Berkeley Connect, a mentoring program connecting graduate-student mentors with small groups of undergraduates, began in the English Department in 2010 with a gift from Peter Chernin (’73). This year will mark the fifth anniversary of the program, which has recently expanded to other departments. To celebrate, we will be publishing a series of reflections by mentors in the coming weeks. Throughout the year we will be adding to these reflections other articles and testimonials by mentors, mentees, and faculty leaders in the program.
The second reflection comes from Stephanie Moore.
Thanks to Berkeley Connect, I now know a few more things about being a student at Berkeley than I did before, and chief among them is: writing is hard. For literally everyone. We’ve been taught that people who are good at something should find it easy, and so when we struggle to write, we take the difficulty as a sign of failure, but it’s not. I’ve become evangelical about this: nobody ever just sits down and writes a perfect essay straight off the dome. You have to write something bad before you can make it good, and you can’t reach a genuinely interesting thought without passing through confusion and uncertainty. This is normal.
What I liked best about Berkeley Connect was that the students felt safe enough in our group to admit that they sometimes felt unprepared or lost in their classes. They then discovered, often to their surprise, that they weren’t the only ones. The institution encourages us to hide weakness, which means that this university is full of anxious people looking at each other and seeing nothing but confidence and mastery—which only makes us anxious about being anxious. We avoid asking questions because we think we’d just be wasting everyone’s time, and we fear exposing ourselves to judgment. But by not asking questions, we contribute to the impression most students seem to have of UC Berkeley: that nobody here is confused or struggling except them, and therefore they don’t belong. Berkeley Connect at its best undermines this impression and gets students to find a little compassion for themselves. I’m grateful in particular to the students in my group who were brave enough to admit that they don’t have everything figured out.