October 28, 2019

GUEST ROOM | Cornell: A Caring Community?

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When I first visited Cornell, I was unreasonably concerned with questions like how similar this school is to Hogwarts. Is Beebe Lake like the Black Lake? Where is the Harry Potter dining hall? Or the Harry Potter library? Looking back, I should have been more concerned with questions like, how well is the student health center rated? How many people are in a lecture hall? If you don’t show up to lecture, would people care?

Really, do people care? Over the past few days, as I lay in bed feeling the feverish breath on my face, encapsulated by layers of blankets, I have come to learn the answer.

While freshman year felt all bright, sunny and the terror of the future seemed so far away, sophomore year I didn’t feel as lucky. My courses began to gradually eclipse my simplistic view of college life, and I started to feel completely buried under the stress of organic chemistry, physics and anatomy and physiology. I often found myself feeling rather lonely amidst a sea of people in packed lecture halls. Did any of these people really care about me? The question tugged at my tired brain, and naturally I tried to ignore it.

And so I continued forward. During my junior year, I attended a workshop where the presenter began “Who thinks Cornell is a caring community?” I remained sitting with my hands in my pockets, until I saw that most people raised their hands. And as human nature would predict, my hand shot up so I wouldn’t stick out. I was shocked at the number of people who found Cornell a caring community and my mind searched for an explanation. Was I not seeing something? If I didn’t show up to this meeting, would people care? If I didn’t show up to class tomorrow, would anyone care?

This past week, I was afflicted with mono, a sinus infection and strep throat. A part of me was convinced I was probably going to die. But as I lay in bed, with a fever and body aches, I felt terrified to ask for help — to ask a friend to take me to the pharmacy to pick up my antibiotics, to ask a professor for an extension on an essay, to ask for someone to help me get food since I couldn’t get out of bed and hadn’t eaten a meal in days.

After a sudden fear that I might in fact never get over my several infections if I didn’t reach out for help, I asked a friend to pick up my medicine from the pharmacy. His response: “Absolutely!” I began fighting my anxieties about asking for help, and suddenly everything began changing. One friend brought me soup, another got me Gatorade. My professor granted me a week extension on the essay, and another professor excused me from my four hour lab — twice. My phone blew up with messages from friends checking in to see if I needed anything and sending me notes from classes when they noticed I wasn’t there. Unable to coordinate the events I was organizing for Mental Health Awareness Week, I asked to postpone them due to my health. My collaborators and advisor were extremely understanding with this decision. While I had to miss my volunteer shift, cancel my meetings and skip my TA shifts, everyone I worked with was nothing but supportive. At first, I thought that the world would be unforgiving if I let go, even for a moment. However, when I needed it most, my community was there to tell me what I needed to hear: It’s okay to put life on pause and focus on your health.

After all this, I have thankfully recovered with the help of my family and friends and I finally feel like I have answered my burning question: do people care? Yes, certainly they do. The kindness, love and support I have received over the past week from the Cornell community has been incredible and unbelievable, and I will be eternally grateful. The reason I decided to attend Cornell was just a feeling I had deep down that Cornell would be my Hogwarts, and as Dumbledore said, “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.” Through this miserable experience of being ill, I have learned the truth in that statement and come out the other side much stronger. I know that I am not moving forward through life alone, but rather with an entire community in my corner. There is strength in numbers, so please remember that the Cornell community is here to help, and if you are in need, all you have to do is ask.

Your friends, your professors and your community are here for you and want to see you succeed. And as Mental Health Awareness Week has come to an end, please keep in mind that mental health is still just as important as ever.

Visit caringcommunity.cornell.edu for resources.

Rashmi Rao is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Comments may be sent to opinion@cornellsun.com