Does competition rule our lives?
An inclination toward competition is a primal instinct, inherently linked to survival, and the College community is not immune to its forces. In a survey of 24 students (six from each class year), 22 agreed that competition within the classroom is predominantly intrapersonal. Conversely, all students surveyed asserted that competition within extracurricular and social activities manifests itself in a more visibly interpersonal way.
Surveyed students responded that academic competition on the Hill is an intrapersonal matter. Students set individualistic goals for themselves and work hard to achieve them. According to Claire Cannon ’13, “Grades are personal and not a highly publicized and discussed subject on the Colby campus; it is about meeting your own or the professor’s standards.”
Many students attribute the intrapersonal nature of academic competition on the Hill to two primary factors: the “no-budget” policy regarding grades and the genuine desire to learn. Generally speaking, professors do not have an allotted “budget” of how many A’s they will give out per class, per semester (however, an individual professor can choose to do so if he or she wishes). Having such a policy in place means that students know that their grade in the class is not contingent on surpassing their peers; instead, it is about how well the individual student is meeting the standards of the professor.
Not all students see classroom competition as individualistic, however. “I see a lot of one-upping in classroom settings, particularly in seminars,” Sam Gillies ’11 said. Gillies argued that in small classroom settings students are striving to distinguish themselves. In small classes, professors can tell who is really engaging with the material and who is not. The competition component comes in when students realize this and resort to one-upping in order to assure they are not perceived as the weak link.
Avram Reisman ‘13 also sees a strong interpersonally competitive component to academic life on the Hill. “I see students putting forth a lot of effort into impressing their professors and trying to stand out from the rest of the class,” Reisman said.
Unlike the students surveyed regarding competition within the classroom, all students who were surveyed regarding the nature of competition within social and extracurricular life on the Hill agreed that the competition in these realms is largely interpersonal. Within the extracurricular realm, interpersonal competition is due to a limited supply of desirable leadership positions. Unlike the “budget-free” aspect of grading, there are an allotted amount of leadership positions.
Social competition manifests itself in drinking games and in the hook-up culture as well. Unlike grades, the tangled web of hook-ups is publicized via the rumor mill, making students hyper-aware of their peers’ weekend activities.
According to an anonymous member of the class of 2012, “Competition on the weekend is generally not about who can hook up with more people or who gets to hook up with a certain person. The interpersonal competition present is far subtler: it is students constantly comparing themselves to their peers and making sure they are ‘on the same level.’ It is the constant comparison that drives this competition.”
Twenty-three out of the 24 students surveyed agreed that competition regarding hook-ups is far more prevalent than competition surrounding drinking games. According to Anna Caron ’13, “Unlike hook-ups, drinking games do not breed an environment of hostile competition and rarely cause division or resentment [but] are just friendly games.” Barbara Santos ’11 views competition surrounding drinking games differently. “I believe that alcohol ignites the competitive spirit in people. This spirit of competition is not isolated to members of athletic teams, this is something I have observed across the board,” Santos said.
All 24 students surveyed agreed that the balance between the intrapersonal competition of the classroom and the interpersonal competition outside of it strikes a healthy balance. This balance allows Colby students to act on their natural competitive impulses without allowing things to escalate to hostile levels.