Sometimes I feel as if in saying that I attend MIT, I’m telling a blonde joke. (Hint: I’m not.) Many MIT students recount questions about their GPA, test scores, magnificent things they’ve built, other accomplishments—while I often find myself trying to convince people that I actually attend MIT. The reactions that I’ve received from people range from amusing to borderline offensive, from delightful to “what??”
Here’s a collection of reactions in all their confusing glory.
On MIT Campus
I’m sitting on a bench off the Infinite Corridor conversing with my best friend. A friend of hers approaches us. Cue introduction.
“Hi! Where do you go to school?”
I’m wearing a MIT jacket. My backpack lies beside me. We’re in MIT’s academic buildings.
“I’m a student here. At MIT.”
Random Guy At Starbucks
“What are you working on?”
“I’m writing an international relations paper on global politics.”
“Cool! Are you studying to be a lawyer? Where do you go to school?”
“No, actually I’m studying engineering at MIT.”
“Oh! So you’re like a genius? But you seem so down to earth! Did you have some traumatizing childhood experience that brought you down to earth?”
“How is that relevant?”
“With the questions you ask, you should be a lawyer. Wanna go have some fun?”
“Excuse me? I need to finish my paper.”
At The Dentist
Context: dental hygienist cleaning my teeth.
“What are you studying? Where do you go to school?”
“I’m studying aerospace engineering and electrical engineering / computer science at MIT.”
“Oh that’s cute. After you complete your degree, are you going into modeling?”
At An MIT Frat Party
“So what school are you from? BU? Wellesley?”
“No, I go to MIT.”
“That’s a joke, right? You don’t look like you go to MIT.”
“I go to MIT.”
“WHAT? Are you serious? Guys! Does she actually go to MIT!?”
Random Guy At The Computers
Context: At a cluster of MIT computers and printers. I was printing study materials.
“Hey! You look good! What are you doing here?”
“Uhm, thanks. I’m headed to the library.”
“What!? But you’re wearing a dress!? Do you go to MIT?? How ‘bout I take you out?”
“Yeah, I go to MIT… and I’m going to the library…”
The PhD Grad Student
“So you’re an engineering student? What do you do?”
“I work in controls engineering, signals processing, and automation.”
“Okay. But actually, do you do any real engineering?”
When I say I attend MIT, some react with surprise, others outright don’t believe me. Some assume that I party all the time (I don’t), or that something must be inherently wrong with me and prod for that magic flaw.
I’ve struggled at times under the weight of stereotype threat. I’ve had wavering confidence in my abilities. I’ve questioned my identity and intelligence. I’ve considered dyeing my hair brown. When asked which school I attend, I’ve often responded with “Boston” to avoid any detrimental reaction.
But I’m learning to feel unaffected and adjusting my response: I no longer hesitate, I don’t feel embarrassed to say “MIT.” I don’t worry about the reaction. I’ve regained confidence.
Yes, I’m blonde. And yes, I attend MIT.
Lead photo: Alice Zielinski
Alice Zielinski is studying Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering and Computer Science & Electrical Engineering as an undergraduate at MIT. She most recently worked at Boeing Commercial Airplanes on Flight Management Systems. Technical interests include flight controls, signals processing, and autonomy. This post originally appeared on Medium.