November 10, 2021

EDITORIAL | The Myth of Taking Time For Oneself

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In the past four days, Cornell has been put under shelter-in-place orders twice — for a bomb threat on four Central Campus buildings and for the local police pursuit of an armed suspect. While no further tragedy came of either alert, fortunately, students spent the time panicked and uninformed. Given the weight of the events, it’s unacceptable that students haven’t received substantial support since.

After the two incidents, President Martha Pollack encouraged students “to take the time you need to take care of yourselves and each other,” in a Tuesday evening email. But we question how possible this is — between ongoing assignments and exams, daily classes, extracurricular responsibilities, campus jobs and the little remaining time for eating and sleeping. 

Without significant structural support for students to actually take a break and process the trauma of this week, these reminders feel shallow. 

After Sunday’s five hours of waiting before the bomb threat was deemed “not credible,” faculty received little guidance about how to proceed for the week beyond calls for “generosity.” This relative silence from the University left individual instructors to make their own decisions — often less than generous ones — meaning students’ experiences of classes Monday varied widely.

Some had professors who failed to address the events at all; others had classes canceled and blanket extensions granted. And this continued Tuesday, when there was an armed suspect at large near North Campus, during which some instructors continued lecturing through the North Campus shelter in place and others canceled altogether. 

It is clear that the University is struggling to hold professors accountable. Tuesday and Wednesday, Cornell hosted community support meetings, where students named the stark difference in grace extended by professors in the humanities and those in STEM, for example.  Due to the University’s decentralized structure, the administration is unable to hold the entirety of its faculty accountable to equal standards of empathy. And, with the degrees of separation that exist between our administrators and Cornell students, it’s unclear whether admin would even know how to create such a standard. 

The University postponing prelims Tuesday night was absolutely the right call, but we still need more from campus leaders and our faculty. The lingering uncertainty about the rest of the week — and frankly, the semester — is only adding to our stress and inability to take a break.

In light of the trauma that we, as a community, have faced in these past few days, it is unfair that we are the ones who must advocate for ourselves by pleading for extensions and grace from our professors. Instructors have to be more empathetic toward our experiences and extend more generosity.

At the community support meetings, the sentiments of students were clear: Students are angry at the University for the lack of transparency in updates regarding both crisis situations on Nov. 7 and Nov. 9. Students are angry that we are in a position where we have to consider putting our academics before our own lives and we are angry that the University is trying to minimize our trauma. Students are angry at Cornell’s tactics to change the conversation from one about their inadequate responses to one of student resilience. 

Now, students are taking a stand and demanding more through instagram campaigns and open letters to administrators. Not only are Cornell students facing the brunt of the trauma of these past few days, but students are also the ones rising up to demand that this collective trauma is acknowledged and respected. 

This is already “an exceptionally stressful time” of the year, as Pollack wrote — even without the events of the past week, and without the “disruption and strain of the last 20 months” of the pandemic, she continued. 

So it should not be surprising that the notion of taking time for oneself is incompatible with the toxic culture which has been bred to thrive here. Instead, we are expected to make do with the mental health resources at Cornell that are included in countless emails. While they are useful, these systems of support are also overwhelmed and not necessarily responsive to student needs.

We demand that Cornell does better by its students, faculty and staff who have spent the past three days in fear, unaware of how to protect themselves or others. Without more, it’s near impossible for us to take the time Pollack says we need — and that we deserve.

At Tuesday’s community support meeting, Danielle Haynes, associate dean of students for conflict coaching and case management, said, “We cannot fix all of these things right now.” This, we know. 

We’ll keep pushing for large-scale institutional changes beyond these past 80 hours. But for now, our baseline requests for empathy and space to recover should, at the least, be answered.

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.