On Belonging

As students of the college, we are often privy to “imposter syndrome” — the feeling of not belonging and being an “admissions mistake.” The Orientation Play serves to preemptively combat the presence of imposter syndrome on campus, reassuring students — mainly the incoming ones — that they deserve to be here and are allowed to make mistakes without being the mistake.

While students internalize this message to different degrees on their own time, it remains difficult to always feel fully confident in your competence and rightful place at Swat. It is hard to grow out of the mindset that you have to constantly prove to the people around you — even your friends — why you deserve to be here.

We also become accustomed to reassuring the people we care about that they do have a place here and are flourishing before our eyes. We see the best in them even if we can’t envision it for ourselves.

However, the insecurities about being an imposter in conjunction with hyper-awareness of how involved and successful the people around us are creates a nagging, lingering feeling that we are not doing enough. We then keep trying to do more: academically, extracurricularly, any type of involvement both on and off campus. We forget along the way that the connections we make with the people here will be Swat’s most lasting impact in the years that follow. This isn’t to erase the importance of grades, classes, and being involved, but rather it is a displacement of those aspects to highlight the importance of the lasting impressions and relationships we are making while here.

Research shows that what college students remember from their experience the most are connections with professors and their friends. Frank Bruni cites results from the Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey, writing that “establishing a deep connection with a mentor, taking on a sustained academic project, and playing a significant part in a campus organization” had the highest correlation with postgraduate satisfaction with life and career.

So, we’re stuck in this vicious cycle — a cycle that prevents us from fully appreciating the faculty and students who are around us, driving us to do more work in an isolated way from other incredibly bright, valuable people.

As we develop socially, it is easy for us to feel as though our priorities are out of order. Instead of feeling secure in being well-balanced individuals, we are led to expect that that is unrealistic because of he pressure to be stressed and constantly productive. When we can’t maintain a balance, we end up feeling like we don’t deserve to be here. This perception of inadequacy, on top of our overloaded schedules, prevents us from having the mental and emotional capacity to process and grow.

But grow we must. Our social selves are just as legitimate an endeavor as our academic and extracurricular selves — an endeavor that requires time, reflection, and care — and it’s time that we as a community acknowledge that.

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