March 26, 2024

KOH | Party’s Over — Instead, Work Hard and Rest Harder

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My typical week — similar to many other Cornellians — begins with a drowsy walk to Baker Laboratory for my 9 a.m. class and a daily cup of coffee from Libe Café, and ends in yawn-infested nights at Duffield Hall. At the end of the week, perhaps a night out with friends: pumping music vibrating through throngs of bodies and flashing lights. In this way, Cornell reflects the broader American college experience: a duality of late nights studying and late nights partying — or in other words, the “work hard, play hard” mentality.

Here at Cornell University, this mentality runs deep amongst students. On Wednesdays, groups of students trek the streets of Collegetown as the clock strikes midnight for Level B’s infamous, glowing fishbowls — tanks of mixed drinks accessorized with neon straws. Other days, Hideaway, another local bar, boasts a line of Cornellians waiting to enter the teeming crowd of students just beyond the doors. Fridays and Saturdays are largely reserved for fraternity parties, held at houses at which masses of people crowd the doors. After a stressful week of prelims, caffeine and races against deadlines, what could be a better reward than six shots and blasting music?

While at first glance, this mentality is harmless and even iconic of Cornell and American colleges, it can unveil a toxic culture that is ingrained into students and even normalized — one that pressures people into going out despite the many risks of partying.

Greek life at Cornell is extremely prevalent; it is the third largest Greek System in the country and about 1/3 of the student population is a part of a fraternity or sorority. At the same time, these fraternities have remained embroiled in constant controversy, whether it be hazing earlier this semester or sexual assault allegations leading to a hiatus on parties in Fall 2022. Yet, despite these suspensions and cases of drugging and sexual assault, the going out culture stands unaffected. When I returned to Cornell this past fall, I found myself overlooking such risks — in a way, they were instead normalized and actually played no role in influencing me to or not to attend a party.  

Part of this normalization stems from the “work hard, play hard mentality” that justifies energy drink fueled all-nighters and a messy game of beer pong. Because I had dedicated so much time to working, I must go out, no matter the risks.

Of course, these risks follow women everywhere beyond just the average Cornell fraternity party, but into the bars, house or apartment parties off campus and beyond. So how come, despite such a reputation, do students continue to put themselves in such a vulnerable position? While of course students should not stay trapped at home out of fear or suspicion, these cases that taint the experiences of going out are often overlooked and even normalized.

Despite the way it is phrased, “work hard, play hard” does anything but encourage a balanced lifestyle between one’s studies and social lives. Instead, it pressures or even corners students to the very extremities of both spectrums. By doing so, this very mentality keeps students in a draining cycle of overwhelming themselves with work during the week and countering the stress with parties during the weekend. There’s no leeway for students on alternative ways to destress; with the culture of going out so prominent at Cornell University, the fear of exclusion or missing out — more popularly referred to as FOMO — is just as prevalent amongst students. On weekends when I stay in, I feel a hint of remorse or exclusion when I hear laughter ringing through the streets below my apartment in Collegetown or scroll through flashy pictures of dressed up friends posted across social media. This fear of social exclusion stems from the toxic mindset revolving around partying in college; if I do not go out, am I wasting away my years as a college student? If I am not partying, am I even properly enjoying the weekend?

At the same time,  this toxic going out mentality is actually shaped and molded by an arguably more toxic academic, “work hard” culture that is rooted at Cornell and other universities. Cornell is especially notorious for its rigorous courses, even within the Ivy League, and I’ve seen it cited as the toughest Ivy to graduate from. Every day of the week, sleep deprived students can be spotted napping at Olin Library desks or trudging through the cold air at midnight after spending all day on-campus. Often, I find myself going out with friends solely because we had a “bad” week of work. Yet in this relentless cycle of caffeine and alcohol, are students actually able to take care of their mental health? Bombarded by academic and social stress and expectations, it seems almost implausible for students to actually rest or destress in such an environment.

I myself am still struggling to break out of this pattern that so seemingly defines the classic college experience; I implore students, however, to ponder about why they are going out in the first place: is it to truly have fun, or is it to simply to “party hard” or to fit into the social expectations placed upon us? Perhaps this year, all students need to truly recuperate and unwind is to lull in bed, laugh at a cult classic and fall asleep before the clock strikes midnight.  

Serin Koh is a third year student in the College of Arts and Sciences. Her fortnightly column And That’s the Skoop explores student, academic and social culture, as well as national issues, at Cornell. She can be reached at [email protected].

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