October 3, 2022

PAPPAS | Retelling Cornhell 

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Reading my previous columns (one in which I gave a bold but fair review of the pre-med path, and another in which I call Cornell blatantly unkind to its students) you might assume that I haven’t absolutely loved every minute of my time here. My sentiments about Cornell aren’t entirely important (who cares what I think anyway) but the fact that a lot of students share similar sentiments is. The sayings “Cornhell” and “Shithica” originated from somewhere, and it certainly wasn’t from the love we have for this school. Once we understand how we came to “hate the one we love” perhaps we can learn to “hate” Cornell less and maybe even not at all. 

There are aspects of Cornell that we as students can’t control, like the academic pressure and the less-than-optimal weather. We can, however, control the narrative that we construct about our time here on the hill. Changing the story we tell ourselves and the rest of the world might be all we need to change our experience here — and everyone else’s perceptions of Cornell too. 

From the 1970’s to the early 2000’s Cornell earned it’s reputation as a “suicide school” after a series of “suicide clusters.” Following a particularly bad cluster from 2009 to 2010, Cornell again supported its depressing status. A title as horrific as “suicide school” was — and still is — bad PR for a private institution like Cornell. Perhaps, in the 1970s and again in 2010, repeating this particular narrative about Cornell had a purpose — to light a fire under the administration to make some changes to campus culture. Now, though, decades later, I’d argue that there is very little good in telling yourself and the rest of the world the same depressing narrative about Cornell. 

If we become too comfortable with this image of Cornell as a “suicide school,” we’re in danger of trapping Cornell and its students in this vicious cycle of psychological sickness. Cracking seemingly harmless jokes about the gorge nets doesn’t help us break free from this cycle, either. Coping with comedy has its limits. For many of us, Cornell was our first choice (it was mine) or at least our second or third. And if it wasn’t at the top of your list, you’re still here studying at Cornell, so you might as well make the best of the situation. 

We’ve made a name for ourselves as the “easiest Ivy to get into but the hardest one to stay in.” This statement reeks not only of self-deprecation but also self-aggrandizement, trapping us in a psychological straight-jacket of our own making. We’ve been telling ourselves that Cornell is hard — academically and emotionally — because, this in turn allows every Cornellian to identify as a hard worker by virtue of the fact that they go to Cornell. To some extent, catastrophizing our circumstances at Cornell inflates our egos, which makes us feel good. Eventually, though, the ego tires, and it deflates. 

Yet we continue to feed ourselves the same story even when it no longer makes us feel good. In fact, it makes us feel very bad. If we think of the prelims as impossible feats, they become much harder to conquer. If we focus our mental energy on everything that pits this institution against its students, we don’t leave room in our brains to acknowledge all the things that Cornell does well. 

What if we told ourselves, and the rest of the world too, that Cornell wasn’t actually all that bad? 

The prelims are challenging but not impossible. Sure, it’s been a particularly cold and rainy month, but at least we’re not getting hit by a hurricane. Here, you see, I’ve spun a different web with the same string. The plot stayed the same, but the story itself changed. Depending on how you frame your own narrative, you can experience the same circumstances quite differently. When we make an effort to find the good in the bad, we open ourselves up to positive experiences that might reshape the way we think about our time at Cornell.  

Learning to look for the good in the bad might be beneficial to enhancing your experience at Cornell, but finding the good in the good is just as important too. Find what you enjoy about Cornell and focus your attention on that. I like walking alone to my classes with the same song that’s been on repeat for a week now. I like working (read: falling asleep on my work) in the law school on the comfy couch next to the fake fireplace. And I love the jumbo blueberry muffins at Goldie’s. These don’t have to be your favorite things about Cornell. In fact, they probably won’t be, but once you’ve identified what your favorite things are, hold onto them, think more about them and talk more about them too. 

Once we prove to ourselves that Cornell isn’t actually all that bad, we might be able to prove to the rest of the world too that there’s a lot to be happy about here. 

Isabelle Pappas (she/her) is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Like It Iz runs every other Monday this semester.