Exclusive foundations don’t hold

Imagine a group of people who are demographically similar, believing they're better than other people. 

What could possibly go wrong? 

When I accepted my offer of admission to Queen’s, I chose the school that, with its limestone towers, persuaded me I wanted it more than it needed me. Perhaps its very indifference convinced me of its superiority. 

The other two universities I applied to both offered me scholarships, but I figured I might as well get a degree with a good reputation — one that would impress future employers with its pedigree if not its area of study. 

For me, the value of Queen’s was entirely founded on it’s name, one that was synonymous with exclusivity and elitism. 

Elitism implies superiority, but it also implies narrowness. Defining an institution’s status by its selectiveness sets an unhealthy benchmark for the relationship between a university and its students, and often, between them and everyone else. 

Queen’s pride in its elite reputation is so normalized that in 2011, Queen’s Players circulated a satirical admissions video for Queen’s. 

It played off the stereotype of Queen’s “reputation for being an upper-crust, primarily Caucasian institution where students drink to excess, have a lot of sex and think very highly of themselves,” according to a Maclean’s article.

“Put down your Frappuccino and listen, we don’t just study, we party too. Sometimes you gotta pay $10 bucks to get in and pray to God you get the privilege to get a sip of beer or a glass of Purple Jesus, but hey, who’re you kidding, you can afford it,” one student in the video said. 

The implication is that it’s funny because its true. The article also quoted Principal Daniel Woolf from a letter that was leaked that year discussing Queen’s reputation. 

“It would have been unthinkable 20 years ago that the quality reputation of undergraduate education at Queen’s would be challenged by Waterloo and McMaster …to say nothing of Guelph — but it is clearly happening,” Woolf wrote in the leaked letter. 

Woolf markedly compared Queen’s to the American Ivy League, saying that “the distinctive small-town Ivy League experience of a Queen’s education … should be embraced.”

“In Canada Queen’s is arguably the only university with this pedigree.”

The rhetoric of exceptionalism so often expounded by University administrators has a hand in creating a campus that’s resistant to difference and change. 

Queen’s relies on attracting students willing to pay high tuition fees because they believe in the reputation of what they’re paying for. 

But this rhetoric of exclusiveness is the opposite of the inclusivity universities need going forward. It ends up normalizing a  campus that is neither accepting nor tolerant of people who are different. 

Jane is one of The Journal’s Editors in Chief. She’s a fourth-year English major. 

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