February 9, 2023

SENZON | Equity Within Cornell’s Pre-professional Scene

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Getting back into the usual swing of things can be especially hard when coming back from winter break — for all college students. While my usual setting back home in New Jersey isn’t drastically different in terms of climate, there’s something about the air in Ithaca that feels so different. Nonetheless, it’s just that. A feeling. 

There are many thoughts and feelings I have associated with the beginning of the spring semester. The dominant feeling is the positively refreshing knowledge that we college students have been given a fresh start. A change to maintain or redeem or perform from the fall semester. Although things hadn’t gone as intended in every aspect of the fall semester, I walked away feeling proud of myself. I was proud of the grit and discipline I exercised — but most importantly, I was proud of staying authentic to my character in a completely new environment. Among the many aspects of Cornell that can make it inherently overwhelming, such as the immense pre-professional focus, I chose to fully immerse myself in as many activities as possible.

Perhaps this wasn’t the best approach to my first semester, but I gained some takeaways. In addition to these reflections, I’ve been able to pick up on themes within the timeline of a typical year at Cornell semester-by-semester. Firstly, the first two weeks of school are always the most brutal. Believe it or not — without fail — I’ve managed to overload myself this time two consecutive semesters in a row. At this time in the semester, pre-recruitment and recruitment events are looking for students to join their organizations. 

At Cornell, it’s common that these respective organizations have lineage structures in which a new member will undergo a “new member education” process and obtain all necessary knowledge on how they can succeed, whether it be logistical or project-based actionable. Given the pre-professional nature of clubs and organizations at Cornell, it can become easy to feel cornered. There’s this unspoken expectation to have a career path decided, or a niche within a career path that you can market to others with executive board positions. It would be foolish to acknowledge that there is a reason behind this — it prepares students for the long hours and future anticipatory challenges that the world of work implies. Yet, in truth, it feels slightly unnecessary. Should students that are only one year older than you be behaving as though they’re a decade more knowledgeable? The answer is no. As students pursuing higher education, our goal is to learn from one another, but it is indispensable that it be in a collaborative and growth-focused manner. There is no opportunity for growth when underclass college students are asked to pretend they know the ins and outs of their professional interests. It’s unrealistic to ridicule students for their lack of professional knowledge.

Take, for instance, students who come from first-generation backgrounds entering Cornell with fewer resources than their wealthier peer counterparts at an inherent disadvantage in regards to pre-professional knowledge. Let me ask you once again: Is it reasonable to expect students to have done their fair share of research on a given topic while others may have entered with it? Or rather, what is the solution to this issue with student-run organizations? From a birds-eye view, these organizations look like fantastic opportunities for students to develop their breadth of knowledge on their professional interests while exploring their social lives; these things are appealing to a first-year Cornellian with an untainted perspective on the benefits of joining organizations such as pre-professional fraternities. To some students — a pre-professional fraternity is an opportunity to network and find social mobility at Cornell, who don’t already have the privilege of utilizing their parent’s networks. 

It’s important to address some solutions — and equity-based organizations — to the issue of making the pre-professional scene on Cornell’s campus more inclusive for those coming from less-privileged backgrounds, making it easier to navigate through unfamiliar student-run organizations. Among the many pre-professional fraternities on-campus, a handful of them are less selective than usual. Depending on who you are, you might want to join an organization that has a more selective atmosphere to it; selective pre-professional fraternities make leveraging your interests a seamless process, and they help you find your niche. This cannot be said for less selective pre-professional fraternities where the network is inherently larger but less personal. 

Moving attention away from pre-professional fraternities, organizations such as The Wardrobe do a fantastic job at making Cornell’s campus more accessible and inclusive to students. The Wardrobe’s main initiative is to provide formal business attire to students in need of clothing for professional endeavors. It’s organizations like these that emphasize the importance of making opportunities accessible to students of all backgrounds. 

My intention in writing this is that you walk away understanding more about Cornell’s professional scene on-campus and that you understand the value of accessible opportunities for students of all socio-economic backgrounds.

Adam Senzon ’26 (he/him) is a freshman at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected]. My Two Sen-ts runs every other Tuesday this semester.