I spent my first two years of college at the University of Illinois. We are a different sort there; we would tie handkerchiefs around our men and, in the early mornings, would traipse directly from the bars to the barns to milk the cows. We would fall asleep contentedly in the hay, blissfully unaware that we were not attending an elite college.
It was a shock to be drop-kicked into an elite institution in my third year. I hung up my straw hat and got the pair of spotted galoshes everyone on campus seemed to own. "It's funny you call them galoshes," said the Massachusetts girls.
My first semester, I missed my Midwestern home. I missed being able to walk into the library without having to step over martyred students sleeping on the doorstep. I hid from anxious-looking women herding into my path to tell me how much work they had to do. I missed blonde sorority girls with nose studs and giant boys with hair curling out from under their baseball caps. They juggled five classes while happily downing lite beer four nights a week.
Most of all, I missed being in a place that allowed for the unfolding of an imperfect self. There, ambitions were quieter, goals gymnastically flexible. Here, we're lead to believe that because we were admitted, we must be brilliant. Better. Brimming with talent and potential. And for good reason: a school that's going to leave you $160,000 lighter is well-served by that kind of propaganda.
And I do believe that school rankings are, at best, propaganda and at worst, a psychologically and spiritually crippling lie. The classes I've taken here have been comparable in workload and difficulty to my classes at the University. I've found students on both campuses to be equally smart and kind and hopeful.
It is a disservice to our students, then, to encourage the sort of frenzied elitism that exists here. It may be good for our egos, but it's intellectually embarrassing and it is the direct cause of skyrocketing stress levels among our women. Our elitist culture has left us with women who have always been told that they are best, women who breathe little, sleep less, and take Pepto-Bismol to calm their stressed stomachs.
Moreover, it is a sinfully ignorant disservice to the students who cannot afford an East Coast education. Does money grant us a better education? That's open to debate. But money certainly grants us a better name for our resumes and easier access to graduate programs.
This whole classist, hierarchical system of higher education is a black mark on all of us as intellectuals. We should not buy into a remarkably unfair system, even when we are benefiting from that system. If we accept the benefits of it, we perpetuate it. This perpetuation comes at the expense of equally promising students graduating from a less prestigious alma mater, as well as our own humility.
I've been at Mount Holyoke for a year now. I like the classes, love the coffee, hate the hills. I still find myself shying away from the fact that I have entered a school that imagines that I am somehow smarter than the average woman. Living a lie: it is occasionally boring, sometimes sad, always frustrating.