Opinion: The Task for UT Staff and Faculty This Fall
Building confidence in students will need to be a priority for the UT community
Impostor syndrome is all about getting plagued by self-doubt. You think: Can I do this? Am I smart enough? Do other people know that I'm a fraud? What if I can't do this? Feeling like an impostor becomes a seemingly insurmountable barrier and acts as a persistent obstacle to reaching your goals. It prevents you from going out for leadership opportunities or from speaking up in class.
University students have felt the unbearable magnitude of impostor syndrome during COVID-19. And now, faculty and staff will have to step up. We must do the necessary work of chipping away at feelings of impostorism, especially for our rising second-year students.
At the beginning of this academic year, freshmen students were welcomed to a virtual college experience, devoid of connection. Most of these students would never step foot on campus during their first year. And for a variety of reasons, including an unstable internet access, background noise from a busy household, or Zoom fatigue, students would succumb to turning off their cameras during class. A virtual classroom would then be made up of a checkered background of black boxes and diminished discussion, further sowing disconnection.
In early September, I posted a weekly question on the discussion thread on our First-Year Interest Group's Canvas page: What's the biggest worry or concern on your mind? The responses came flooding in. Three answers were often repeated throughout the discussion posts, and stem from the same well of impostorism: not being able to keep up, questioning whether they belong, and whether they could handle UT.
Impostor syndrome is exhausting, to say the least. On top of a yearlong pandemic that has made us all feel weary, impostorism seems to be rubbing our students raw. The problem of feeling like an impostor weighs disproportionately on our first-gen students and students of color.
The upcoming near-normal fall semester will expect faculty and staff to do the emotional labor needed to nurture our students. Building confidence in students will require formal and informal check-ins, as well as mentorships that are rooted in building strong, healthy, professional relationships. Extra attention will need to be placed on those rising second-year students, who have been burdened with an atypical first-year experience.
It will be up to us – the folks who keep the university humming – to share vulnerable moments of our own impostorism, to normalize those experiences for students, and to discuss concrete strategies and tangible ways to challenge these feelings.
With an imminent return to a fall semester back on campus, faculty and staff members will need to interrupt and intentionally disrupt our students' impostor mindsets.
Avani Chhaya is a staff member and graduate student studying educational leadership & policy at The University of Texas at Austin. She brings a background teaching English language arts. Her work has been featured in the Library Love Story and the Common Ground Series on KUT, ORANGE Magazine, VISIBLE Magazine, Reappropriate, Wilderness House Literary Review, and in Elisabet Ney’s Suffrage Now Exhibit.
The Chronicle welcomes submissions of opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Find guidelines and tips at austinchronicle.com/contact/opinion.