Harvard has been fueling entrepreneurship – apparently in more ways than you would think. While the school has made recent efforts to support student startups with resources like its Innovation Lab, one company founder and Harvard alumna claims that her traumatizing time there served as inspiration for her social venture.
Due Quach, founder of Calm Clarity and resident of Philadelphia, wrote a lengthy Medium post about how she believes Harvard has a cutthroat, non-altruistic culture that caused her great anxiety during her four years at the school. She’s now calling out the university for what she sees as a lack of support for certain students and explaining how her experiences there have led her to social entrepreneurship.
Encountering Harvard-induced stress
Quach and her family are Vietnamese refugees who settled in one of Philadelphia’s roughest neighborhoods. She witnessed much gang violence during her youth, which, paired with her escape from Vietnam, caused much distress.
“My zip code in Philadelphia had (and continues to have) one of the higher rates of crime, violence, poverty, and trauma scores in the city,” Quach wrote. “In my hood, nearly half the kids drop out of high school, so it is seen as a triumph for a kid to go to community college.”
When she was accepted to Harvard, it was like a godsend. But as a student Quach soon found herself in an environment full of challenges to her mental health – not only to perform academically, but also to fit into the Harvard mold.
“Harvard was my first immersion in an elite upper middle class environment,” she wrote. “It was like shell shock. Unlike scholarship kids who attended private schools, I had never spent time with people who were so wealthy before. In contrast, where I came from, violence was normal.”
“It didn’t take long for me to feel completely alienated by the ivory tower academic culture and the self-absorbed drive of my peers and my professors,” she continued.
Quach attempted to form bonds with the Asian-American community, but she quickly discovered many of them came from different socioeconomic backgrounds and had different values than she.
“Yet, I learned the hard way that America’s oldest and most prestigious university makes changes to accommodate no one. Harvard was then (and probably continues to be) a sink or swim environment.”
“Harvard was then (and probably continues to be) a sink or swim environment.”
She discovered that substance abuse or prescribed antidepressants were the two main methods of coping with the pressures placed upon the student body by Harvard. And she personally began to develop and struggle with her own issues. The immense amount of stress she was under at Harvard triggered the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder stemming from her experiences as a refugee and the violence she witnessed in her youth.
Having to help herself
According to Quach, she was left to fend for herself to get the help she needed while at Harvard. It was this journey to get better that inspired her to launch Calm Clarity, which is meant to teach people how to be mindful so they can perform as leaders.
“Now I am a social entrepreneur pursuing the aspiration that led me to Harvard in the first place: to pay it forward and help more people realize their potential,” Quach explained. “My solution is to create an evidence-based trauma informed essential life skills training that integrates important lessons and skills I’ve learned over the course of my life with scientific findings.”
Despite the positive entrepreneurial consequences coming from Quach’s hard time at Harvard, the founder still feels like certain issues need to be addressed at the school. She outlines several questions that she has for her alma mater, including how the school can support students coming from low-income families, as well as whether administrators would be open to better understanding and offering life skills services for students living with trauma.
And the Philly-based entrepreneur (and Wharton MBA) maintains that she isn’t ungrateful for all that her Harvard education has done for her. She stated that she was thankful for all of the scholarships and grants that the school gave her, as well as the opportunities that have come her way from having the Harvard name on her resume.
Image on file.