Does The Ashoka Bridge Programme Create A Gap?
Sriramya Ghanta, UG 21
The Academic Bridge Programme is devised to help certain students navigate life at Ashoka. It intends to assist students in the academic components of the Ashokan experience. The programme influences the encounters that these students have during their time at Ashoka. ABP not only aims to help students navigate Ashoka’s rigorous academic curriculum but also help them understand diversity and life on campus. In the past couple of years, the programme has seen over 90 students, and each one of these students have had a distinct experience in these two weeks. Three former students of the Academic Bridge Programme have shared their experiences and how it affected their life at Ashoka.
Gurpreet, an attendee of the ABP, explained that the programme provides assistance to students from “underprivileged” backgrounds to help them get accustomed to the workings of a university campus. They add that the programme helps students with English language proficiency. However, Gurpreet reveals that the programme did not necessarily prepare them for what was to come. They emphasise that they were blindsided by the large number of students who came from entirely different classes, castes and cultural backgrounds. They share that “the bridge programme did not assist [them] with that, which is what [they] needed or people like [them] needed the most. As a result, it took [them] a while to get acquainted with it.” Gurpreet goes on to say that although it wasn’t obvious, the need for the ABP students to fit into the broader culture at Ashoka felt classist since most of the students in ABP come from a particular financial background.
Moreover, Gurpreet states that they see a need for normalisation of cultures that are different from that of the majority. They explained that being a first-generation student, they would have benefited from some assistance with navigating university life. They say, “since that did not happen, I was exposed to a lot of relationships and friendships that people would have otherwise had the tools to identify. It felt as though I was on my own.” Gurpreet believes that, in a sense, the students who have not attended the ABP become the “normal” or the standard and it is expected that those who did attend the programme would have to stick together. They revealed that it had taken a while for that to fade away. Gurpreet suggested that there needs to be a long term “buddy system” in place to make sure that the ABP students are comfortable in this
Rashi, another attendee of the ABP, disclosed that being a part of the programme was a new experience for her, both academically and culturally. She said that she was self-conscious about the way she spoke since her first language is not English and that she was uncomfortable in the new setting. However, she revealed that since nobody ever spoke about this, it reflected in her academics as well. Rashi opines that two weeks are not necessarily sufficient to get accustomed to an entirely new culture. She goes on to add that she sees two reasons as to why students from ABP keep to themselves. Firstly, since it is evident that Ashoka is an elite university, disparities in financial backgrounds may prompt students to act a certain way. Secondly, students may be conscious of their English language proficiency. Rashi says, “nothing changes in the two weeks. If we had come during the orientation week, we would have had similar experiences. Since we came to the campus a couple of weeks before other students, we did not see the need to interact with them. We had already found our spaces and groups, so we kept to ourselves.” She adds that if she’s asked about her time in the ABP, she tends to say that they were getting acquainted with the Ashokan culture. However, she admits that she does not have clarity on the distinction between the orientation week and the ABP. She goes on to say that she would like to see one year where the Academic Bridge Programme is shut down since she thinks that it would prompt all students to have the same university experience.
Muskan is another former student in Ashoka’s Academic Bridge Programme. She explained that the programme helped students with communication and academic writing. She too believed that what they did during the two weeks was similar to the orientation week. Muskan revealed that while the programme helped her find friendships, it was harder for her to be able to leave her comfort zone later on. She says, “when I was called for ABP, I had thought that it was just random kids being picked up. I’d never thought about it. I felt different. I felt as if I didn’t belong to the culture, and I needed to adjust anyhow. I was always good when it came to opening up, or making friends, but here I found myself having an inferiority complex, which is not me.” Muskan reveals that the friends she had made in those two weeks, stuck by her through the year, she did not make an effort to socialise with anyone else. She says that while she agrees that two weeks is not sufficient, she also thinks that it is not possible to hold it for an entire year. She adds that “even if that were the case, students are going to be underconfident next year.” She suggests having a buddy system to ensure that each student is comfortable in confiding in a peer.
While the Academic Bridge Programme helps students with English language and academic reading and writing assistance, there is a need for the programme to evolve and accommodate other necessities of the students. It is imperative that these experiences are taken into account while considering the nature and structure of the programme. All names in this article have been changed to protect the identities of the contributors .