May 6, 2014

RITHOLTZ | A Farewell to Pants (and Cornell)

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This will be my last column for The Cornell Daily Sun, and although I have only been a columnist for the past year, I am sad to think of this experience ending. Although half of my articles appeared in The Sun as a “guest column,” my column actually had a name, Sans Pants. I chose this name not only because of my affinity to shirk societal expectations of men’s leg wear, but also as a representation of how I wanted the column to feel.

I hoped that the content discussed in Sans Pants would be thought-provoking and confrontational, but presented in a comfortable way that allowed room for discussion — reminiscent of those times when you had intense philosophical debates with your freshman year floormates in your pajamas. At the same time, I created the column as means for me to express myself on topics that I felt were not receiving a fair amount of attention on this campus. Writing this column was a way to express myself and provide the same type of catharsis I feel when I come home from class and take my pants off.

Now, with my time at The Sun coming to an end, I ask myself what closing thoughts do I have for the Cornell community? I’ll start by saying that I hope we all continue these conversations surrounding service learning and the impact of our own presence in the communities we work with abroad. I believe this conversation has started to grow on this campus, but we must continue to talk about the positive aspects of service learning, along with the negative aspects. As Cornell’s commitment to international experiences grows, we must challenge ourselves to always ensure that we ask the necessary questions to ensure that our experiences abroad do not harm the communities that we have the fortune to visit. We must not shy away from difficult discussions and we must trust ourselves to navigate the ethical questions of our own experiences. My first op-ed, “White Boy Goes to Africa” discussed one of the biggest insecurities in my own personal work — acknowledging the privilege I have in being able to work and study in communities abroad. Yet, the thoughts in my head and the conversations with my peers that the piece provoked taught me an invaluable lesson on what it means to #checkmyprivilege and the importance that these conversations have both in my personal development and in my work.

I don’t mean to use this last article to force you all to reread my former rants and arguments (though I would like to once again plug the creation of an institutional review board for all service learning projects affiliated with Cornell) and so perhaps, let me move on to what new things I would like to leave you all with. The other day, I was asked what advice would I give my freshman self, and while the question caught me off guard and I produced a subpar answer, here is what I wish I had said. At Cornell, we are all part of one big caring community. And being a part of this big caring community means two things: It means there is a space for everyone and there is a space to ask for help.

To start with my first point, Cornell is a much bigger school than most of us imagine, and while the sheer enormity of 13,000 undergraduates is hard to understand — what it means is that there is a specific community for you. I have found that a lot of people here at Cornell become involved with one single community during their time at Cornell and when you feel like you are able to thrive in this community — then it’s wonderful! But when you are not able to succeed in this specific community, then it’s too easy to feel out of place and left out. If you or anyone you know is having these feelings, it means you are not surrounding yourself with right people and that perhaps it is time to experience new areas of this campus. Now this advice sounds easier said than done, but there are resources on this campus that can help — the Women’s Resource Center, the Center for Intercultural Dialogue, your Resident Advisor and the LGBT Resource Center are all places that can help you find the right community here at Cornell. And while this might seem like flowery bullshit, I can assure you that these feelings of loneliness are not unique to you and that these resources can help.

This conversation of resources leads me to my second point. When I say there is a space to ask for help, I mean that it is okay to not feel okay and it is okay to ask for help. A friend once told me that she felt like everyone on this campus has “duck syndrome,” where from above the water it might look like we are all floating along gracefully, but below the water we moving our flippers as fast as we can to keep ourselves afloat. In other words, we feel this need to feign composure even if we feel on the verge of collapse. I wish I could tell my freshman self (and all freshmen) that these feelings are normal, and they will not go away by hiding them. Whether it’s an academic issue, a personal issue or both, there is no need for anyone to hide his or her struggles when there are people on this campus who care about you and there are resources here to help you.  Cornell has done great things with destigmatizing mental health issues and I wish I had realized freshman year that those initiatives and talks of community included me. This is me saying now that they absolutely include you.

And with that, ladies and gentleman I conclude my last rant. Thank you for reading and thank you Cornell!