Mistry: Maybe the grind should stop

Viral Mistry, Staff Columnist

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One of my closest friends from high school maintains that every time I talk to him, I’m doing something new, whether it be an academic or an extracurricular pursuit. Every time he comments on it, I promise him this is the last new thing I’m going to do.

You can imagine what the next call after that is like.

Unfortunately, this is something I see extensively at Case Western Reserve University. In my experience, CWRU student culture does not merely normalize overachieving, it emphasizes it. Students feel an enormous amount of pressure from every angle to be the very best. Parents want a solid return on the enormous investment they are making in their children, and if they feel otherwise, faculty will feel the heat, ensuring that the faculty maintain a tough curriculum. Administrators want to make sure the students are successful to help recruitment and to ensure there is a pool of successful donors.

And of course, this conversation would be incomplete without discussing how CWRU students reproduce this pressure on each other. I’ve been here for almost eight full semesters, and I will be completely honest, I have never truly felt like I have been doing enough. It always feels like there are other people who are using their time more wisely than me, getting more out of their time here.

That mentality is toxic, and I would argue it’s a critical part of the issue CWRU has been having with donations from recent alumni and first-year retention, especially among first-generation college students, low-income students and students of color.

I recently met a CWRU alumna at a graduate school interview dinner at Ohio State University, where she is now a doctoral candidate. We bonded over the oddities of CWRU culture, she asked how some of the faculty were doing and talked about other CWRU-specific topics. Eventually, the conversation at our dinner table shifted into everyone’s trip home, and I mentioned how I had to get up incredibly early the next day to catch a 4:50 a.m. Greyhound bus from Columbus to Cleveland, as it was the only way to ensure that I would not have to miss my 10 a.m. class. The whole dinner table looked at me like I had grown a second head, and the alumna exclaimed, “these are the kinds of people I went to undergrad with.”

The whole Greyhound bus ride back, those words rang through my head, largely because she was right. Those are the kinds of people I’ve seen, and the kind of person that I am. Was I always like this? Did CWRU simply bring this out in me, or was I inculcated into this mentality without realizing? I honestly don’t know anymore.

Here’s what I do know. I chose the 4:50 a.m. bus, not the 3:00 p.m. bus, and the only response I could meaningfully muster when asked why: the grind doesn’t stop.

But the more I think about it, the more I feel that this “all engines go, all the time” mentality is hurting us. It’s hurting campus cohesion, undermining students’ emotional well-being and teaching us to prioritize the wrong things.

I don’t know what I would do if I was presented with those bus choices again. What I do know is I felt obligated to choose the early bus. I felt obligated to push myself to my margins, maximize the efficiency of my time and prioritize my academics over everything else, including my sleep.

Let’s work to build a campus culture where academics are valued but are not seen as the sole source of validation. Where student success and achievement are understood in terms of personal growth, not how many resume lines you can list off during an introduction.

A campus culture where I wouldn’t have felt like a failure for taking the later bus.

Viral Mistry is a fourth-year biology and cognitive science double major who is also minoring in chemistry, history and philosophy. This 2020 election, he will be a single-issue “email and Slack abolition” voter.