College holds a near-mythic place in our consciousness. We think of it as the wonderful metamorphosis from child to adult; we enter as timid freshmen and graduate as learned, knowledgable and confident members of society. For girls, this unfortunately may not be the case.
Boston College’s Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment unveiled a 4-year study showing University females graduated with a lesser image of themselves as when they first enrolled. The study twice surveyed a select group of females, once as freshman and then before senior graduation. Contrary to popular thought, the graduating seniors reported lower self-esteem than they had four years previous.
The data could be written off as the growing pains of becoming an adult—realizing how relatively small one is compared to the wider world—excepting that male students, when given the same survey, showed an increase in self-esteem. The data showed the same pattern again and again: male students reported increased self esteem and lower grades, while their female counterparts reported lower self esteem and higher grades.
In delving further into these results, faculty at Boston College discovered women who reported lower self esteem pointed to non-academic pressures as the culprit. Peer expectations regarding perfection, beauty, attire and the “hookup culture” all contributed to lessening self esteem.
Campus groups have gained popularity for this precise reason. I AM THAT GIRL and Campus Calm both offer safe haven for college women to openly discuss the pressures and problems which often steal away self-worth. With the main offenders square in their crosshairs, these campus groups aim to squelch destructive forces and maintain healthy self-esteem throughout a woman’s college years.
With this knowledge, administrators and teachers can help guide women through the self-esteem minefield of college. We should be leaving University feeling better, not worse, about ourselves.