Tuesday, January 23

UCLA students redefine meaning of intelligence at Bruin Walk event


Students wrote down their thoughts on what defines intelligence on blackboards at the "What is Smart?" event Tuesday. (Farida Saleh/Daily Bruin)

Students wrote down their thoughts on what defines intelligence on blackboards at the "What is Smart?" event Tuesday. (Farida Saleh/Daily Bruin)


Thinley Huang said students’ intelligence should not be defined by grades but by their ability to treat others kindly.

“Part of it is being unassuming of people you meet and choosing to be kind to them because you don’t know what they went through,” said Huang, a first-year computer science student.

Huang and other students came together to redefine the meaning of intelligence at an event on Bruin Walk called “What is Smart?” on Tuesday. Participants shared their thoughts on what it means to be smart by writing down their definitions of intelligence on a whiteboard and blackboard.

The Undergraduate Students Association Council’s Academic Affairs Commission and the Student Wellness Commission held the event to combat feelings of inadequacy among students and promote self-esteem before finals week, said Academic Affairs Commissioner Divya Sharma.

“We wanted to define being smart as being more than a GPA or a number, instead as what experiences did I take away and what skills can I bring,” Sharma said. “That is what a holistic experience at UCLA should be.”

Students shared different interpretations of intelligence at the event, including being open-minded and having the capacity for empathy. One defined smartness as “being woke,” while others considered “having tolerance” and “putting in work” as components of intellectual capacity.

Huang said she thinks many students at UCLA emphasize academic success over treating others with kindness.

“You never know how much of an impact your (actions) can have on someone,” Huang said.

Sarita Lee, a second-year statistics student, said that she thinks intelligence cannot concretely be measured because there are many ways in which people can be skilled.

“There’s a lot of inherent value that people have that goes beyond the numbers,” she said.

Lena Howell, a second-year art student, said her definition of intelligence is someone working hard toward a passion as opposed to being born naturally smart.

She added the event reminded her to think about her self-worth outside of an academic context and stop comparing herself to others.

Other students said the event allowed them to define their strengths on their own terms, rather than prescribing to a broad-brush societal definition of intelligence.

Devika Chandramohan, a third-year psychobiology student, said that it could be easy for students to deflate their self-esteem at a competitive university like UCLA.

“Events like this remind you that you don’t have to be stereotypically smart to belong here,” she said.

Sharma said he plans to make this program an annual UC systemwide campaign.

“As one of the most prominent university systems in the U.S., we should be making sure our students understand intelligence (as all-encompassing),” Sharma said.

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