On the falsehood of Berkeley’s Toxic Academic Stereotype: a Philosophy Student’s Take

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know about the stereotypes surrounding Berkeley students. I was so afraid to be surrounded by hyper competitive people who would do anything to come out on top, tearing others down for their own personal gain. And I was met by the opposite. The people I met were the most genuine and helpful individuals I had ever gotten to work with. Any plea for help was met by an overwhelmingly positive response and that stereotype I was once frightened by melted away.

Whenever I was asked about the academic atmosphere here, I could confidently say that it was a gross misrepresentation to call Berkeley students cutthroat, at least in my experience. Unfortunately I can’t say that anymore.

This past semester I took a logic class and I was very afraid of it. Logic is the closest I as a philosophy major will ever get to doing math (which I already am fully incapable of doing) so I knew it was going to be so unbelievably difficult for me. Lucky for me this huge study group was formed after day one and I recognized a few people from other classes I was in so I had my way in. I made some new friends and I was getting all the help that I needed. And as was good.

For a while.

Over the course of the semester, one person rose up to lead all the study sessions and help everyone else. To set the scene, about 4 people understood the material and everyone else had no clue what was going on. Our study sessions turned in to mini lectures, where this one person would teach everyone else. Everyone was profiting from this situation, which is why it was so confusing when they stopped. This person stopped hosting study sessions, they stopped talking in our group chat, they stopped answering questions, they just dropped off the face of the earth. And it was infuriating. I remember being so mad, we were in a particularly difficult unit and they were ignoring everyone, I would ask a question and they would either not answer at all or blatantly change the topic. Slowly the chat died and everyone went their separate ways trying to figure out how to pass this class on their own after depending on this person who had made it clear from the beginning that they would help us through this class.

I didn’t even know people like this could exist. To me it seemed like such a heartless act I couldn’t comprehend where they were coming from or why they decided to abandon us like this. They were never pressured into leading sessions, everyone was very adamant that they take care of themselves and put themselves first and make sure that their academics were taken care of before the rest of ours. And they never complained, they always offered up their help it was never demanded of them, we were friends.

There I was face to face with the Berkeley student stereotype. But it’s ok. I didn’t need that toxicity in my life and it was because of them that I met some really awesome people. The philosophy tutoring program was overrun by my fellow students so I couldn’t get help there, so I turned to my classmates. I found myself in a group of 5 people who were mad at the circumstances but wanted to succeed anyways. Without that person gate keeping the help everyone needed, I never would of met my new friends who actually care about me. As the semester comes to a close the only reason I’ll pass this class is because of those 4 other students who were willing to help.

This story isn’t about shaming the one person who decided to screw over everyone else, it’s not worth it. The moral of the story is that there’s always going to be people like that out there. There’s always going to be misleading people that thrive off of praise and putting other people down, power grabs like this aren’t exclusive to our school. It’s about choosing to be better than that. I surrounded myself with people who want to watch their friends succeed alongside themselves and that’s what I will continue to do.

As a philosophy student, I can’t say this is what it’s always like. Not everyone is going to look like that cutthroat stereotype, the majority of students here are caring and want to watch you succeed. When I was faced with this situation it was hard but I made it out because I chose to be better than that. I made some great new friends because we chose to be better than that.

Knowledge is meant to be shared, that’s why we’re all here and in the end, that is what will happen.

Author: Bridget Bernet

Howdy! My name is Bridget, I am a junior here at UC Berkeley, double majoring in philosophy and rhetoric with a concentration in narrative and image. I love all forms of writing, which is why I decided to write for Bear Talk :) and I'm so excited to share my perspective on this amazing campus. From cheering on the sports teams to studying in Moses Hall, every moment here is a special one, and I plan on documenting it all. Go Bears!