As students at the top public university in the country, we are constantly consumed by schoolwork. We’re desperate for a balance between finding time to grab lunch with friends between classes while hammering out that 15-page research paper before work and then scheduling work after evening classes. Despite the hectic lives and plethora of responsibilities we have as college students, we remain hopelessly optimistic as we struggle through the day, holding onto the glimmer of hope that perhaps one day the hustle and bustle of life will pay off.
More often than not, however, we find ourselves losing sight of who we are, who we aspire to be and what we represent to the people around us as we push mindlessly toward a useless letter grade. Even though many of us know damn well that grades aren’t a true reflection of our potential, there’s guilt and shame associated with not being the overachieving, top student that we were in high school. We isolate ourselves from friends, family and society to prioritize these often arduous courses, trading away our wellbeing for percentages and numbers. Postponing becomes habit, and the once seemingly endless college social network is narrowed down to one or two lasting friendships. We often feel lonely, and many times we can’t muster the courage to speak up about our fears, apprehensions, insecurities and mental health, when in reality, each and every student has something he or she wants to share and relate with fellow students. It becomes increasingly difficult to open up, especially when expectations become reality. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any more room to put up decorations known as mistakes in this space.
The question therefore arises: How can we, as UC Berkeley students, work to alleviate some of the pressures we feel as college students? What can we do to create a more inclusive, supportive campus environment that fosters growth through failure and experience? First and foremost, it’s imperative that we learn to support one another, rather than see each other as competition. Everyone reaps the benefits when we can all better ourselves and achieve whatever goals we have in mind. Constantly comparing ourselves to other students devalues the very meaning of being an individual and causes us to ignore all the wonderful achievements we’ve made by focusing solely on the things that we haven’t done. The only competition you will ever need is the one with yourself. Rather than having students pitted against one another, we must work to nurture a cooperative and encouraging environment. This can be cultivated by something as easy as using plural first-person pronouns such as “we,” “us,” and “our” in public spaces so that these places can become more welcoming and collaborative. After all, we’re proud UC Berkeley students striving toward our degrees.
Additionally, we must destigmatize failure. Students who retake a course over the summer or school year shouldn’t feel ashamed when stating that they are repeating a course. Everyone faces challenges that others cannot even fathom, which is also why students shouldn’t be pressured to graduate in four years. This expectation creates tremendous stress and ignores the fact that students vary greatly in their comfort levels of adjusting to new environments, learning and thriving. Life isn’t one-size-fits-all, so why are we allowing these stigmas to dictate our youthful lives?