During my sophomore year, former Arts & Entertainment Editor Sean Doolittle ’16 wrote a polemic titled “I’m Mad as Hell, and I’m Not Going to Take This Anymore.” Doolittle put Cornell students on blast for failing to value the arts. “We don’t make time for art anymore,” Doolittle wrote, “There’s no urgency for beauty.”
I disagreed with Doolittle’s column. Ways to appreciate arts and culture were everywhere on campus. Every weekend, students presented a cappella concerts, dance performances, live theater and more. Even if you wanted to stay in after a long week, who’s to say that watching Netflix doesn’t count as engaging with art?
This year’s Student Assembly presidential race has made me change my perspective. The question is not whether students consume art and entertainment (we all know we do). The question is how we do so.
In his platform, presidential candidate Varun Devatha ’19 includes the plank, “Improving the Student Experience.” One way that Devatha suggests doing so is “Improv[ing] media and pop culture accessibility through increased Slope Day funding and free Spotify, Netflix, etc.” On paper, free access to Netflix, Spotify and other streaming services might seem like a good idea.
But many Cornell clubs that focus on the arts do not receive enough funding. Controversies in the past year surrounding the S.A Appropriations Committee and CUTonight’s funding decisions show that there isn’t enough money to go around. Last semester, for example, the Student Assembly voted to stop funding Cornell Cinema. The cut could have forced a dramatic cut in the Cinema’s programming. (The Cinema currently shows movies six to seven nights a week.) The College of Arts & Sciences has since stepped in with bridge funding, which means that the Cinema’s operations can continue as normal. For now.
Stated otherwise, we can’t even adequately fund every existing club. As such, I don’t see how Devatha could justify allocating funds so that students stream for “free.”
I put free in quotations because, in the end, someone will be paying. Will the administration pay for our access? I doubt it. If not, the funds will likely come from student fees.
I don’t have a problem with my student fees going to fund resources I’ll never use. It’s the very nature of attending a university like Cornell. Most of my tuition will go towards classes I’ll never take, professors I’ll never learn from and clubs I’ll never join. A healthy campus depends upon having an array of resources, most, if not all, of which will not appeal to everyone. But there’s a difference between using student funds to support a dance troupe or club lacrosse team and using them to buy streaming access.
The distinction is between a given student’s experience and “the student experience.” Free streaming access might improve many students’ experiences at Cornell. But what do we mean when we talk about “the student experience”? I argue that we mean — or should mean — activities and resources that bring students together.
There’s a difference between seeing a play at the Schwartz or Risley and re-watching The Office. On one hand there’s going to a friend’s arch sing, Wynton Marsalis at Bailey or Playboy Carti at Barton. On the other there’s streaming music on Spotify while studying.
There’s nothing wrong with streaming music or watching something on Netflix. Lord knows I do both more than enough. But Devatha’s stated goal is improving the student experience. As such, he would do better to focus on funding our existing cultural resources.
Additionally, I don’t see the sense in increasing Slope Day funding, either. I won’t pretend that I’m innocent. I, too, complain about the Slope Day headliner from year-to-year. Still, as much as I would love to see a top-tier act come to campus, Slope Day is one day out of 30 weeks at Cornell every year. Many student groups that operate throughout the whole year are chronically underfunded. Why funnel more money into a one-day event instead of year-round cultural resources?
Student Assembly voting takes place today and tomorrow. I encourage undergraduates to assess the candidates’ platforms. Do their proposals sound achievable? Will they improve the student body’s collective experience? Will they provide opportunities to students that they might otherwise struggle to access? “Free” Netflix or Spotify do not, at least in my eyes, meet any of the above criteria.
As a student body, we deserve better. We deserve to have our clubs and arts resources supported. We deserve to be able to access resources and funding without jumping through a series of bureaucratic hoops. We deserve to have student tuition and fees go to programs that tangibly improve the student experience. It’s what we’re paying for, after all.
Shay Collins is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. Morning Bowl of Surreal will appear alternate Mondays this semester. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.