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With the recent announcement of American University’s #ChallengeAccepted campaign, students have been quick to criticize the university’s decision to stop using th e term “wonk”. I agree with many students that the #ChallengeAccepted campaign does not accurately represent the population and is not the best monetary decision for the university. However, the “wonk” brand is harmful as it creates unrealistic expectations that damage the mental health of students. 

According to American University’s website, wonks are individuals who are “smart, passionate, focused, and engaged.” While these terms do shed a positive light on the student body, they also put pressure on current students. 

Despite the fact that “wonk” is merely a word created by American University’s administration to improve their brand, people take this term seriously and are constantly focused on boosting their resume. In classes and on social media, American University students frequently discuss their jobs, internships, extracurriculars, and grades. The constant conversation about schoolwork and involvement often causes students to feel insecure and stressed. 

There is obviously nothing wrong with being involved and pursuing your passions. Yet, wonk culture creates an environment in which students feel they have to manage their time perfectly and know exactly what their future holds. According to the American College Health Association, 24% of students are stressed “about their future and finding a job after graduation.” Many students feel a pressure to be the smartest and most engaged student in order to have the best resume for future careers.

At American University, wonk culture pushes students to take on many internships during the duration of their college careers. While having an internship looks good on a resume, it is unrealistic to assume that every student can maintain a high GPA, pursue campus activities, and have an internship all at the same time. 

44.9% of college students feel as if they experience “more than average” stress. So many students suffer from a decline in mental health which we should be working to improve. Yet,

wonk culture only leads students to feel more anxious about their schoolwork and their future. 

Life moves at a different pace for everyone. Some students can manage being involved in many activities but many students cannot. In the United States, only 60% of students have had an internship throughout their time in college, meaning that many students have graduated without having an internship at all. 


Wonk culture creates a pressure to get an internship immediately after your freshman year. Yet, this clearly is not the reality for students at other universities. Although Washington, D.C. is a city with hundreds of amazing internship opportunities for students, students should not be expected to be able to manage an internship every semester, especially since many internships require over twenty hours of work a week.

Even with the #ChallengeAccepted campaign, wonk culture is not going away. Yet, by fostering a community that understands that not every student will be involved in the same ways, the mental health of students can be improved. 

Bella Travis

American '24

Bella is a sophomore at American University majoring in Justice and Law. She is passionate about sexual assault prevention, juvenile justice reform, and nonprofit management. She is currently a Contributing Writer for Her Campus at AU and is living in Washington, D.C.
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