Vol. CLIII, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Liberal Arts’ Ego Problem

The Venn diagram between Whitman students and inflated egos is a circle. We’re all guilty of having some sort of “better than most” mentality – whether you choose to admit it or not. Even Marriage Pact called us out, stating, “Somehow, 3.2% of you claimed you were in the 99th %ile when asked if you were smarter than most people at Whitman. Odd.” 

This relationship between superiority complexes and liberal arts education is a parasitic disaster. It’s complex – on one hand, there’s the dynamic within the campus of intellectual hierarchy, and on the other, there’s the way we as Whitties interact with the outside world – just in case you forgot, life outside of “The Whitman Bubble” does exist. 

Outside of Whitman, we like to believe we are superior to the hometown folk we left behind, and yet within these red brick walls, inferiority creeps up on us. We have both massive egos and crippling insecurities. Welcome to college.

While egomaniacs exist everywhere, Whitman seems to breed a dark and twisted variation. Fighting negative self-talk with over-saturated displays of intellect leads us down a path of anger and narcissism. Everyone has been in that one class that makes you feel like the admissions office made a grave mistake in accepting you (minus the 3.2% of us who are flawless). We’ve all been plagued by readings that seem to be written in an unidentifiable language, one you can only unlock once you’ve reached some sort of higher brain cognition. And yet, when we leave the Whitman campus and return home, we walk around like the second coming of Kant or Marx – you know, the founding fathers of liberal arts.

The reality is, we all went from being the artistic, highly political kids in our high schools to now being just another Whitman student. In order to stand out, you must go above and beyond the unusual – whether it being academically well-read to socially being seen as fashionable, the liberal arts experience forces you so far out of the box you end up aimlessly orbiting the earth as some sort of indie satellite. 

This sense of entitlement was particularly apparent in my first weeks on campus. I’d never been surrounded by so many people who seemingly had the answers to every question. On YikYak, there was discourse surrounding using “big words” in class discussions in order to sound smart. This week-long argument reinforced my belief that this campus is full of ego-maniacs, threatened by multi-syllabic words or otherwise just spitting out extensively long sentences just to hear themselves speak longer. 

This exhausted stress on education – or even clothing for that matter – comes from a place of economic privilege. While we all managed to get accepted into Whitman, this acceptance doesn’t erase our past lives; we don’t all step foot on this campus with a clean slate or an even playing field. There are kids here who went to prestigious private schools, just as there are kids whose parents may not have graduated from high school. 

When considering the diverse backgrounds and life experiences we have all faced, it may become easier to let go of this need to be greater, and this constant cycle of unhealthy comparison. Not all academic spaces need to be competitive. The only difference between a STEM major and a humanities major is where their interests lay, not their potential IQ score – though I’m sure some STEM majors would disagree with me. 

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