September 27, 2020

SMITH | The Case for Backsliding

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When I first came to Cornell, bright-eyed, bushy tailed and unaddicted to coffee, I was a Nutritional Sciences major. My early weeks were filled with introductions to pre-health clubs and frantic searches for my lab room in Baker only to be told my Birkenstocks were inappropriate footwear. I was told about a future filled with orgo and bio-chem, and the clinical aspects of the major seemed overwhelming. So when I transferred into the environment and sustainability program and became a CALS student, I felt immediate relief. I took classes like Ethics of the Environment, my love of overalls and reusable mugs was reflected back at me, and I thought nutrition was in my rearview mirror. This summer however — in keeping with its theme of upheaval — proved me wrong in this assumption. Come September, I was on a Zoom call with an advisor for the Dietetics program, asking the feasibility of getting back on track to become a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) while staying in the E&S major.

Cornell is a competitive place —this is not news. Feeling like I was going backwards went against all of my internalized expectations of forward motion and progress. I felt like I was falling behind even as I was planning my future. There was also frustration. Why couldn’t I have realized this sooner or, better yet, stayed where I was and not set myself up for a massive course load that might push me into an additional semester that I likely can’t afford? In other words, why couldn’t I have had it all figured out at eighteen years old? Not that I even have much figured out now even. High school students are dropped on campuses and told to pursue their dreams when many of us are still trying to figure out what those even are. We’re told to simultaneously branch out, looking for that one class that changes our lives, but also to start knocking out those gen-ed and major requirements.

I’m not a fan of presenting a problem without also suggesting solutions, but similarly to last week, I’m not entirely sure what those are. I think the best I can hope for is a little more forgiveness and patience with ourselves. Sometimes, especially having entered my junior year,  I feel time is ticking and the debt is piling up. I am trying, however, to not let those feelings force me forward in a direction I’m not confident in, partially because it likely means just having to pivot later in life. So here’s for juniors who are still figuring it out, and let’s make the case for backsliding.


Emma Smith is a rising junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]Emmpathy runs every other Wednesday this semester.