Work, Health and Recreation
Issue   |   Tue, 10/03/2017 - 23:16

Amherst College is the type of campus that President Biddy Martin has described as having a “yeasty” culture, which she defined in her 2016 convocation speech as “characterized by unrest or agitation, in a state of turbulence, typically a creative or productive one.” The sight of open laptops during breakfast at Val is a testament to the ostensibly high-voltage energy of its students, who are constantly working on problem sets, readings, essays or extracurricular activities.

The pressure to feel that one must use one’s time to be as productive and efficient as possible is something that often drives students towards gathering a list of honors to prove our worth or supposed productivity. While we shouldn’t adopt a completely myopic lifestyle, we tire ourselves so we can be on the executive board on a club we’re lukewarm about because it looks good on a resume. Increasingly, we equate any form of busyness with success. We love to complain about the work we face even when we have little inclination of acting on it.

This pressure also tends to foster an academic culture that clashes, at times, with the pedagogical philosophy of the liberal arts. The most obvious of these clashes is the double — and occasionally triple — major. This is such a prevalent issue that the for example, the college’s neuroscience program cautions against double majoring in their “About” section on the school’s website. Of course, this is not to suggest that doubling up is always a mistake, but it is something that students should consider with a great deal of caution. Students ought not to jump onto this path for the sake of double majoring, and they should consider what they are giving up: the ability to use the open curriculum as a vehicle for academic exploration and intellectual fulfillment.

As fall break arrives, many students will use their days off to relax, go home and visit family. Most likely, they will also try to get ahead of their school work. Part of this is simply what comes with being in an academically rigorous institution, but part of it is also a product of a culture that measures our worth with empty merit badges. It leads to an odd type of preoccupation, one where people tend to worry more about being idle than overworked.

It is difficult to change the culture when the material organization driving that culture remains. Even if we unwind with a walk on the trails around campus or relax while throwing a frisbee on the quad, at the end of the day we will still be judged on how “well” we do in our classes by our grades. It’s true that what might be best for our mental and physical well being does not always overlap with what might be best for our GPAs. However, through a collective reckoning, our campus culture might inch closer to a healthier balance between the two.

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