A few days before I started classes at Cornell, I walked into the Human Ecology Building for the first time. I frantically called my sister, a recent Cornell alumna, at least four times to ask her how to find the building. This followed two public phone calls to my mom — in tears. I wanted to find my classrooms on the overwhelming campus before the first day. When I finally walked inside, what I found was more staggering than the dread of being a new student as a sophomore.
I once sat in on a college info session, where a stereotype named Jessica gushed about her love for the musicals she’d produced at her university. I don’t remember her major; I don’t remember the others who’d spoken on the panel; I don’t even remember the university where this took place. But I remember Jessica’s presumed willingness to die for her college, and the musically inclined students she led. I remember the life in her eyes when she described the fulfillment student leadership awarded her. It was a true college love story, which inspired and nauseated me simultaneously.
In January 2016, I bought a pair of black Adrienne Vittadini heels so I could make a good impression. I was a sophomore at Cornell and had transferred in the previous semester. I had friends, but I wanted a home. I was going to rush a sorority. A week later, I joined a long line of girls waiting to enter sorority houses for rush.
I am a fashion design management major, and I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. Yet, some tension in my education exists. I’m grateful for the support of the College of Human Ecology but unsure of fashion’s placement in it beside majors like nutritional sciences and human development. I have loved my fashion management classes and have wished there were more. I have benefited from the opportunity to concentrate in communications but have been disheartened when one of the courses felt more similar to neuroscience.
I’m in a half-bad mood before I’ve even woken up. It’s a Thursday — my busiest day of the week. It kicks off with a 9:05 a.m. class after three to four hours of sleep. My alarm clock is frustrated by my nonresponse, and I shut it off to check the weather report. Another 20-degree day with a chance of snow.
My mother now is different than the mother of my childhood memories. I remember the latter in comforting rhymes. She sang a song that healed every scraped knee and bumped head:
Sana, sana, colita de rana
Si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana
It was a nonsensical song meaning, “Heal, heal, little frog tail / If it doesn’t heal today, it’ll heal tomorrow.” While I never knew its meaning, the cure-all was more powerful than any Disney-themed band-aid. She taught my sister and me the colors and numbers in Spanish, although I had a hard time remembering “amarillo” because it was the hardest to say. She asked us endearing questions: Did I want “espaghetti” for dinner or some Jell-O-colored yellow she’d made for me.
“Ppl knocking each other off lol,” quips the nonchalant Instagram bio of the account @diet_prada. An angry undertone is palpable in the account’s ironic humor, however. The owners of the account, and the 1.1 million users who follow it, have had enough. Diet Prada has been popularized — and trademarked, according to the account’s name on Instagram — as a term referring to knockoffs in fashion. Within the account, a garment that resembles Prada is exposed as a cheaper rendition that leaves behind a toxic aftertaste.
Conditions in Collegetown lately seem to echo a sentiment proclaimed by Jimmy McMillan, who ran for governor of New York in 2010: “The rent is too damn high.”
Humorous campaign slogan aside, this has become the mantra of Cornell students as well, as rent rates for apartments in Collegetown have increased substantially over the past several years. According to The Ithaca Times, in 2014, Ithaca was ranked 11th on The New York Times’ list of most expensive United States cities, just one spot behind the nation’s financial capital of New York. This accompanied a report released by the Urban Institute in 2015, which revealed that about 44 percent of American renters spent over 35 percent of their income on rent in 2010. The rent issue is a result of too many students searching for too few off-campus housing options. Over half Cornell’s 14,000 undergraduate students live off campus, and Cornell’s on-campus facilities cannot accommodate the demand for housing.