In the middle of this month there were three suicides in five days at National Taiwan University (NTU). This has led many people to start talking about the difficulties faced by so-called “top university students,” which generally refers to students attending the “top universities” of NTU, National Tsing Hua University (NTHU), National Chiao Tung University, National Chengchi University (NCCU) and National Cheng Kung University.
Many people have also been saying that the “label of success” should not be given to these “top universities,” because such labels are among the things that put students under undue pressure.
However, just a few days earlier, seven universities — NCCU, Huafan University, Shih Hsin University, China University of Technology, Jinwen University of Science and Technology, Tungnan University and the National Taiwan College of Performing Arts — announced a plan to form a “Wenshan alliance.”
The announcement has been hotly debated on online campus forums, and many of the posts and comments show how disdainful and prejudiced some “top university students” are with regards to other universities.
This is not the first time there has been such a reaction. In 2016, when National Hsinchu University of Education (NHUE) merged with NTHU, there were many NTHU students who mocked NHUE as a “degree mill” and said that NHUE was harvesting NTHU’s accomplishments and academic record.
It is true that labels such as “success,” “excellence” and “distinction” are among the things that cause pressure and pain for students, but the incidents show that these labels are also often what makes so-called “top university students” confident in treating others with contempt.
Maybe these tragic suicides will lead people to reconsider the existing system of competing to go on to ever-higher levels of education, and conventional Chinese family culture.
However, people cannot call themselves innocent unless they honestly ask themselves whether they have ever been smug about these labels and felt that they are superior to students in other “degree mills.”
When society says that studying is the most important thing and everything else is inferior, how much anxiety and pressure comes from the idea that “I do not want to lose my status of being worshiped by others” and “I do not want to become the kind of person I look down on”?
Yet suicide has never been a rarity at private universities.
However, if three people were to die in five days at a private university, it would only be talked about on forums about ghosts and the supernatural. The media and the public would not devote so many words of concern or discuss the troubles faced by students at “degree mills.”
As the saying goes, no snowflake is innocent when an avalanche strikes. Every one of us is in some way responsible for the pain caused by academic records and expectations.
One of the preconditions for not being restricted by the “successful” label is to stop looking down on others as “failures.” If you cannot peel off the labels you have stuck on other people, how can you expect others to peel off the labels that are stuck on you?
Huang Tzu-ning is a student in Chinese Culture University’s Department of Chinese Literature.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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