College can be suffocating, especially when living on-campus, as the majority of Vassar students do. Sometimes, it can be difficult to separate spaces of work from spaces of relaxation. Seeing your professors walking their dogs on campus and being able to view academic buildings from your bedroom window does much to foster a close campus community, but in return, it makes it hard to truly separate yourself from school. How can you lead an independent life when you live on a college campus?
I find it tough to relax on campus. Vassar never sleeps. Although the grounds are cloistered and shut-out from the rest of the world, there is always something going on. The library is always open. Security patrols night and day. The Deece is always looming in the foreground, beckoning you to consume some late night snack. Your friends are always a text, a call or a five-minute walk away. It’s overwhelming.
Personally, I feel more dependent here at Vassar than I felt at home. At home, I was tasked with getting myself where I needed to go, either through public transportation or our family vehicle. I shopped for groceries, made my own meals, cared for my sister, cleaned, did school work, managed a work schedule and engaged in a few extracurriculars. I felt active in an adult life, and this was normal.
At Vassar, however, the meal plan controls what we put in our bodies. Food is abundant and everywhere and often goes to waste. We are assigned rooms and roommates randomly with little thinking or foresight. Our bathrooms, hallways, parlors and classrooms are kept in near-immaculate condition for us with little student acknowledgement to our staff.
Although all this is done in order to help students focus on their schoolwork, it instead takes away the agency that college students are searching for and need.
Without control over what we eat, where we sleep and having every facility cleaned and primed for us, students have no tasks but school. This does not prepare students for the real world. In the real world, we must cook, clean and be able to get ourselves places that may be further than walking distance. Dependency is far from what college students on the cusp of actual adulthood require.
The underlying feeling that students must constantly be doing schoolwork pervades across Vassar’s campus, in addition to college campuses across the country—it is often seen as the most overwhelming aspect of college students’ Lives.
Watching a show, reading a book for pleasure or engaging in a personal creative endeavor are all commonly regarded as a waste of time. If it can’t be graded, it’s worthless. This unhealthy message stifles students’ creativity and places disproportionate significance on grades, deteriorating students’ well-being in the process.
This constant busyness lends itself to the classic “work hard, play hard” mantra, a mentality ubiquitous across college campuses. After a hectic week of classes, performances, rehearsals and sports practices, students are encouraged to unwind by partying. Although going out can be enjoyable and serves as a way to meet new people, become closer with friends and let loose, a campus culture fixated upon going out as a sole means of recuperation is incredibly unhealthy. Instead of recovering from the stresses of the pre-finals grind by taking time to sleep, reflect and relax, students are pushed to distract themselves from their troubles instead of recovering from them.
The toxic pairing of perpetual work and the subsequent need to party creates a cycle that is hard to break. For many students, it seems impossible to escape this loop. Eventually, students may feel that the only way they can unwind from the stresses of the week is through partying, an idea that is completely untrue.
The scope of this culture on campus is difficult to observe while at Vassar. Until staying off-campus for a few days last weekend, I did not realize how intense of an importance Vassar places on both working and playing hard. I also did not realize how fatigued my body and mind were from this ongoing process.
After having slept for the better part of a day, I was confused as to why my body felt the need to sleep for so long, even though I had slept a decent amount the night before. I analyzed my behaviors and habits over the past few weeks and began to understand. Constantly being around people, both friends and strangers, the unending amount of schoolwork and the pressure to blow off steam through partying had taken a toll on my body that I could not consciously feel until I rested. I finally understood that you cannot both work hard and play hard, and that this common practice leaves no room for “resting hard.”
Students must honestly evaluate their work, party and rest habits in order to analyze whether they are treating their bodies with the respect they deserve. Students must find time to relax and disengage from Vassar, perhaps through listening to music or calling family and friends back home. Students must also find time to engage in creative activities that they enjoy. Regardless of the medium, creativity is vital to existence, and is also healing. A de-emphasis on the importance of graded work lowers stress and gives students an outlet through which stress can be funneled.
It is also important that students escape from the confines of campus every once in a while. Although many Vassar students believe that the surrounding area has little to offer, I am inclined to believe that these students have not truly attempted to engage in activities outside of Vassar. Here in the Hudson Valley, we are not only surrounded by nature and historic monuments, but are also just a few hours from the city. An $8 train ride away is Beacon, where one can explore local shops and climb the beautiful Mt. Beacon. Poughkeepsie offers the Walkway Over the Hudson, shows at the Bardavon Opera House and tours of Adams Fairacre Farms, among the countless shops and restaurants scattered around the city. Simply going on a walk off campus allows students to separate themselves from Vassar and live independently, even if it is for just a few hours.
Vassar’s campus itself contains secluded spots that are perfect for reflection and relaxation. Exploring the trails around Sunset Lake, the Vassar Farm and little enclaves hidden around campus allow one to dissociate from overwhelming people, due dates and events, surrounded solely by the company of nature and oneself.
Although it would be difficult to fully eschew the dependency and “work hard, play hard” mentality that Vassar fosters, it is possible to mitigate their influences on your own life. Despite the overwhelming power college has over our lives, the suffocation of college can be alleviated.