What is “the Student Experience?”

Posted on  by gillian.webb

Hi SERT,

I’ve been hesitant to post, 1) because I overthink / overcomplicate everything, and 2) because y’all’s posts have been quite good and I wanted to write something similarly thoughtful and nuanced and lovely (though I’m not feeling that I hit that mark).

When we were asked to draw the student experience on our first day, my brain jumped to my own student experience — squiggly lines, swirly eyes, maybe a splash of flames. The student experience is trickier to capture. As Daniel points out, we can’t help but have our own experiences shape our ideas about the experience. We grow up with specific narratives about the student experience from our parents, our teachers, our televisions (e.g. what it means/what it’s like to be a university student, a student in Toronto, a Ryerson student, etc.). These stories impact how we understand and frame our own stories. 

At first, I thought my drawing was on a different planet of abstract BS, but the boxes are actually quite similar to the limiting structures of other drawings, like the fortress in Claire’s drawing (also ft. the iconic ghosty). I wanted to comment on the push of universities to diversify the student experience by advertising more ‘unique’ identities, and by unique identities, I mean those identities that are often excluded from the overarching narrative of the student experience e.g. ‘the disabled student’ or ‘the mature student’. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with increased representation, or that the advertising team is inherently bad — after all, humans are keen to categorize and simplify, and it’s difficult to celebrate complexity in a 2D ad — but I do think that we need to consider what happens to experiences and identities when they’re collapsed and packaged in neat frames. What exists beyond the borders is harder to capture, but far more beautiful because it defies singular labels. My revised drawing features a box with a clean triangular pattern; a more loose, colourful rendition of that pattern spills beyond the border. I intended to add more boxes with varying patterns, but I got a bit carried away with the first box, and after an hour, I decided to finish another day when I’m in the mood for some mindful doodling. 

-Gillian

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