Somehow, every freshman is simultaneously horny and anxious and tired and excited and sweaty during O-week. Part of my on-campus job involves trying to parse through these feelings with first-year students, assuaging their fears and elevating their excitement. I generally try to keep things positive. I tell them how I love the Ithaca Farmers Market, Manndible oatmeal chocolate chip walnut cookies and running through Forest Home Drive. I slipped up last year when I was on a student panel for Cornell Days and a really perceptive prefrosh asked what I didn’t like about Cornell.
Last week, after a phone conversation on what I wanted to do after I graduate ended inconclusively in tabled arguments and passive-aggressive goodbyes, my dad texted me the median income of a political science Ph.D. “About the same payscale as an operator” at the company where he works, he wrote. “You will study hard for LSAT and then we can discuss.”
It hurts knowing it would be literally and metaphorically easier on his heart if I had just gone all-out for law school or had read Cracking the Coding Interview back when I had the chance. Anything would be better than my current trajectory of understably worrisome directionless half-assery. My father is painfully practical and intensely loving, with the kind of radical sensibility of so many other Asian immigrants in America. After all, Baba already took his risks: He started a revolution and fought for it through a horribly bloody war.
The great scam of Cornell’s College of Arts & Sciences is that it fails to provide a liberal arts education despite purporting to do so. And with a $54,584-a-year price tag at that. In a comprehensive final report on recommended changes to the undergraduate curriculum, the Arts & Sciences Curriculum Review Committee suggested a simplification of the current system of distribution requirements. Instead of a confusing matrix of requirements, the Committee recommends requiring students to take one course in a simple set of 10 categories. The Committee’s proposal is a reshuffling of a curricular system that has promised a curriculum of breadth but instead left students with a failed curriculum of distraction.
“But it didn’t happen,” is the chill response I got from some friends (and my mom!) after learning that we may have been tiptoeing along the asymptote of terror. Apparently being on the brink of tragedy doesn’t cut it anymore, and why should it? Our generation found perverse unity in the wholly American constancy of lockdown drills, in the nonchalance of backpack searches and school security cameras. If you were to print the Wikipedia page for “List of School Shootings in the United States,” it would be 172 pages long. (For comparison, “List of awards and nominations received by Meryl Streep” is just 35.)
Gun violence is so routine that it’s easy to forget that we’re living in an international abnormality.
My visit to Iran over winter break was like catching up with your best friend from elementary school years later, as an adult: awkward, albeit familiar. My journal entries from the last time I visited — five years ago, when I was 15 pounds lighter and had recently rapped all of “Thrift Shop” in a live acoustic performance in front of my peers and World History teacher — were mostly about how weird the dubbed Turkish soap operas on satellite TV were and how everyone suddenly got really into volleyball. I spent most of that visit sleeping until 3 p.m. and then playing Super Mario flash games with my cousins until it was cool enough outside to go stroll through historic Shiraz and all its stunning mosques and mausoleums.
This time around, though, the entries have scribbled-in sentences like “Everyone keeps asking if I have a boyfriend,” “so many people got divorced” and “apparently depression runs in my family.” Trips to Iran used to be a welcomed hiatus from East Coast cynicism and a rare chance to have fun with some of my favorite people in the world who I missed so, so dearly; instead, this visit got really real, really fast. My best friend from back home just landed in India last week. She makes similar observations: “It feels harder to hang out now that everyone’s grown up, because we don’t talk about kid stuff.” Questions like “How’s school?” or “What movies do you watch?” no longer suffice.
A note to the Interfraternity Council: This was definitely “normal.”
To imply that the commodification and abuse of the female body is anything but ordinary is naive. To suggest that the sort of amplified masculinity inherent in the system of the American fraternity is neither an incubator of nor a conduit for misogyny is deluded. To deny that sexism in Greek life is routine is appalling. To say we should be surprised is an insult.
I won’t rehash all the arguments against Greek life, because I could never explain them as well as Priya Kankanhalli ’19 in the eloquent and chilling “Brotherhood Inverted” or as Ara Hagopian ’18 did bluntly and assertively in “Greek Life Should Not Exist” — and also because they’ve been repeated over and over again in almost every collegiate and national publication. But I have a lot of anger; anger not only at the recurring abhorrent conduct of members of Greek organizations, but anger at the responses from both the University and from the Greek community.
On the first few episodes of ABC’s The Bachelor, when the eponymous character needs to quickly get to know a woman during a cocktail party before deciding whether to kick her out of his romance mansion, he often resorts to a routine command: “Tell me about yourself.” It’s an unsettling and somewhat existential prompt, right up there with “What’s a fun fact about yourself?” though not nearly as awful. (Thank goodness we’ve more or less been removing “fun facts” from the zeitgeist.) And yet, we still have to answer it on interviews, dates, The Bachelor and, worst of all, the first discussion section of the year. I recently re-read the email I sent to the list of fellow first-year spring admits two years ago, where I attempted to sound cool and interesting and ultimately tell these strangers “about myself.” I said I was interested in politics and in my free time I was “usually reading, succumbing to a Netflix binge or excessively snapchatting,” which was all true, I guess, but somewhat grim in retrospect. Watching Netflix and using Snapchat does not a particularly interesting person make, and it sure doesn’t tell you anything “about” that person either. No braggies, but I do things that are more fulfilling than just watching TV or using social media — I’m just extraordinarily embarrassed to announce them to my discussion section or list them in a Twitter bio.
I’ll be quite honest with you: I’m trying to hammer out this column at the pace I once only reserved for SAT essays and angry-turned-angsty Facebook messages. It’s Thanksgiving weekend, and my family is waiting on me to help put up the Christmas tree. My five-year-old cousin is periodically running into the room in which I’m writing just to ask me if it’s 8:00 p.m. yet, because he really wants to put up the decorations. I can’t let down the world’s most adorable five-year-old, can I? I’m Muslim and I’m a damn nut for Christmas.
I tend to take the opinion that banality is beautiful. Where columnist Kelly Song ’20 rejects the stability of suburbia, I often revel in it. I love my suburban home, my little white neighbors with their little white dogs, the purple minivan that I drove semi-embarrassedly during high school, cutting up oranges for soccer games, the whole schtick. Life isn’t as full of ups and downs as sappy aphorisms would have you believe; it’s mostly steady lines. As I’ve written about before in some form or another, delighting in mundanity is wonderful.
I am nothing if not inconsistent. I’ve written about romanticization and authenticity a few times, mainly on my frustrations with the urgency of nonchalance in college and the somewhat paradoxical burden of sugarless sincerity. My point stayed more or less the same: Romanticization and its sister, coolness, are harmful to how we experience life. Earlier this month, columnist Paul Russell ‘19 wrote an upbeat defense of romanticization on social media. “Sure, it’s artificial,” says Russell, “but so is every painting you’ve ever loved.