The Issue is Pretending There's No Issue
Impostor syndrome haunts Classics. Ever-present, often discussed (but seldom addressed), this phenomenon of feeling inadequate affects many people in the field. I personally have experienced intense impostor syndrome (and still do) whilst studying Classics.
Coming from a free school meals and state comprehensive background, I immediately felt out of depth at university. Taking beginners Latin with no knowledge of the subject, whilst others in the class already had years of experience, was the start of my encounter with the syndrome. From there, it was a deep spiral to always feeling ten steps behind others and that I did not deserve to be at uni.
It led to me reaching breaking point and seriously considering dropping out.
I know I’m not the only student to have felt this way. My working-class upbringing enhanced these feelings to a greater degree. With hindsight, my background led to me constantly comparing myself to others who had been able to access different opportunities growing up - such as Latin lessons - and convinced myself that I didn’t belong with such a group of intelligent, ambitious, well-rounded students. Even though I was fortunate enough to study an A Level in Classical Civilisation at my local comprehensive, my working class background ensured I still felt inferior in the presence of my peers.
There was also an element of financial comparison that damaged my confidence. It feels irrational now, but my inability to afford a trip to Greece or Italy also added to my feelings of inadequacy, as many of my peers had travelled to such destinations and had enriched knowledge as a result. I felt like I was severely lacking in several areas due to my working-class background.
There is never an easy way to deal with impostor syndrome - it’s very much a personal battle. For me, I reduced the sensation by reaching out to staff for help. They reassured me of my capability, which went a long way in helping improve my confidence.
Words of affirmation from figures such as lecturers or personal tutors goes a long way in helping boost a student’s confidence, and thus in preventing impostor syndrome from developing.
Unfortunately, it seems such affirmations are only provided when things have already gone south. The adoption of a more proactive usage of positivity and support would undoubtedly be beneficial to many.
An important step forward that can be made as a collective is promoting honesty regarding our experiences. It still feels like it’s a taboo topic, and that people are afraid to admit their struggles for fear of how their peers will perceive them. However, openly discussing impostor syndrome would prove advantageous. Knowing that others have been through a similar experience substantially helps reduce the senses of isolation and irrationality that take root in the phenomenon - and thus, lessens the full impact of the situation. This is why communities for working-class students, such as The 93% Club, are so important. They provide a safe space for students to connect and share their experiences, and in doing so, help provide them much needed support. There may be no way to fully prevent impostor syndrome but having open discussions about our experiences is a way to significantly reduce its severity. I sincerely hope more people share their experiences in the future.