Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences boasts 40 majors, 59 minors and more than 41 foreign languages. It offers a dazzlingly vast array of subjects, a striking testament to the academic diversity that is representative of Cornell as a whole. I am extremely proud of my college; at very few other academic institutions could I sprint from an Italian discussion to an Oceanography lecture, only to backpedal to retrieve the planner I forgot in my government seminar. The College of Arts and Sciences’ academic breadth is its mark of distinction, its greatest strength.
However, this breadth also represents the college’s greatest weakness. Every one of Cornell’s six other colleges possesses a distinctive identity. All engineers unite in miserable lab groups to struggle through their required CHEM 2090 class, Archies are bonded together by the trauma of sleepless nights in Milstein preparing for Dragon Day and Hotelies wear suits on freshmen Fridays and are excessively passionate about Terrace. But what overarching tradition finds its home in the College of Arts and Sciences?
True, we all have to pass the language requirement. As no other college fosters such a requirement, our language courses are the closest thing the College of Arts and Sciences has to a shared bonding experience. The language classes are notoriously difficult and, to those without an affinity for linguistics, a dreaded nuisance. The seminar style classes, centered around learning at home and application in class, are definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. It is worth mentioning here that my Italian class remains my favorite course I’ve taken at Cornell; it forced me to absorb the language, and I learned more Italian in three semesters than in my six years of high school Spanish. Furthermore, due to the interactive nature of the class, my Italian group remains the only bunch of “study buddies” that I have kept in touch with over the past two years. This is to say nothing of the fact that babbling away in Spanish or Japanese four times a week is the best way to secure an envy-inducing study abroad experience in Gaudi’s masterpiece of Barcelona, or under the electric lights of Tokyo.
But even this one distinction of the College of Arts and Sciences is a source of contention. Every year an enthusiastic freshmen attempts to gain election to Student Assembly riding the campaign promise of abolishing the language requirement. Hopefully this pillar of the College of Arts and Sciences will never fall … but its detractors are definitely trying their best.
Clearly, the College of Arts and Sciences needs to work towards creating a concrete identity, one more overarching than shared distribution requirements. We need to take pride in what makes us unique. I cannot count the number of times I have heard my engineer roommate refer to me as a disciple of “the College of Arts and Crafts.” Though these comments are meant in jest, I can’t help but feel that our lack of college cohesion opens us up to a large amount of ridicule from other colleges, despite the fact that our college alone best exemplifies Ezra Cornell’s motto of “Any Person, Any Study.” Just because A&S is incredibly vast and diverse does not make it a shapeless, shifting entity, comprised of students who lack definable skills. The college could become a community; just as engineers claim Duffield, we should assert ownership of Goldwin Smith and the Temple of Zeus. If we harnessed our sense of pride in our wonderful, liberal arts education, mocking cries of the “College of Arts and Crafts” might no longer ring true and the student body could move forward together, united through ambition and purpose.
But how to utilize that pride and create a unique identity? Language requirements, wonderful though they may be, seem too contentious, and again, too broad. For instance, students studying Spanish may not necessarily relate to those toiling through Hindi. Maybe college administrators could consider making one well-beloved class, representative of the college’s values, a required course for incoming freshmen. Doing so would hopefully foster a love for the humanities that represent the soul of the college, as well as encourage new students to form communities and make friends within the school. Another option would be to create a Dragon Day-esque event, perhaps a day-long presentation of students’ labors over the academic year, simultaneously showcasing the best work of the college and forcing students to collaborate to create.
Either way, Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences is one of the great loves of my life. However, it is too easy to identify the school’s lack of unity, all the more glaring in the face of the planned themes that bring together Cornell’s other colleges. For the sake of the soul of the school, I hope that students can find a way to unite and to foster a sense of pride for our College of Arts and Crafts.
Pallavi Kenkare is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Jabberwocky runs every other Wednesday this semester.