Wondering about the nature of BMC...

couldntthinkofanoriginalname's picture

While reading the Jane Thompkins for Jody's class, I found myself disappointed in Thompkins during her transition from Bryn Mawr for undergrad to Yale for Grad school. At Bryn Mawr,  students are unique, have the space to express their intelligence unashamedly and own their education. However, when Thompkins, as a BMC graduate, described her experience at Yale, she had to be sure she was right before speaking up, she felt dumb if another student beat her to an answer and she did not freely, along with her peers, express her love for her interest in English and poetry.

I am disappointed by Thompkins because as a graduate from Bryn Mawr, I am surprised that she did not carry with her the characteristics of a Mawrter to Yale. Perhaps her experience at Yale is not a reflection of her inability to be a Mawter (and perhaps this term need to be unpacked more) beyond Bryn Mawr. It could be that the culture of Yale demanded a different type of student--one that was more competitive and closed-off emotionally from the material. So, now I wonder if BMC does the same. Does the nature of BMC call for a "type" of student and/or experience? Is there a pressure unique to BMC that makes us act a certain way? If so, what is it? How and when and, above all, do we pretend to be something we are not under this pressure?

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sara.gladwin's picture

students at bmc

I definitely think Bryn Mawr, like most places, fosters a kind of student. It doesn't mean we're all the same, or we all buy into it, but I think there are still shared pressures we feel that are unique to this environment. I think especially, it seems like a lot of BMC students internalize the feeling of thinking everyone else has it together but them. We seemed to voice a lot of that earlier in the semester, and I still feel like I have to remind myself of a daily basis that I know I'm not the only one who feels constantly behind or like everyone else is much more on top of their work than me. One of the things that has really amazed me about doing research with primary documents about Bryn Mawr is the way students here feel about work generally hasn't seemed to change. I read so many poems or new articles written by students from the early 1900s that seemed to capture the same atmosphere we have today. Since reading this, I've been thinking a lot about what kind of student Bryn Mawr creates as well, wondering how so many years could go by but so little can change in what attitude a place creates. I still haven't really figured it out. Thinking about what Bryn Mawr College promotes heavily about the kind of student they create ("Empowered"  "independent"), maybe we all feel that we have to live up to a very high standard created by the expectations of the college?

Anne Dalke's picture

another story from the archives

i can't resist sharing something i've written with a recent BMC alum, Clare Mullaney, for next spring's issue of Disability Studies Quarterly. the current draft of our essay (" Disabling Achievement, Enabling Exchange: Exploring Alternative Feminisms") begins this way:

During the 1900-01 academic year, a student using the initials E.T.D. published a short story in Bryn Mawr College’s bi-weekly magazine, the Fortnightly Philistine. “The Crime” focuses on the experiences of a second semester senior struggling unsuccessfully with the stresses and pressures of academic life. Afraid of the concluding assessments of her college career, she is in such a state of emotional extremity about her final examinations that she is unable to produce the work demanded. Although she proclaims that “I am in perfect possession of my senses. Nervous, yes; very nervous, very melancholy but not mad, no, no!,” the story ends when “the unfortunate Senior, who had been an exceptionally good student...dashed her head against the corner of the table and expired, raving mad” (4).

We open our project with this story because it so acutely dramatizes our theme of the dynamic relationship between intellectual achievement and mental disability. “The Crime,” which riffs on Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” is explicit in its portrayal of a young woman’s mind under pressure, fearing and finding herself unable to meet Bryn Mawr’s standards of academic accomplishment. We use the term “disabling achievement” to name this nexus of anxiety surrounding intellectual performance: it is our transverse description of the mechanisms whereby aiming for achievement can generate disablement.

Our 100-year-old story serves both as dramatic backdrop and historical scaffolding for the disabling dimensions of women’s higher education. The scene we set at our home institution extends into multiple larger, intersecting discourses of mental dis/ability, feminism, education, and queer studies....

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