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Academic Weapon to Academic Victim: The Downfalls of Student Perfectionism

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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

Its the newest TikTok Phenomenon — In the age of social media, the dichotomy of “Academic Weapon vs Academic Victim” has become a prevalent narrative among many college students. Could embracing imperfection and focusing on personal growth rather than external validation be possible? Can we deal with our academic journey with all these pressures?

Zoey Waiz, Nursing College Student on Tiktok

Student Panic Vs Academic Perfection

Not long ago, I spoke before my English literature class, reciting the words of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” The words of the play were finely typed a week before. After a couple of days rehearsing, the day had arrived for my speech. But, within the last paragraph I read, my voice became shaky, my memory hazing over what I thought I could remember from the play, and I stammered. It was terrible. My words were barely coming out of my mouth as I struggled to read what was on the page, and I stood before my classmates and professor in embarrassment. “Sorry, I am freaking out,” I urged in slight panic. Some classmates laughed, and I panicked more. After I finished, I sat down for the rest of class in shame.

Bradley Kraut, a student at Penn State University, created the popular use of the term “academic weapon,” and in 2022 the Academic Tool emerged. Since its initial upload on September 13, it has been featured in more than 20,000 TikTok clips. An “academic weapon” is someone with traits that are perceived as “scholarly,” according to Urban Dictionary.  

What is an Academic Victim?

But, there’s been a change. This new term, “academic victim,” was raised at some point in 2023 from TikToker Zoey Waiz. If you have ever felt overwhelmed or feel like your semester is going terribly, you are an academic victim. Based on research findings, approximately 77% of students encountered varying degrees of psychological distress, ranging from moderate to severe. Loneliness was reported by 54% of students, while 30% exhibited signs of suicidal behavior. The fear of academic failure goes hand in hand with perfectionism. Many times students find themselves sacrificing their well-being and mental health for their grades. But this comes with consequences such as mental health issues, and self doubt.

Some of you may have failed your first course. Some of you are stressed because of financial difficulties. Many students have various worries and stressors that makes them want to give up. I get it; being a student who is studious, I completely crashed my speech with my English literature class without realizing how that could have ever happened. What I’ve learned is, we can be so mean to ourselves. The pressure to maintain an impeccable academic record can weigh heavily on the shoulders of even the most resilient individuals, breeding a sense of inadequacy and self-doubt. Our worst enemy can be ourselves. We tend to think that if we haven’t achieved much by age 30, we are not worthy.

What can we do to remedy the problem? 

Finding yourself in a challenging academic situation is tough, but remember, it’s not a reflection of your worth as a person. Livi Redden in her TedTalk, “What No One Tells you in Your Twenties,” sums up what we’re lacking as young adults and how it hinders our ability to navigate the education system when we are dealing with problems in our everyday life. The lack of practical emotional and decision-making training for most of us in our twenties is a problem. Redden emphasizes the importance of developing these skills to lead a less stressful and more fulfilling life. 

Being an academic victim is real, and feeling like you’re not good enough is valid reaction to such extreme pressure. Redden introduces three pillars: unlearning social conditioning, designing an authentic way of being, and taking action, to promote better emotional intelligence and self-guided growth. As much as I’d like to say “You’re not alone in this journey,” or “Keep moving forward,” it is so much easier said than done.

After my speech in that English lit class, I understood that it was just one of my bad days, and bad days happen to the best of us. I understand how one simple mistake, or one failing grade, may feel like the world is ending. Take time to reflect on all your prior decisions, accomplishments, and give yourself grace for how far you’ve come. 

A College Student from Tiktok

Some Tips for the rest of Your Semester

Yet, amidst the cacophony of perfectionism, there exists a glimmer of hope — a beacon of resilience that illuminates the path to liberation from the shackles of societal expectations! That hope is a journey marked by self-discovery and self-compassion, where we as students challenge the standards imposed upon us and reclaim our autonomy. It starts with reaching out for help: don’t hesitate to seek guidance from professors, academic advisors, or tutoring services. They’re there to support you.

More Tips

  • Break it down: Break down your tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  • Practice elf-care: Take care of yourself physically and mentally. Get enough sleep, eat well, and make time for activities you enjoy to reduce stress.
  • Stay positive: Remember that setbacks are temporary. Stay positive and believe in your ability to overcome challenges.
  • Seek support: Lean on friends and family for emotional support. Having a support system can make a big difference during tough times.

Sometimes we are academic weapons and the next minute we’re academic victims. What I do know is, we are all humans experiencing life and what it gives us. You will succeed regardless of how things look now. Take it all day by day — I am rooting for you!

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Diamond Smith

U Mass Amherst '23

A dreamer, storyteller, and DEI advocate for the UMASS Her Campus Chapter. Dedicated to advancing the cause of mental health advocacy, championing social justice, and fostering meaningful social connections.