Each of the roughly 50,000 students at the University of Michigan has their own story of how they became a Wolverine. Some of us were dressed in maize and blue practically from the moment we were born. Others discovered our love for Michigan on a campus visit led by a Michigan student tour guide. Some of us were the first in our families to receive higher education, beginning a brand new legacy.
No matter what our pathway to becoming a Wolverine was, the moment we accepted our offers we accepted a list of various stereotypes. In general, university students are perceived as lazy, reckless and wealthy.
In addition to this general stereotype, every university seems to come with even more specific versions of these traits. In a study performed by researchers Andrea Abel and Amy Binder, 56 Harvard University and Stanford University students were surveyed regarding their perceptions of other highly respected campuses such as The University of Chicago and Princeton University. They criticized the other universities as being too social, not social enough or overly career-minded and uptight.
Abel and Binder reported that these micro-comparisons students draw between different universities are a result of the universities’ highly competitive nature. They report that this is largely due to working your whole life to be admitted to a selective university and then, once admitted, doing all you can to elevate your university’s status in order to bolster your own self-confidence.
My two cents? Competition is ingrained in the system. To get to these top universities, students not only need an exceptional application, but also one that is better than that of their peers. This rigorous college admissions process has primed students to carry their overly competitive sentiments into their higher education endeavors.
In Abel and Binder’s study, the University of Michigan was not mentioned by any of the surveyed students. However, it is fair to say that we have spun our own web of reputations, some ugly ones and some not so ugly ones. Many of these perceptions are fairly earned.
Our competitive mentalities translate into the process of applying to the University’s selective clubs and rushing its professional fraternities. These actions could be considered feats of bravery, as they sometimes feel even more difficult than getting into the University itself.
Many of these clubs hold networking events where students who are already in the club can meet with those who are looking to join the club. Unfortunately, this can become a demeaning experience — existing members could flout their accomplishments in the club or speak down to nonmembers. Semester after semester, club after club, rejection after rejection, we begin to feel beaten down by the process. Despite our hopelessness, we continue to put ourselves through the endless stacks of applications. Sometimes, this draining process is less about the desire to join the organization and more about the idea that extracurriculars are necessary for success in the future.
Additionally, seeing our peers doing more than us — posting about their new internships, exclusive clubs or special programs — ultimately leads to constant comparison. Comparing ourselves to others, and feeling behind because of it, is very damaging to our mental health and self-confidence. To cope with these damages, students ramp up their competition, creating an even more cutthroat environment. As you can see, this is a self-perpetuating cycle.
That cycle has manifested itself into an aura of arrogance associated with the University. There are three unspoken classes of U-M followers. First, the “academic Wolverine,” who earned their place at the University and, as a result, thinks they earned the right to be arrogant as well. The next is the “Walmart Wolverine,” fans who watch from a distance but, according to “academic Wolverines,” could never live up to true Wolverine status because they did not actually attend the University. This is not to ignore the third, remaining, category of U-M students who are humble and do not view their status here as a flashy token.
Unfortunately, there are enough arrogant U-M students and alumni that a stereotype is born — a stereotype that sometimes drowns out the presence of those who do not fit that mold. That group of arrogant people and their attitudes toward outsiders suggests an exclusive social status that arises when you attend the University. This exclusivity is intentionally designed to make those who did not or could not attend feel not just left out but less than.
Many people do not have access to the same financial or societal advantages it takes to attend any university, much less a pricey and rigorous one like the University of Michigan. Those who classify themselves as better than those who attend less academically prestigious universities, or those who do not attend college at all, are frankly shallow and ignorant.
Hubris, the excessive pride that leads to one’s downfall, resonates closely with the students and alumni of top universities who hold elitist attitudes. However, we must keep in mind that these attitudes will only get us so far. Even if our arrogance is partially due to the system, which perpetuates a cutthroat environment where we must tear others down to build ourselves up, it is nonetheless our job to break this cycle.
If we want to hold onto our reputation as the top public university in the United States, it is in our best interest to be more conscious of our words and actions. I urge that we all proceed with caution, stay open-minded and kind to whoever crosses our paths and remember there is a fine line between a reputation of arrogance and a reputation of academic excellence. If we cross this line, a degree from Michigan will suddenly mean much less than it did before. In all optimism, I believe our student body is capable of doing such and upholding not only an academic and athletic standard, but a standard of human decency which we can and should be proud of.
Anna Trupiano is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.