YAO | A Dilemma of Major Proportions

Not to flex on any ILR and AEM majors out there in the wild, but I have cycled through pretty much all forty majors offered in Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences. Just recently, I started fantasizing about pre-med despite my poor biology lab partner having to carry the both of us through the dissection unit (look, I’m squeamish, okay?). If I had a dollar for every time I have heard the words, “Wait…I’m looking at your schedule…but I can’t tell what your major is” I wouldn’t be running out of BRBs the way I am now. 

The College of Arts and Sciences is unique among Cornell’s schools in that all students come in as undecided, for better and for worse. Experimentation is not only possible but encouraged through distribution requirements and major prerequisites. I have cycled through classes ranging from law to visual studies to economics to computer science.

YAO | The Class of 2024 Deserves More

In the fall of 2019, I spent my orientation attending as many events as I could pack into my schedule, exchanging chatter and contact information with anyone and everyone I met, and walking over 20,000 steps each day before collapsing, exhausted but giddy, into my bed. 

The Class of 2020, on the other hand, saw their classmates for the first time as little squares on a computer screen. Students on campus were greeted not by President Pollack’s Schoellkopf Field speech, but by a quarantine period before being allowed to venture out onto the school grounds. Those students studying at home know even less about the atmosphere of the Cornell campus, about the first late-night foray into Bear Necessities and those initial awkward dorm room conversations. 

Their college firsts have been disrupted in so many other ways as well. All classes have been modified to accommodate the new online format. I don’t care how much you love your major –– it’s hard to feel passionate about anything after you’ve been staring at a computer screen for six hours in a row, five days a week.

YAO | Give Me a Break

During one of the wellness days in March, I took the advice on the Cornell University Instagram page to take a long walk around campus and refresh. My sense of rejuvenation lasted for all of two and a half minutes until I remembered an assignment deadline fast approaching. I spent the majority of those two days catching up on work and cramming for a quiz scheduled for the Friday of that week. Based on the number of people hunched over laptops in the Physical Sciences Building where I was studying, I wasn’t the only one who viewed wellness days as synonymous with workdays. 

I hate to break it to you, Cornell, but four random days off during the semester don’t count as a real “mental health break.” Even during a non-pandemic semester, by this point in the year students are running on fumes. Spring break usually acts as an oasis of reprieve within the mid-semester slump and offers a chance to muster up enough motivation to tackle the latter part of the semester.

YAO | Bring Back Opt-In S/U

Last semester, Cornell implemented an opt-in S/U grading policy, where students had until the end of the semester to switch any class to S/U — even if the course did not previously offer it as a grading option. Furthermore, courses where students received a satisfactory grade could be used to satisfy major or minor requirements. In doing so, the University recognized the need for flexibility and solicitude during a year where we saw the world as we knew it fall apart. Some of that empathy might come in handy this semester as well. This fall, Cornell chose to revert to standard grading practices, implying that students should treat the semester the same manner they treated every other year.

YAO | Zoom and Gloom

Every time I leave a Zoom meeting, I’m left with an acute sense of emptiness. There’s no satisfaction or relief derived from getting through a lecture without falling asleep. No lingering sense of happiness that usually comes from catching up with a friend. With a single click, I’m thrust back into the stark silence of my room — a silence that only reminds me how much of an illusion these on-screen interactions really are. Think about it: At the most basic level, we’re conversing with an amalgam of pixels that either form people’s out-of-focus faces or black boxes with some white letters on them.

YAO | Cornell Study Abroad: Home Edition

For the first two months of summer, I didn’t even entertain the idea of staying home. Even as the nationwide case count skyrocketed, my friends and I discussed what in-person lectures might entail and made plans to meet up once classes started. The little town of Ithaca lodged in my mind as a refuge, where I would finally be free from the horrors of reality. Then August came, and the blows began to rain down. Cornell announced that it didn’t have the means to quarantine all the students from states on the New York Travel Advisory list.