Bursting & leaving the commerce bubble

Rediscovering my real passions outside of Commerce

Aysha explains how alienating and damaging Queen’s Commerce can be.

Around this time three years ago, I was anxiously awaiting my acceptance to Queen’s Commerce. At the time, I had already been accepted to every other university I applied to, and I was terrified of being rejected—despite my 96 per cent average and wealth of extracurriculars.

At my high school, students were rarely accepted into Queen’s Commerce, and when they were, it was only one or two students each year. I was surrounded by intelligent and hard-working people, many of whom were hoping to study business in university. I was prepared to be rejected because they all deserved to get in just as much, if not more, than me.

So, when I got an email on my phone with my acceptance—not a fancy envelope like the University of Toronto or a welcome package like York—I was ecstatic for weeks.

Yes, I knew about all of the problems at Queen’s. Though Queen’s rarely sent any representatives to my high school—and maybe even because of that—it had a reputation as a very rich and white place. Coming from one of the poorest public schools in the Toronto District School Board, I was terrified of being in that kind of environment for the first time, but all I could focus on were the upsides.

I would be away from home at a place that would guarantee me good internships, a good career, and, most importantly, a chance to never have to struggle again—financially or otherwise.

Starting from the very first moment I stepped into Goodes Hall, I felt out of place. That’s not because I’m not a nice person, or because I don’t want to fit into new environments, it’s just because I’m a minority in a place that’s very homogenous.

Commerce isn’t only rich and white: it’s homogenous in belief and attitude. It’s a program made up of fairly conservative neoliberal capitalists, and that makes sense; it’s a business program. But that environment makes it hard for people like me to exist within Commerce and, of course, it leaves room for rampant racism, homophobia, sexism, and any other form of discrimination you can think of.

I tried very, very hard to fit in with these folks during my first year at Queen’s—but I couldn’t keep up.

I didn’t look like them—I wasn’t as thin or as blonde. I didn’t think like them. I didn’t have the same stories they did, of taking mission trips in high school in between their leisurely travel adventures.

And every time this was made clear to me, in all the awkward silences and the annoyed glares at my existence, I just kept pushing harder.

The first time I told someone during a group project that I was from Scarborough, they asked if I was in a gang. At that point, I knew that in order to fit into Queen’s Commerce, I couldn’t be the person I had been in the 18 years leading up to university.

I tried everything I could to get onto ComSoc clubs, to swallow my pride when my identity was constantly dehumanized in the classroom, and to fight for all those prestigious internships every Commerce student must want.

Eventually, at a surface level, it worked. I got onto ComSoc clubs—I even went on to co-chair one. I also got an internship at one of those snobby legacy firms, which I ended up loving. But I completely lost myself for a long period of my time at Queen’s.

In Grade 12, I wanted to study business because I wanted to work for a non-profit because the most important thing to me has always been to help other people. I think for a lot of low-income folks—especially immigrants—helping others is the most important thing they want to do. But by the time I had burst the infamous Commerce bubble, I only gave a shit about myself.

It took me a while to get back to the things I wanted to do and discover my real passions at Queen’s. I fell in love with The Journal, where I’ll be editor in chief next year, and I found a great circle of friends who are mostly outside of Commerce.

Right now, I don’t see myself as someone in the Commerce bubble, and that doesn’t have the detrimental impacts I thought it would. I still have a great summer job lined up. I still have a bright future ahead of me. And I still feel—kind of—okay about the ridiculous tuition I’m paying.

I owe some of that to the people around me who introduced and welcomed me to the spaces I fit into, and some of that to Queen’s—everything outside of Goodes Hall—for making these spaces possible. I owe the rest to myself for finally coming to my senses and realizing the bubble was not for me.

If I could go back in time, I’m not sure if I would tell myself “don’t come to Queen’s,” but I think I would definitely say “don’t go to Queen’s commerce.”

There’s no particular reason for that, or for why I’ve detached myself from my major so much. It’s a lot of little things, and I think that—in combination with blind entitlement—is why so many people don’t understand how alienating and damaging Commerce can be. It’s a lot of little things, and all these little things add up.

It can be traumatizing. For a lot of people.

Maybe that’s different now, and it definitely is for the incoming classes as Commerce becomes more diverse. But I’ll leave that up to the plenty of people who are paid to be the ambassadors of the program to tell you.

I just hope those of us who are already here can find some of the same happiness I found, and that they know this feeling of unease is not a result of their own failures, but the failures of Queen’s Commerce.

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