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Credit: Lulu Wang

I’m a second-semester senior writing my first column – this is the college equivalent of the “old man yells at cloud” meme. That said, I was a transfer student from New York University, so maybe my desire to keep talking about Penn comes from the memory of being at a school radically different from this one.

I don’t point that out much anymore, but I think it’s particularly relevant when I reflect on Penn and how it has changed in my time here. I would not have left NYU had I not gotten into Penn — it’s the only transfer school I applied to — but the central issue I had with the school was the sense of disconnected negativity. It seemed when I was at NYU that it wasn’t “cool” to be happy and value the college experience, and I get a similar sense now that struggle has an irrational value at Penn.

We’re aware of issues regarding stress culture, hyper-competitiveness, and all the other buzzwords, but awareness doesn’t require us to become competitors in a struggle Olympics. There is a performative component to stress culture which only compounds the problem. 

I’d wager nearly everyone at Penn has received a Snapchat saying something along the lines of “been studying in VP for 12 hours lol dead.” I think we all rationally understand that that person hasn’t actually been at Van Pelt for 12 hours pumping nonstop information into their brain like a new Google AI. They’ve been on Facebook, they’ve texted friends, they’ve sent you the same Snapchat you’re thinking about now. But what if they haven’t? What if they have literally been mastering material at inhuman rates and are composed enough to joke about it after? I couldn’t do that. Maybe I already felt a little unprepared, but now? Now I have no chance. My stress levels rise. I watch Netflix in shame. 

Has anyone gotten a snap captioned “just studied for an hour to learn the material lol gonna go to bed by midnight?” I haven’t. The sort of performative idolization of the struggle for grades and need to let everyone know how stressed we are puts undue pressure on the process. Do what you have to do, and it’s fine if that means studying from 1-2 p.m. every day and then getting to bed by midnight. 

The flip side of that coin is total disconnectedness: telling our friends we’re extremely behind on our work and have no chance at a decent grade, but have given up on the situation. It makes sense if you think about the treatment of failure and image examined by many columnists before me. If we don’t project that we’re trying our hardest to get an A on this exam, it doesn’t seem like we came up short if we get a B. If I “like never did any of the readings or studied and totally winged it,” then that B that I got seems like a victory to a casual observer. 

I have loved Penn and am incredibly grateful for my time here. In fact, I’m hoping to get a few more years here as a grad student. As someone invested in the Penn experience, I don't want it to be defined by stress. We shouldn’t let the stereotypes speak for us. Whether it be in our perceptions of our own efforts, readiness, and general ability as students, or our perceptions of those features in our peers, I want to challenge us all to lower our guards, recognize where we might be casually or competitively negative for the sake of negativity, and see if honesty helps reduce some of the latent stress of Penn life. 

DYLAN REIM is a College senior from Princeton, N.J. studying philosophy and political science. His email address is dreim@sas.upenn.edu. "DReim Journal" usually appears every other Thursday.

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