This post was originally written for and featured on the University of Pennsylvania’s PennWIC blog.
Oh, rejection… We’ve all been there. From the minor everyday letdowns of our social media posts remaining unliked to the major devastations of not getting into our preferred school, rejection is a very real component of the student experience.
In his TED Talk on emotional pain, psychologist Guy Winch refers to rejection as a “psychological wound,” and it really does feel this way sometimes. Winch writes, “Rejection destabilizes our need to belong, leaving us feeling unsettled and socially untethered.” Yes, it’s normal and happens to everyone, but in that moment, it can be difficult to keep things in perspective. We have a tendency to withdraw to protect ourselves.
One imagines these feelings of isolation and disappointment that we experience through rejection are only amplified in a highly competitive academic environment such as Penn’s. Regarding the complex issues relating to campus student culture and mental health, college junior Rebecca Brown wrote an op-ed piece for the The Daily Pennsylvanian. Brown writes,
In internships, in graduate school admissions and especially in student activities. We slap on the Penn Face and pretend rejection doesn’t happen, or at least it doesn’t happen to us.
She calls for an increased culture of openness at Penn in which to discuss and destigmatize rejection. To help facilitate this process, she and other fellow student leaders recently created Penn’s first Wall of Rejection.
The student-managed exhibit sponsored by the Office of Student Affairs was hosted by WIC and students contributed items from April 25th to the 29th. The Weingarten Learning Resources Center (VPUL) is a partner in the soon-to-be-launched PennFaces website that will feature interviews with the Penn Wall student organizers. The entire Penn community was encouraged to come and share their rejection stories on the wall by filling out a notecard and having a polaroid photo taken.
This patchwork of rejection tales coalesce into an inspiring narrative of camaraderie and support. Brown writes, “To make rejection a more acceptable topic at Penn is no easy task. Naturally, there is a sense of embarrassment that accompanies rejection. But thinking of rejection as a shared experience helps.”
The Penn Wall of Rejection is in good company. A few weeks ago, Princeton professor Johannes Haushofer’s CV of failures made headlines.
Well-known author J.K. Rowling also recently shared two of her rejection letters on Twitter to inspire future writers.
The Wall of Rejection is on display at WIC until commencement, and many members of the Penn community have participated–including myself! Brown intends to hold the event again next year and hopes that a broader collective of Penn students will contribute their rejection experiences.