November 7, 2019

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Re: ‘College Shouldn’t Be a Breeze’

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To the editor:

“College shouldn’t be a breeze,” writes Christian Baran ’22 in a recent opinion piece. Luckily for author, it isn’t, no matter how you choose to spend your time on campus.

It seems that Cornell students can’t win lately. One week, we have people telling us to not glorify being busy and to reevaluate where our definition of success comes from. Another week, we have articles implying that you should feel guilty if you’re taking “easy” classes or a semester with fewer credits.

Let me start by stating the obvious: Cornell’s toxic culture of overworking needs to be directly confronted if we ever want to dismantle it. There is nothing inherently wrong with choosing to take the easier path, and for the sake of your mental health, it is sometimes the only viable option.

The author does state that he does not wish to shame students for “taking oceanography or [if] your credit load is under 15,” which is a relief — but the fact that there would even be a question of judging someone for those choices is deeply concerning. Oceanography is an interesting class taught by a professor who is genuinely passionate about the subject matter — why be ashamed of taking it? As for the number of credits you’re taking, in my time at Cornell, I’ve found comparing credit amounts to be irrelevant. Your workload will vary wildly with the type of classes you’re taking (regardless of credits). Additionally,  many people on campus balance their academic schedules with on-campus jobs, research, extracurricular activities, graduate school applications, job hunting and social obligations.

I feel as though the piece in question betrayed a lack of empathy and awareness of other people’s experiences, that I myself certainly exhibit at times, and is one that is unfortunately common across this campus and this country. It’s easy to comment on other people’s lifestyles and compare your own to theirs. Often, I can’t help but fall into the trap of looking at people with both more and less work than me (at least from what I see) and wonder how they manage. But I’ve learned to stop myself, because I don’t know their full story.

Some people need to take lighter course loads for any number of reasons: They may be coming back to campus after a leave of absence or a semester abroad and they need to readjust; they may have a particularly hard course in their schedule that semester and need to take fewer credits on top of that to compensate; they may just want to have more free time and take care of their physical and mental health. I have never met anyone who worked hard enough to get into Cornell, decided to shoulder the financial burden of attending and then proceeded to take the easiest classes they could in order to boost their GPA.

College is hard. Life is hard. Family members pass away; friendships and relationships fall apart. We’re in the middle of a national political crisis and a global climate crisis. And on top of all of this, we’re told to complete all of our work, dedicate time to a club (or three), and take advantage of everything Cornell has to offer. Taking it “easy” shouldn’t be shameful. At a place like Cornell, it can be self-preservation. Graduating in four years with a degree is a challenge in and of itself, and the more guilt and pressure we put on ourselves and others to “wring this school of all the opportunity it offers” and fill our schedules up to the brim, the harder it will be to change the culture of this campus into a truly caring community.

I have no doubt the author intended the original article to be motivating and perhaps even inspiring, and certainly not derogatory. Indeed, I agree with the intended message: We are privileged to be here. It is important to expand your horizons and attempt to find your passion at Cornell, and we have a responsibility to work hard and make our time here meaningful. However, for some, it’s hard enough just to get by at Cornell, and there’s no shame in just doing that — getting by.

      Katie Sadoff ’20