It’s time to ditch superiority

Being a student at U of T shouldn’t encourage us to act with arrogance

 

When I was in high school, I remember sitting with my friends in my English class and talking about where we would be applying for university. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was a 17-year-old scared to death of becoming an “adult.”

My best friend at the time wanted to go to York for psychology and sociology. Upon hearing this, a girl in the front of the class laughed and went, “What’s their slogan? ‘If you can eat with a fork, you can go to York.’” God-awful rhyme aside, the girl beside her chuckled and agreed. Apparently, because they were applying to U of T, they were allowed to speak with authority on what school other people were planning to attend.

I was sitting in the back with my best friend, and we didn’t really know how to reply. There wasn’t really an insult for people going to U of T.

Before going to York, I also applied to other schools, including Ryerson and U of T for psychology. My math and science grades weren’t high enough to be welcome into the program at U of T. They did, however, send me an acceptance letter for other programs, including English. But I was convinced that I would grow up to be a psychologist, so I went to York.

Though, when I was there I couldn’t stop thinking about what the girl in the front of class said. I walked into my first psychology class—a class of about 300 students crammed into one room—and wondered if this was a poor choice of school. I wondered if our marks were lower. If our incomes were lower. If we were lower. Suddenly the excitement at being accepted into a post-secondary institute got diminished.

I mentioned this in a previous editorial about how my mind was constantly on English and writing. I couldn’t care less about the psychology program once I actually got there, and I knew that I wanted to be somewhere else. My best friend completed his degree, but I left before my first week. The program just wasn’t for me, and I wanted to be doing what I loved, which was reading and writing. So, I took a year off and worked to get some money before applying again for U of T’s English program.

I remember getting my acceptance letter and crying on the phone to my mother. I was so excited to get accepted into a school that was as prestigious as U of T. I even had U of T alum as my teachers in high school who told me how happy they were for me.

Though, once I got to U of T, I could already feel the sludge of superiority slowing me down. My friend would talk to me about his courses from York and I would dismiss them. What did he know? How could he possibly talk about hard work when he went to a place like York? The nerve.

My ignorance stemmed merely because I went to U of T. That was it. A different school and all of a sudden I was better than people.

This is something that has been on my mind a lot these past few weeks. I think it stems from the fact that I’m about to graduate and I can reflect on how far I’ve come from my first year.

You can compare statistics between places like U of T and York or U of T and other Canadian universities. It’s not hard to see that our school tops the list more often than not. But, somewhere along the way, students at U of T got it into their head that they were allowed to belittle or insult others because we go here and they go there. They act as if our acceptance letters are stamped with a message, “Use this to treat others like crap.”

And, yes, before I get hit with the “not all U of T students” argument, I will agree that no, not all students are like this. But, an unhealthy amount of U of T students do hold an air of superiority over others simply because they go here.

I get the argument. How can we not act like U of T isn’t a big deal when professors like Patrick Gunning are working on cures for cancer? When we have students who will speaking at TEDxUofT? When we have graduate students who have gone on to make incredible films?

Well, I think the answer is pretty simple. Rachel McAdams graduated from York University. So did Joseph Boyden. Jack Layton, too. Debra DiGiovanni graduated from Humber College. Darren Barrett did too. Dina Pugliese and George Stroumboulopoulos graduated from there too. So, I guess the next time we see them in the street, we can scoff at them too because they didn’t go to U of T? Because we’re all as famous as Rachel McAdams, right? We’ve all accomplished at 24 years old what Jack Layton did during his adult life, right?

I’m not here to say that the accomplishment of being welcomed to this school isn’t something to celebrate. If you feel good that you’re here or proud of yourself, you should. I think it’s wonderful that so many of us worked our butts off to get here and to keep being here, especially when the competition is so high. There are editors in this very newsroom who are applying for medical school. How can I say that that isn’t a huge accomplishment? Being here is a big deal. But, being here is just that. We attend a well-ranked school—we don’t get to bonk people on the nose with our diplomas because they went to George Brown.

I think this superiority complex needs to stop for additional reasons. One of the most important reasons would be that you have zero clue what people are doing with their lives. A single mother who comes from a low-income family attends DeVry University. A student who wants to work as soon as they’re done school goes to George Brown for welding. An 18-year-old student who wants to chase their dream goes to Western University for a Bachelor of Arts major in popular music studies. Wow, what losers, right? They’re not in U of T. Just terrible. God, do you even know the difference between “their” and “they’re”?

I will admit that I came from this pretentious thought process. But, as I became more aware of it, I began to reflect and wonder why so many of us continue to do this.

I remember that I once had a professor tell our class that “20 pages of reading isn’t a lot because we’re not at ‘Slumber College.’” He then went on a spiel about how he used to teach engineering students who would go to their department head to complain about him because he gave them too much work. He even disclosed to us that some of his students would cry. Naturally, there were students in my class who questioned how acceptable it was to push students to the point of crying simply because they went to U of T. Yet, my professor stood his ground that because this is U of T, students needed to be pushed that hard. This happened as recently as last semester.

I can see where he was coming from in the sense that this school will obviously hold students to a higher standard. However, I stand with the students in calling him out for his teaching methods simply because we go to U of T. Twenty pages may not seem like a lot, but stepping outside the bubble of one classroom, when students have to read over 200 pages for English courses, it obviously then becomes more than 20. And, even if students are only reading 20 pages a week, does that make them slackers? Who decided that?

I understand that there are professors here who are accomplishing incredible things. There are students here who will go on to become leaders or titans in their field. While their accomplishments are the result of a lifetime of work, we as a collective get to experience the joy of their accomplishments. They will serve as sources of inspiration for those of us still attending U of T. They will always have that title to their name, too. It’s hard not to be psyched when someone from U of T does something amazing. But, newsflash. U of T isn’t the only school where people are working to become something in their field. Just because our school is ranked higher doesn’t mean we need to throw away our respect for others.

Imagine a scenario for a moment. You come here and prop yourself atop a high horse simply because your diploma will be stamped with “University of Toronto.” But, what happens if your grades drop? If something causes you to take a step back for a year or two? Do you honestly want someone from to walk up to you then and go, “Ha, we’ll you’re not in school anymore. At least I could stay in school. At least I kept my grades up in my university.” So, someone with no knowledge of your situation is allowed to judge because they go to school and you needed to take some time off? I sincerely doubt that people would like that happening to them, but it’s okay to poke fun at others for their institution? Even if wasn’t happening to you, I’m relatively certain that you wouldn’t want that to happen to someone that you cared about either.

People who go to this school should be proud of all that they have accomplished and all that they will accomplish. But, it’s important to remember that we should keep ourselves humble when we leave this place. We should remember that we’re all students while we are in university. Our acceptance into U of T does not automatically diminish what others have done with their lives. It’s a pretty sad way to live if we honestly convince ourselves that this kind of behavior is acceptable. Have we not learned in these past two weeks with the pumpkin as president that we have more strength when we stand united? We shouldn’t single others out just because our school is ranked higher.

So, the next time someone tells you that they go to a school with a lower reputation than this one, we should just accept their decision and congratulate them on being in an institution that some people can only dream of attending. We should remember that treating each other with respect and understanding isn’t something we sweep under the rug because we go to different schools. They worked hard to get where they are, and it’s important to acknowledge that. We should stand together as a collective unit of students who accomplished something like graduating from a post-secondary institute. Don’t belittle people just because they went to another institute—as an undergraduate or a graduate student. We shouldn’t live life thinking that we’re better than people. An essential lesson we should learn as we get older is that we’re stronger in numbers and respect for your fellow man will get you way further in life.

YOURS,
MARIA CRUZ