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GROSKAUFMANIS | Two College Students Walk into a Comedy Show

Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld, two of America’s most well-respected veteran comedians, won’t perform on college campuses. Their reasoning centers around the usual complaints about political correctness, assuming that today’s young people don’t appreciate, or maybe can’t even handle, the types of humor they tend to use in their sets. High-profile examples of clashes between college audiences and comedians are ripe for cherry-picking. Last December Nimesh Patel, a writer for SNL, was pulled off stage in the middle of a set at Columbia University after one of his jokes was deemed too offensive for the event: an example that fits snuggly into the idea that college students can’t take a joke. But in an op-ed in The New York Times that followed the incident, Patel himself acknowledged a complexity that this stereotype doesn’t completely capture, writing, “I do not think we should let the actions of a small group — actions that get blown out of proportion because they feed a narrative many people want to hear — paint college campuses as bad places to perform and paint this next generation as doomed.”
I talked to students who perform comedy at Cornell, at other universities and in cities across the United States.

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GROSKAUFMANIS | Casual Dysfunction and the College Experience

So much of the stereotypical American college experience, as it’s packaged in pop culture and the memories of nostalgic alumni, seems to be wrapped up in anticipation — and sometimes the romanticization — of dysfunction. Even in the age of hyper-attention to self-care, college remains a bubble in which it’s normal, even commendable, to do things like pull successive all-nighters in the name of work or push passions onto the back burner because they don’t fit our notions of productivity. Staying up all night to study is presented as evidence of a strong work ethic, rather than an unhealthy last resort. At Harvard, students in the class of 2022 were even asked to complete an online “Sleep 101” course, designed to help them develop healthy sleep habits in an environment as “competitive and busy” as college. It is particularly within the context of any work hard, play hard environment, where opposite and sometimes incompatible extremes regarding school and going out are expected to exist simultaneously, that a lot of unsustainable behavior is necessitated.

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GROSKAUFMANIS | At Least You’re Having Fun

I’m not great at painting, but this semester I spent about six hours a week in Tjaden trying to paint anyways. On somewhat of a whim, I took a friend’s advice and signed up for an introductory art class. I was definitely the least experienced in the class. And still, the environment it created — where I had room to mess up and get better, where I was out of my element and felt no pressure to make anything perfect — brought me a kind of peace that I haven’t found in many other spaces here at Cornell. I painted everything from a portrait of a stranger to an exterior of the Cornell Sun building (that I ultimately had to call “abstract” because it was unforgivingly unrealistic.)

Every few weeks, we would have class-wide critiques where I’d nervously hang my attempts on the wall next to perfect, often photo-like pieces done by freshman Fine Arts students.

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GROSKAUFMANIS | Actions Speak Louder Than Wardrobes

Today’s cover of the New Yorker shows Barry Blitt’s “Welcome to Congress,” a moving visual tribute to the historic number of women who have been elected to serve in the Congress. The cartoon features figures that appear to be Sharice Davids J.D. ’10, one of the first female Native Americans elected to Congress and the first openly LGBTQ representative elected from Kansas, Ilhan Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who at 29 is the youngest woman to ever be elected to Congress. By now most of us have heard these names and registered these accomplishments, but the New Yorker cover really communicates how this election cycle was a monumental deviation from the status quo. However, an obvious consequence of change is pushback, and not all media has been as welcoming to this group of trailblazers. Last week, the internet erupted into controversy over, of all things, Ocasio-Cortez’s wardrobe — which is a really disappointing sentence to be typing in 2018.

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GROSKAUFMANIS | Electing to Show Up

 

The first election I ever voted in was a down-ballot wipeout, at least with respect to the people I was voting for.  My introduction to the democratic process was coupled with my introduction to large-scale electoral loss, and like many others, it was a loss that I didn’t see coming. I remember exactly how I felt on the morning of November 9, 2016: dejected, blind-sided, stupid.  (Also cold, because the weather that day in Ithaca was rainy and dramatic.) Before election day, I had listened to one too many episodes of the FiveThirtyEight elections podcast, interpreting their analysis to mean that there wasn’t much to worry about, so I didn’t.  The lead up to the 2016 election, at least for myself, was a lot of preemptive, unearned celebration of a victory that never came to fruition.

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GROSKAUFMANIS | Land of Second Chances

Two years ago, while sitting on a roof in Collegetown, I saw a girl run barefoot down Catherine Street holding an open handle of Absolut while zig-zagging away from a cop who, from my vantage point, was palpably frustrated but remarkably patient. I couldn’t see what happened when they reached the bottom of the hill, or if the girl — probably drunk and potentially underaged — got into any kind of trouble. But if she did, it was probably a muted version of the kind of punishment one might receive outside this unusual land of second chances. Relative to other places, there seems to be little consequence for “bad behavior” at Cornell. Sure, on any given weekend in Collegetown you may see an officer lecturing a freshman about an open container or someone being written up for peeing in public, but for the most part, illegal behavior here — in this uniquely privileged, unusually wealthy bubble we live in — seems to happen with near impunity.

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GROSKAUFMANIS | Framing History

This September, students in my old school district in Virginia returned to a newly named Justice High School — previously J.E.B. Stuart High. Same walls and infrastructure; new decorations, sports uniforms and absence of Confederate memorialization. Stuart, the dethroned-honoree-in-question, was a Confederate general who fought to maintain slavery. The name change, which neutralizes the school’s explicit nod to Confederate history, was the subject of a long, arduous debate that is still ongoing, according to the nearly 200 comments on the Washington Post’s most recent coverage. From one end, this name adjustment is read as an attempt to rewrite history, a pandering to political correctness.

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GROSKAUFMANIS | Doing the Most

Last Thursday at Thanksgiving dinner, a few of my cousins and I spent a solid 30 minutes trying to explain the evolution of the meaning of the word “extra” to one of our aunts. Traditionally, the word just means “more than is due, usual or necessary.” But recently, we — meaning mostly young people — have adopted it to describe something (or someone) that is over-the-top, excessive and usually kind of annoying. Uses of the word can be benign; the other day I was shopping with a friend, and she asked me if the skirt she was trying on was “too extra to wear to class.”

But other times, the word, and the sentiment behind it, is used to criticize effort and sincerity, like the girl who raises her hand “too often” in class or the guy who posts “too openly” about his life on Facebook. While we tried to explain this to our aunt, she kept getting caught up on what she perceived to be the neutral nature of the word. “Doesn’t extra just mean more?” Well, yes and no.

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GROSKAUFMANIS | An Audience of One

I know exactly what happened on this day last year, and the year before that, and five years before that. Since 2010, I’ve been keeping up with twelve notebooks: one for each month. Each year, I work my way through all twelve of them, returning to them month by month, writing and comparing. What started out as a random project in middle school has evolved into a way for me to keep record, and to keep a running conversation with myself between the years. I can flip through pages from 2011 and remember what my world looked like (hint: not great, considering it was middle school).

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GROSKAUFMANIS | The Trendiness of Activism

It’s no secret that activism is becoming trendy. In today’s day and age, famous comedians are taking stances on the Affordable Care Act, supermodels are posting their opinions about gun control, and The New York Times just published an in-depth piece on how “wokeness” is the new cool. As a partial consequence of this, many people’s personal and political identities have become inextricably linked. A lot of people today seem to be creating personal “brands” that reflect their penchant for social justice — whether they are celebrities or students. For the most part, I honestly think this is fine.