Growing up, my sister and I shared many similar interests, but I knew from an early age that there was something different about how we understood our world, a difference that no test could fully capture.
While we were both artists, my sister grappled with her world through images; chalk, pencils, paint, even food became her method of artistic expression. Her mind seemed to be a maze of abstract feelings and perceptions accompanied by precise details and images. Because reading was difficult for her, she listened to books on tape, completing in record time classics like “Pride and Prejudice,” “Tale of Two Cities,” or “Man in the Iron Mask” while keeping her hands occupied with artistic enterprises.
While we shared a love for literature, my sister and I expressed our creativity in different forms. As she attempted to capture her world through visual arts, I, on the other hand, expressed myself through pen and paper or word processor. While poems and prose poured forth on my pages, a goose with a gosling nestled in reeds or a skillfully sketched chair appeared on hers. She saw the world through emotions and images, and I viewed my world through a logical lens of words, story, plot, characters and setting.
As I entered college, my writing abilities were my greatest ally. Together we conquered tests, essays and writing exams. I could sit and listen to hours of lecture, taking notes and jotting down ideas. I won awards and scholarships, and I learned that my abilities were privileged within academia. The way my mind worked, I easily “fit” into the ready-made mold of a college student.
My sister entered college and faced one of the greatest battles of her life. Her pictures, curiosity and unique perspective on life were not only seem by the institution or instructors as an oddity but as a barrier to the flow of the academic community. “What do you call that?” asked one teacher as he attempted to decipher my sister’s creative spelling on her exam. It wasn’t the first or the last time that an instructor would unwittingly disparage someone who did not conform to the academic prototype that our society has created.
In spite of the challenges, my sister fought her battle through the educational system and found a way to amputate the parts of her mind that did not work with the academic structure. She flourished in the few classes that privileged her identity and survived those that did not.
Someday I hope that academia will no longer only value the skills of someone who fits the one mold we consider “smart” or “valuable” to our society, something measurable in our plethora of standardized testing options. Instead, I see an academia that seeks to admit and encourage students with diverse intellectual talents and pursuits, a place where all students can become the best that they can be.