As anyone connected to the College of William and Mary likely knows, students are up in arms about their administration. Students want the administration to hear them, and yet, each new announcement from the College comes as a slap in the face. Most notably, students called for a modified pass/fail policy like they have received in the previous two remote learning-based semesters, and like other, similar schools are providing their students. Of course, the administration disagreed, so grading will depict this semester like any other semester, as if students are not in the middle of a pandemic, as if students are not learning outside of the classroom and as if students are not all fighting their own battles.
But this article isn’t about the pass/fail policy, because so many other students, alumni and professors have already spoken and written about those concerns. Instead, I’d like to address the minimization of what students do, are expected to do, and what that all means in this article. I found my inspiration in the Apr. 6 email from Eric Garrison, which he sent to the entire student body, in which he presents advice from other students about how to get through this tough semester.
Advice in the email ranges from telling students to find motivation within themselves to work instead of working with others in mind, to telling students to create a network of classmates and to always stay connected. Some of this advice is definitely easier said than done, and it isn’t exactly groundbreaking information that will counteract these working conditions, but there’s nothing wrong with them.
The final piece of advice is definitely multifaceted, and it has already caused a stir on the College’s meme-related Facebook page, Swampy Memes for TWAMPy Teens. The person advised that students should only be involved in one organization or activity at the College in order to focus on what’s most important and to be the most successful. She noticed that so many students overextend themselves, which is why students are so insistent on modifying the pass/fail policy this semester.
I was disappointed to see this paragraph in Garrison’s email, first because the student ignores the fact that so many of these clubs and organizations enrich our lives and educations in ways that the classroom does not. I ask, should we treat these organizations all as burdens or something we just do because we have to? No, I don’t think so. However, while I really enjoy everything I am involved in at this point in my educational career at the College, I cannot ignore her true point about students overworking ourselves.
I don’t want to completely speak out against her because she does touch on something very important. So many students push themselves too far, and I am definitely not innocent here. Although I have learned throughout my college experience to prioritize the organizations and causes I value the most, I still find myself struggling to accomplish everything in the short 24 hours that make up each day. Overall, there’s this idea that we have to be involved in everything in order to be successful, and that stress is definitely not healthy or something we should continue to perpetuate. And being involved is never enough. We need elected and appointed positions because people tell us that being just a member is never good enough. I think this competitive way of collecting clubs starts in high school, when everyone tells us that colleges like to see us in multiple organizations and National Honor Society, which requires a minimum of three outside activities upon entry. We carry that attitude through college, and I cannot disagree with this student on this very point. Instead of joining organizations just for the sake of being involved, we should truly prioritize what we want the most in order to also be able to maintain good grades and an acceptable sleep schedule.
However, I don’t think that this pressure is our fault as students. She acknowledges those stressors we all feel, but she misplaces the blame. If we feel as if we have to overexert ourselves in order to make an impression on employers and the admissions offices at institutions of higher education, how can we just stop being involved in activities? That’s like purposefully making yourself a worse candidate in an already extremely competitive market that is only exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not enough to just tell us to stop overcommitting and then everything will be fine — that’s just as unrealistic as thinking we can throw ourselves into everything.
The most concerning part of the advice from this student is how she goes out of her way to put herself above all of her fellow classmates and how she belittles the struggles that apparently everyone but her faces. She writes, “I see that most of my classmates are in nine different things AND an orientation aide AND president of this AND recruitment chair for that… it literally makes me cringe that they are screaming for a Pass/Fail option. They did this to themselves and now want [the Provost] to literally save them from their poor choices.” Here, she is not only blaming students for existing in this highly competitive environment, but she is also acting as if everyone’s problems would disappear if only they were less involved. That completely ignores how this semester is different from previous, fully in-person semesters.
Initially, I suspected that since this student and Garrison himself are so willing to help students, they would actually want to offer support to the student. Instead, this message reads as boasting to other students and shaming classmates for trying to do what they think is best — whether those organizations align with their passions or if they are trying to learn new skills to use after college.
Overall, I definitely think that as students, we should reassess our involvements and try to only attend meetings for organizations that we care about. But we are a passionate generation. So many of these organizations benefit our campus as well as our community at-large. Don’t stop caring just because someone made you feel as if all of your problems are your own fault.
Alyssa Slovin ’22 is an English and marketing double major. Besides her work at The Flat Hat as opinions editor and Flat Hat Magazine as editor-in-chief, she is involved in Sinfonicron Light Opera Company, The Gallery and Active Minds. Email Alyssa at firstname.lastname@example.org.