Now that campus has returned to alert level green, it might be tempting to forget what moved Cornell to yellow in the first place. In a Feb. 5 email, President Martha Pollack attributed the pre-semester spike to a Collegetown party where several members of Greek life organizations were reportedly present and not following COVID-19 protocols. The actions of these students not only violated the behavioral compact, but were also incredibly selfish.
However, Greek life represents a microcosm, albeit a rather extreme one, of how the entire student body feels. After a year of isolating lockdowns, mental health is deteriorating — and one important contributor is a lack of in-person socializing. That said, members of Greek organizations are predominantly wealthy, white and men, whose privilege is mirrored in the way that many have conducted themselves during this pandemic. Likely protected by wealth and good health insurance, many Greek students may feel less vulnerable to COVID-19 than their Black and Latinx peers. Privileged or not, grappling with declining mental health is a struggle many Cornellians share.
Taking action to improve the mental health of all students is more important now than it was before we were sent home last spring, when Cornell’s mental health review reported that over 40 percent of students were “unable to function academically for at least a week due to depression, stress or anxiety.” Not only is that statement incredulous for the percentage of students already battling mental health struggles, but also because of the severity of those struggles. Because so many of its students are so negatively affected by depression, stress and anxiety, Cornell’s administration must improve the situation.
Students need to be able to socialize safely, and if Cornell is able to make in-person classes happen this semester, then it should be more than capable of organizing in-person social programming. Binghamton University made an outdoor ice rink with a Starbucks truck available for students, staff and faculty to enjoy this spring; Cornell could host events like these that make the currently offered Zoom “socializing” activities look lazy. Honestly, the last thing anyone wants to do after a long day of Zooming and online homework is hop on another Zoom call for recreation. Zoom fatigue is a real phenomenon, and Cornell needs to show it recognizes that.
Socializing allows students to take the time to decompress from their online lives. The simple act of talking to someone’s masked-up face from at least six feet apart, preferably outside, can do an immense amount for their mental wellbeing. Not only that, but in-person events also serve to ground students in their community. Cornell needs to be more proactive moving forward when it comes to supporting the mental health of its students, especially during such isolating semesters.
Now that gyms and recreation facilities are opening back up, students will again be able to get some much needed in-person activity. We urge students to work diligently to keep COVID-19 from spreading amongst our community, so we don’t again move to a higher alert level, restricting everyone’s access to campus facilities — an outlet to get healthy and de-stress without which could setback any progress in improving mental health that was made in the interim.
The above editorial reflects the opinions of The Cornell Daily Sun. Editorials are penned collaboratively between the Editor-in-Chief, Associate Editor and Opinion Editor, in consultation with additional Sun editors and staffers. The Sun’s editorials are independent of its news coverage, other columnists and advertisers.