Jonathan Iwry | Louder than words


The Quaking Point | The University can no longer afford to play a passive role in its students’ well-being — it must be willing to get its hands dirty




T he tragedies of this past winter continue to weigh on our minds. While the inevitable din of investigation, opinion and reflection has finally started to subside, calls for increased dialogue and awareness are as present as ever.

The DP recently published a front page article with documents confirming that CAPS has been incompetent and neglectful toward visitors. As with most University-run programs, this shouldn’t come as a particular surprise to many. Nonetheless, it sends a grave and unavoidable message to our campus community: Penn is out of touch with the well-being of its students.

CAPS is a necessary first step, but it can only go so far. Even if every Penn student visited CAPS regularly to talk through his or her troubles, it wouldn’t be sufficient. An establishment with innate problems can only do so much by talking things out — dealing with the symptoms is never a worthy substitute for pursuit of a cure.

If we want to see genuine progress in improving the quality of life on campus, the University and its community must be willing to get their hands dirty and examine fundamental (and fundamentally flawed) aspects of the Penn community.

Penn’s prestige has been dwindling slowly for years, and its inability to promote wellness among its students is only making things worse. At this point, it’s not just questionable for the University to let students figure things out on their own — it’s unacceptable.

I often hear people lament that our school cares relatively little for its undergraduates. I can’t say with confidence whether this is true or not, but other universities do seem to allocate significant resources toward fostering happiness among their newcomers. They go out of their way to take care of their own; why can’t our school do the same? Penn seems to value its graduate students and professional research above all else — it can’t be surprised when its neglect of undergraduates leads to mass discontent.

It also goes without saying that Penn should deal with its rampant pre-professionalism. It’s a distinct aspect of our campus that rubs off on everyone, finance or non-finance, and breeds a culture of hostility. I’m not just referring to Wharton — I mean the general bureaucracy of large classes, uncaring professors, incompetent TAs and unforgiving grading. The competition needs to give way to cooperation. If not, students will value their worth as people by their academic performance, and the good intentions of achievement will instead pave the way for social and educational Darwinism.

Neither would it hurt for Penn to take a closer look into its extracurricular groups. It is widely acknowledged that Penn turns a blind eye to many of the goings-on among its students, including those that arguably do the worst damage to undergraduates’ emotional and mental health. Taboo though it might be, the University should put more effort into addressing issues like hazing and psychological abuse, not to mention the petty squabbling and ego wars that have come to define so many of our political clubs.

Most urgently of all, programs such as CAPS need to be more dependable. When nothing else works and students need someone to talk to, it’s important for them to know that that someone will take them seriously and help them through their issues. But that’s a bare minimum.

Counselors like to advise people to put their problems in context. Sometimes, however, it’s the context that’s the problem. Smart and privileged Ivy League students are told to focus on how great they have it, but for many, college is far from great. Penn is plagued with a wide range of issues; I suspect our school itself is to be blamed for ignoring them.

The talking cure only goes so far. If our university wants results, it will have to accept the discomfort of facing itself in the mirror. This is about more than mental health — it’s about creating happier Quakers and turning Penn into a better place.

Improvement requires meaningful action. And we have our work cut out for us.

Jonathan Iwry  is a College senior from Bethesda, Md., studying philosophy. His last name is pronounced “eev-ree.” Email him at jon.iwry@gmail.com.

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