In theory, the concept of the Commonwealth Honors College is a good one – an opportunity for students to engage more with their academics and surround themselves with students that share their goals and faculty that have time for them. However, at UMass, this concept has been corrupted to form an exclusionary and condescending hierarchy.
My first week back at school, I was invited by a friend to visit the honors dorms. With all the hype surrounding the new complex, I figured there must be something that sets it apart. What I found was more appalling than I could have imagined. When I entered the foyer of the residential building, I stumbled into a rally of sorts for honors students.
An adult was gesticulating wildly, displaying her excitement for these fresh-faced honors students. What I overheard was something along the lines of, “You are the best students at UMass, and every other student at this university looks up to you.”
I was repulsed. I have nothing against the concept of an honors college, but I do have something against the fact that students in the honors college are being brainwashed to believe that other students are jealous of them.
The honors college demands several requirements not expected of non-honors students, including an enormous thesis project. This is all well and good, but requirements such as this may prevent honors students from exploring and cultivating their learning outside of the college. I forwent applying to the honors college and because of that I have the time to take five classes per semester and earn a high GPA. I also have paid jobs on campus at the Daily Collegian and the Writing Center.
Students do not have to be in the honors college to be committed to their learning and excel in their studies and chase their passions. In my many conversations with past and present honors students, I have heard several express regrets about joining the honors college because they have not been given the same freedom to explore and engage as I have.
According to the honors college website, honors students are “capable of informed, ethical decision making,” “eager to hear and understand the ideas of others,” “excellent candidates on the job market and highly competitive for graduate study” and “effective communicators.” Not only is this just plain insulting, but it also points to a major flaw in the university if all students are not provided these skills. It seems as though the university is telling us that the only UMass graduates who are capable and willing to do something with their lives are the ones who graduate from the honors program. This looks pretty bad for the university.
Since honors students do not think that they are benefiting from the honors college and many non-honors students feel as though they are being treated like second class citizens, then it is clear that UMass is simply using it as an instrument to transcend negative academic stereotypes about the school.
Elise Martorano is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]