that lady or dude with that PhD or that academic someone you fear is just as human as you are. My department was filled with ambition and talent. A lovely combination that unfortunately created an environment filled with unnecessary competition and classification.
I won’t lie, upon arriving I found myself naturally trying to fit in and become a part of the selected community. But the practices of conforming, peacocking and psychological warfare were too tiring for me and in some instances juvenile. My resistance and confidence in my laid back manner made me different, but not without company as a number of us became rejects.
Over the course of the year, I found myself feeling sorry for the selected individuals, their overconfidence and hostilities stemmed from the pressures and anxieties of academia; and the fear of failure. I witnessed the daughter of a supposed well known academic; lose her cool after being given mere feedback on her Masters’ proposal. The pressure of excellence of the school and her family name denied her (in her mind) room for failure which meant any kind of feedback even simple observations were seen as a failure to her. So she made a scene and stormed off from our department postgraduate coordinator.
This social profile also included the lecturers who at times were the heads of the cliques. Ride with certain individuals and know your academic future is set; you are hooked up with scholarships, undercover research facilities some of us only dream of. Get certain supervisors and you are in for a ride, mine, in particular, was a bizarre case. My supervisor did not care for me at all, how did I know this? General interaction and her tone (she always had a tone) when it came to me.
I could have wasted my time calling her out, to which she could have ended my academic venture and labelled me lazy and incompetent. In such a situation you have to ask, who would you believe? Her feedback was always buried under a mountain of condescending and mean remarks; unprofessional AF. But you have to understand, like the students, the lecturers were working in the same peacocking, psychological warfare and anxiety-driven wavelength.
My supervisor especially was a classic example of an academic still building her name; in all honesty, she has no business teaching anyone at the moment. I managed to look past her lack of nurturing and snide comments to get to whatever advice she had but imagine if I hadn’t got past that part. Drowned in her remarks about my intelligence and how she didn’t want her name next to my ‘nonsense’ as she put it. I managed to remind myself who I was and why I was there; I stayed strong and confident but what about future students who might not be able to do the same.
I learned a valuable lesson besides the academic side of my studies but basic human behaviour. We lash out when we feel threatened, we breakdown when we feel our efforts aren’t appreciated. We tear each other down to feel superior, we at times put unnecessary pressure on ourselves and try to live up to our parents’ names who we forget are different people from us. We strut and peacock to pretend everything is ok and select each other on the merit of who can benefit my brand the best and as always any deviation from the status quo is taboo. All of this is true of us all including the set apart academics, who tower over the rest of us with their knowledge which even with; still doesn’t change the fact that at the core of it all, we are all still just human.
Honey Yanibel Minaya Cruz