About four hours ago, I dropped a class. I dropped RELST 3260: Christianity and Judaism, a 4-credit class that meets twice a week at 8:40am. I had a number of reasons for dropping; I found it difficult to stay awake during the early lectures, as much as I respected the professor’s obviously extensive knowledge I didn’t like his teaching style, dropping would mean I’d have more time for research (or sleep), and well, I didn’t need the course to graduate. So my decision was justified. But at the same time, I feel a little as if I’ve let myself down.
Why? At 14 credits, this is the lightest course-load (credit-wise) that I’ve taken on during my time at Cornell. And while a graduate level chemistry course and 16 hours/week of research hardly make my course-load “light,” it somehow seems to pale in comparison to my 19-credit course-load last semester that also contained a graduate level chemistry course and 16 hours/week of research. Am I slacking, I ask myself?
When I take a step back from myself and look at some of my friends and peers who are taking the minimum 12- or 13-credit course-loads, I rarely consider them to be slackers. Some fill their ‘free time’ with non-academic pursuits, and others simply leave the time free. I don’t judge either. Maybe I’m just harder on myself?
Tonight, I was reading another NY Times Room for Debate feature (this one also happened to be about feminism), and one of the panelists made a statement that I think not only applies to women, but to students (of both genders). I certainly feel this way. Anyways, the writer, Courtney E. Martin wrote that girls are “told that they could be anything, but heard that they had to be everything.”
As college students, especially at an Ivy League university, we are told that we can be anything – that we can do anything. We are told to dream large because everything is within our reach. And this creates an enormous pressure to become that someone, to do that something. The specifics don’t even matter as much, the focus is on the scale of our achievements. Cornell loves to boast about it’s alumni that are Nobel Prize winners, CEO’s, or politicians. They were once undergrads here, too, we are told. The message is that we have to live up to these enormous potentials that we are said to possess. And if we don’t, we have somehow failed.
As Martin writes, “Most of us can’t afford, nor would we want to settle, for lives that didn’t make us feel accomplished in the big, wide world. But in exchange for our new ambitions, we’ve traded our shame. We only blame ourselves as we fail to transcend our own flawed humanness and the 24 hours in a given day.”
So by dropping down to 14 credits, am I really letting myself down? Am I really slacking off? I want to say no. In the long run, I don’t think I’ll regret dropping this class that I didn’t need and didn’t enjoy. And I know that I’ll continue to work hard. In fact, maybe I’ll get up at 7:30am anyways, so I can start work in lab a bit earlier…