Davidson Students: We Must Embrace Our Vulnerability

Katie Walsh-

For a school which upholds it’s honor code as the cornerstone of its existence—we lie a lot at Davidson. Students at Davidson are known to be over-committed, and the over-stressed, high achieving, Davidson archetype is not worth deconstructing again . However, our student body propagates a collective lie—that we’re all just happy, dandy, and fine. In reality, the range of daily emotions and experiences stands in stark contrast to the image we put forward on our Facebook page.

I’ve learned through recent conversations that even people I would consider dedicated and passionate members of this community—ones with seemingly limitless close friendships and incredible time management skills—feel inferior. This fear is based on the comparative standards we set for ourselves—standards that play out most abundantly in the classroom arena.

On entering college, I believed that I was not intelligent. This didn’t occur to me as a problem—doubting, undervaluing, underestimating my intellectual faculties—until I heard the same thoughts from a friend of mine. “I’m dumb. The professor thinks I’m dumb. I don’t know why I bother participating in class. Ugh,” said a friend who had given what I perceived to be a very profound series of statements in class. If you could fashion a collective mantra out of the voices in Chambers post-class, I’d conjecture to say this might just be it.

I’ve witnessed wide-eyed disbelief at a dissenting opinion voiced by a professor, started a shameful hand raise, and then lowered it quicker than it shot up. The nervous question “did I sound ok?” has echoed out of both my mouth and those of my friends. These reactions are caused by a bigger problem on campus.

Students here are afraid of vulnerability, of even the most minor of failings perceived or imagined—and unfortunately this seems to be most true, in my experience, of the female student body.

I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve peppered in the word “dichotomy” and the phrase “problematic fragile masculinity” to try and sound semi-coherent in a classroom setting. I barely know what those words MEAN much less how to use them. This being just a minor example of the grander issue of “performing” outwardly to mask an inner feeling of comparative inadequacy.

There is an ever-present feeling of impending scrutiny caused by the ten other eager hands waiting for me to drop the ball and say something dumb, so everyone else’s “incredibly complex” insights into the meter of Beowulf look a lot better in comparison.
What all this seeming inferiority boils down to is that as everyone looks around at this school full of talented, high achieving impressively credentialed adolescents, and they see a dearth in true, blue, self-deprecating vulnerability. A lack of vulnerability that isn’t punctuated by an air of purposefully ironic self-exposure.

I have watched my friends break down because they feel isolated by the veneering self-aggrandizement here. Even the people who are the beacons of “involved” and “outgoing” feel the enormous pressure that we have as a student body weighed upon our own shoulders. And when I see people who I admire and respect doubting their own ability time and time again, I have to wonder if there’s not something we present ourselves and how we connect with one another.

What I’m asking for is vulnerability. At the risk of sounding crass, no one here has their life together, but we certainly do a wonderful job of convincing everyone otherwise. So why bother with all the pretense?

What too few students here seem to realize is that admitting your own failings and weaknesses is not akin to failure, because ultimately vulnerability is a measure of strength—strength that creates the space for genuine connection and growth.

Katie Walsh ’20 is an English major from Jupiter, Florida. Contact her at kmwalsh@davidson.edu