October 2, 2012

Redefining the Cornell Weekend

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The national media hasn’t been very kind to Cornell’s social scene as of late. Following the Avicii Homecoming concert, several blogs highlighted the extent to which students took their celebrations. And last week, a New York Times article featured Collegetown as an example of how social media has helped hasten the decline of the college bar scene.

Both the coverage of the Avicii concert and the Times article critique the social priorities of our generation of college students, to the point where we tend to dismiss such criticism as out of touch. Upon further reflection, however, I’ve come to realize that it’s students who are missing the bigger picture. In our haste to party and socialize with the same rigor we pursue our academics and extracurricular activities, we miss out on opportunities to relax and truly unwind. Our weekend activities, instead of functioning as productive outlets for stress, create more pressure and contribute to an unhealthy campus environment.

It goes without saying that the more egregious activities of Cornellians at the Avicii concert were objectionable. The “highlights” of the concert as reported by Business Insider were six hospitalizations, public defecation, rampant substance abuse and a forcible touching on line to enter. Such coverage obscures the fact that the vast majority of attendees, myself included, had plenty of fun without embarrassing or endangering ourselves or others.

It’s still alarming, though, that there were enough students willing to be so reckless at a University-sponsored, on-campus event. The lack of respect shown Cornell Concert Commission volunteers and the facilities was simply inexcusable. It’s great to have fun, and by all means lose inhibitions somewhat in the process, but a line was clearly crossed at the concert. Reprehensible public behavior, such as the assault of a woman and the decision to relieve oneself on bleachers, does little to show the University that we are mature decision-makers who can be trusted to be socially responsible partners for programming.

In the New York Times article, Courtney Rubin articulated the potential negative impact of social media on our college bar scene, and social life by extension. Her interviews and reporting paint a picture of a Cornell populated by conceited, binge-drinking social climbers who ignore opportunities to meet new people and instead pursue getting drunk and “hooking up” with the right people as easily and cheaply as possible. In this narrative, bars are romanticized as forgone havens for safe drinking and comfortable conversation. Anyone who has been to a Collegetown bar recently can easily and rightfully take issue with this depiction; bar owners have only themselves to blame, not Facebook, for stale atmospheres and lack of innovation.

The fact that Cornell’s bars aren’t enticing doesn’t mean that our typical weekends are any better. The compulsive need to pre-determine the people we see and only see them in a considerable state of intoxication undermines, in my opinion, the utility of the weekend. All week long, we work long hours and labor tirelessly in pursuit of perfection in our studies, clubs and other activities. Weekends present the ideal opportunity for a much-needed social outlet.

Understandably, students deserve a break from the marathon that so defines our Cornell experience. It should be apparent, however, that we can’t drink and roll our way off the treadmill. By choosing to ignore new opportunities to socialize and in reaching states of inhibition that preclude any chance of healthy conversation, we ignore our problems and tension that build during the week. Such negative stressors come back harder than hangovers every Sunday morning.

If our weekends don’t afford us the opportunity to unwind and recover, what purpose do they serve? The assumption that to have fun one must inebriate as much as possible and “hook up” or otherwise make the night memorable incentivizes conformity to behavior that many of us individually find distasteful. The degree to which we inevitably pursue the seemingly popular weekend of perfect debauchery leads to the destructive behavior epitomized by the Avicii concert and the impulsive Saturday night scrambling from pregame to pregame and bar to bar to “hook up.” It doesn’t look fun to the outside world, and it isn’t fun for many of us on the inside.

I by no means aim to intimate that if it was socially acceptable we’d want to spend our weekends playing Scrabble with Denise Cassaro (which, I’m sure, can be enjoyable for some people). Rather, my conversations with a cross-section of campus have led me to conclude that a silent majority of Cornellians would prefer to spend weekend nights relaxing safely, responsibly and in pursuit of healthy, consensual friendships and relationships, “hook up” or not.

For this reason, the Collegetown bars as described in the Times article and University programming like CCC concerts sound so appealing when done right. Media outlets cannot fathom why we don’t take advantage of such opportunities safely — their stigmatization of the Cornell community stems from the assumption that such institutions operate as advertised, and students are misguided for abusing or rejecting opportunities for less wholesome activities and with counter-productive aims. Of course, as Cornellians, we know this isn’t the case.

Ultimately, many outside the Cornell community fail to recognize that students are not merely to blame for the depraved state of our social livelihood. It falls on bar owners and programmers to innovate in light of new trends and technologies just as much as it falls on students to induce a cultural change on campus. Some beneficial changes, such as lowering the drinking age and keeping bars open later, are exogenous.

But Cornellians and Collegetown businesses have plenty of opportunities to work within the system and respond to the need for places to drink and relax responsibly on weekends. If bar owners work with students and create unique places where we want to spend time, perhaps business will recover. Similarly, it’s promising that the University is creating programming that is more in line with our preferences, such as the Avicii concert and the Campus Pub. Encouraging and respectfully utilizing, as opposed to marginalizing, the right kinds of campus programming will make it stronger and more popular. Take note, bar owners and campus organizations: If you build it, we will come. With the right incentives, the silent majority of Cornellians who just want to have fun will come out of the shadows and abandon recklessness in favor of activities more becoming of the Cornell community.

Jon Weinberg is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at jweinberg@cornellsun.com. In Focus appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.

Original Author: Jon Weinberg