To the Editor:
I appreciate the editorial board's sentiment, expressed in its most recent editorial, "Sick and tired of being sick and tired," that we ought to take a hard look at "stress culture" at Columbia. Yet I dispute its understanding of what constitutes the solution: students having "a willingness to reverse our most ingrained habits in the interest of long-term self-care."
Ostensibly, much of our stress is definitely "self-inflicted." We often take more classes than we should, join clubs that eat up our time, and neglect our physical health. Self-awareness of what we impose upon ourselves is vital to taking charge of how we live. (I would even argue that college is supposed to be a sort of sandbox for adulthood, and trial and error plays an important role in teaching us about personal responsibility.)
However, proposing that the remedy to "stress culture" is "a paradigm shift" involving students fundamentally changing how they live is not only wishful thinking. It's unproductive thinking.
Our "self-inflicted" stress hardly exists in a vacuum. A multitude of external factors push us toward making unhealthy decisions. The editorial board acknowledges this in a highly limited way by observing that upperclassmen should "lead by example" so that new students aren't led to believe that pre-"paradigm shift" thinking is normal. But it's not just other students.
For instance, I find it strange that faculty, the people who dictate how we spend most of our time here, are rarely mentioned in the context of discussions about stress. They play a large role in fostering our masochistic academic culture (which AJ Staughton recently elucidated in these pages). Professors rarely acknowledge the sheer volume and difficulty of the coursework they assign, let alone sympathize with the fact that students take more than one course at a time. In this case, internal resolve can only help students so much.
The editorial board very rightly observes that measures taken by the student-facing administration through the expansion of Columbia Psychological Services and the center for Student Advising tend to have a merely palliative function in dealing with issues of stress culture. They come after the fact. But I disagree with the contention that this means that it's now up to students. Instead, it really just points to the fact that the student-facing administration, including advising and CPS, is strangely divorced from the academic life of the University and is not currently positioned to change Columbia culture.
The editorial page is frequently read by top administrators and faculty. When the editorial board uses this power to speak down to fellow students, and implicitly reassure deans and professors that they aren't responsible for the culture they create, it abuses this power.
Dec. 4, 2015
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in history.
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