In defense of being uninvolved

Why pressure should be lessened on students who don't do much

My inbox is filled with messages from the head of my new major and subject lines which read, “Sign-Up for Honor Week” or “Attend a Philanthropy!” Another email reads: “Can we reschedule the meeting from 2:30 to 3? Let me know!”

We place ourselves in ranks, in tiers, in positions of chair and sub-chair and active, passive or deactivated members. Others place us in these positions as well. In our activities, in our major, in departments and in Greek life, we are grouped individually and collectively into steps and positions of achievement. I focus more on these emails than my professor, talking about Richard Wright’s autobiography, or my paper due tomorrow evening.

This leads me to the following question as a broader examination of the University culture as a whole: how do you reconcile the principles on which this university was founded with a current administration and culture that focuses on extracurricular involvement over academic excellence? Student athletic programs are one visible example of time-intensive extracurricular involvement. Time is taken away by travel schedules to far-off states, forcing these students to miss classes. In this season of election campaigns and changed cover photos, slogans and chalking, the emphasis of our university can be clearly seen as “not school” for many in the student body.

Many argue that not directing attention toward those heavily involved in extracurricular activities is to not only disregard their many contributions to the University, but also to miss the point. Activities teach intense time management, and those who are involved in the University community, from my experience, feel more fulfilled and are generally happier in their four years here. My point in raising this issue is not to condemn those who are involved in athletics, Honor, U-Guides or the like, but rather to attempt to uncover the complexities of a school whose primary focus is not academic achievement.

Furthermore, I want to examine the stigma attached to those who are not involved with anything on Grounds and who choose to make their academics the primary focus of their time here. Hypothetically, this should be a valued goal, yet the people that are celebrated — those who land a room on the Lawn, speak at Convocation and are interviewed by The Cavalier Daily — are not students who necessarily have any success academically. Even though what these students have done for the community is admirable, there should be a lessened pressure by the University community to strive for the ideal they set rather than excellence in the classroom.

One of my friends was talking recently about her lack of involvement. She stated, “I feel like people look down on me because I don’t really do anything.” On one hand, she feels she would be happier with herself if she was more involved in the community. The University fosters a mentality which causes students to feel dissatisfied with themselves if they aren’t giving back to the community. Some would argue this is a productive and ultimately beneficial pressure. Instead, I believe if some students find more joy and fulfillment out of studying hard for classes, doing complex research in the lab and perfecting an English essay, University culture should accommodate and enforce this.

Student athletes, committee chairs and founders of organizations receive laurels and commendation from the University, while those who are committed to keeping the University a leader in academic fields are rarely celebrated. While I am the first to acknowledge how a school’s mission should be to educate students both inside and outside the classroom, our culture as a school has tipped too far in favor of placing extracurricular involvements as priorities above classes.

In enforcing this extracurricular culture, we are losing our emphasis on the ideal of a strong academic education as the primary goal of college. While I accept that balance is needed to ensure the most well-rounded education possible, I feel the University needs a re-stressing of classroom success as the primary goal of its students.

Grace’s column runs biweekly Fridays. She can be reached at g.muth@cavalierdaily.com.


Published March 27, 2014 in Life





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