Throughout my undergraduate and graduate career, I’ve been privy to a sense of inferiority that my education is not as “good” as what I may have gotten from a more prestigious institution or program.
As an academic librarian, I have seen this phenomenon be hushed, glossed over, dismissed, and, well, taboo’ed among professional circles. Only when I am around trusted friends-colleagues does this get any frank voicing and discussion.
I am fully aware of the strong opposing forces in my value system–how my tendencies toward Asian filial piety often conflict with my value for self-actualization, self-determination, and individual agency. There’s nothing quite like parenthood and child-rearing to bring such contradictions in sharp relief.
And since I don’t do mental compartmentalization all that well, and thought puzzles and cognitive dissonance trigger my obsessive tendencies, I am more than a bit fascinated by the hierarchies of perceptions of prestige among academic programs. Shopping for a higher ed school does bring out questions of fit between the individual and institution, sure. But the connection of the institution to a favorable outcome in the job market (i.e., to become gainfully employed), especially in academia, is something I don’t see very often.
Suffice to say, these sorts of prestige rankings of seemingly neutral things, like schools and programs, do develop into rankings of people. I often feel like I have to apologize for attending and graduating from the state-run schools that I did. I’ve also had been in the position of being told that, maybe, I shouldn’t have tried to attend a more prestigious academic graduate program because I am and my previous experiences are just…not good enough. Then there’s this strange train of thought that I find chafing–getting a tenure-track position proves a person’s better quality/better worth/better whathaveyou. I always raise my eyebrow to this and people who say this sort of thing out loud. If we accept that the game is rigged, that certain outlooks and behaviors are valued above others, and that structural and institutional discrimination exists, why, then, the self-congratulations of this ilk? It smacks of ignorance and lack of awareness. And aren’t we supposed to expect more, expect better from academics? Smh.
So, is there a link? If there is one, I think it has to do with our too-human tendency to hierarchically rank things and people. But is there more to this than a garden-variety human tendency? Good question.