NEW YORK, NY - It’s 5:45am, and I’m running from Butler Library to my dorm to quickly change before rowing practice starts. At 6:15am I catch the bus and en route to practice I finally submit the essay I’ve stayed up all night to finish.
Every student has these types of nights at some point in their college career. The problem at Columbia, however, is that this type of behaviour is often praised by our peers. It shows dedication and somehow makes you seem smarter if you’re doing your work between the hours of one and five am.
When I spent that entire night in Butler I was not alone. The fact that I had so much company concerns me. According to The Tab, Columbia is the most sleep deprived school in the country, with an average weekday bedtime of 1:26am. In my experience though, it doesn’t have to be like this. My take on the stress culture at Columbia is that often, although not every time, students spiral and blow events out of proportion. We are proud to make stress the culture at our school because it makes us seem like we work the hardest, but that’s just not true.
I have no problem admitting that I spent that night in Butler because I procrastinated. Attributing an all-nighter to my own procrastination is a huge step in dismantling the stress culture at our school. I was given notice about the essay over two weeks before the due date, and had I just started it earlier I would have been fine. Stress culture is telling everyone about my night and how much work I have and that comment being echoed with how many all-nighter my peers are going to have to pull in the next week.
While it may not seem dangerous in the moment, the echoes will only get louder until the culture of pulling all-nighters becomes normalized. And yes, that is what has happened on our campus. Articles titled “Going to an Ivy-League School Sucks” and “Columbia Students are the Most Stressed in the Ivy-League” are only adding to the noise.
Rising engineering sophomore, Alysha Hudson, doesn’t agree with the sentiments of these types of articles: “I've attended Columbia for a year, and yes, we have a lot of work, but it's not unmanageable to the point of insanity. If this is what concerns you, don't sign up for 6 classes, don't even sign up for 5! It's up to you to find happiness here, just like at any other college, and sometimes that means accepting a B, not finishing all of your work, or realizing you can't be the president of 5-6 clubs. The environment is only competitive if you choose to make it competitive. I have found so many incredible individuals here and anyone willing to help me if I reach out and ask. This place has offered me so much: best friends, independence, the beginning of adulthood. When people say they hate it and can't wait to leave, I pity them more than anything else for wasting this incredible opportunity that they were given to push themselves and expand their horizons. Yes there are things that the university can change to make the lives of students easier, but, how you look at what you have can be the difference between the best four years of your life and four years that you threw away.”
In my experience at Columbia, there is a lot of pressure, but I agree with Alysha. It is up to the university to help students, but it is also up to the students to ask for help.
During my freshman year I was very ill multiple times. There were periods when I couldn’t finish my work because I was sitting in the infirmary. The school doctors put me in contact with the Office of Disability Services and got all my assignments and tests moved on multiple occasions. I was shocked when the school offered to do this for me. Coming into college and hearing about the dreaded stress culture I thought it was going to be a fend for yourself environment. However, not only did the professors comply, they were completely understanding and wished me well. All I had to do was reach out and ask for help instead of spiralling into a ball of stress.
Of course this is not everyone’s experience, and it might be someone’s reality that they are staying up multiple nights to try to manage their workload. The point is that amplifying and encouraging the culture of that is not going to help anyone, especially students that are struggling. There are many ways to improve the wellbeing of all of our students on campus, and saying no to a culture of anxiety, sleep deprivation, and stress is one of them.
*Disclaimer: This article is not intended to comment on issues of mental health. I fully acknowledge the presence that mental health issues have on campus, and want to make it clear I am not discussing those in this article.