On any given weeknight, I often find myself spending the last few minutes of my day scrolling through Sidechat. Our favorite anonymous form of social media is always a convenient place to rant, or simply a locus for relatable humor. Though, I noticed that there was one striking drawback. Whether attention-seeking or sincere, nearly every post aims to vilify the school we attend.
I wondered why this notion of dejection was so common in our student body. Ultimately, I chose to make a Sidechat post of my own: asking my classmates “Why does everyone hate Penn so much?” After being met with 27 downvotes and several replies to the effect of “isn’t it obvious?” and “do you even go here?” I wasn’t much closer to a conclusive answer.
As I thought about it more, everything from a casual comment on campus to a late-night conversation among roommates tend to fall into the trap of hyperbolic complaining. More often than not, echo chambers can become breeding grounds for communal distress. Are we all really that miserable? Is the Penn population unnecessarily troubled? To my knowledge, no. Most of what we complain about are insignificant annoyances that would not contribute to Penn’s broader mental health struggles.
Our social culture has necessitated a masquerade of malaise that simply comes off as ungrateful. The issue isn’t just Sidechat; it’s a pervasive complaint culture amongst Penn students. For many on Penn’s campus, it’s not clear why or how this phenomenon developed. Though, I would conclude that perhaps the provocative nature of complaining allows people to have their voice heard, even if it’s at the expense of our university.
The problem could also be chalked up to the simple fact that we’re young. Our relative immaturity may lead us to protest any inconvenience. Finals season is hard. Sometimes getting out of bed sucks. After all, college students everywhere complain; it’s relatable, right?
Whatever the explanation is for why students across this campus never seem to catch a break, Penn’s complaint culture has significant adverse consequences. Complaining has a strong detrimental effect on morale and group satisfaction. While psychological wellbeing is a complex issue, complaining has been proven to subconsciously exacerbate feelings of anxiety, fear, and distrust towards one another.
It starts with a friend making an off-handed comment about a class. You join in, thinking nothing of it. But, over time, those minor interactions create major problems. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: Complaining becomes more common as it makes us more uneasy. Now, complaint culture is our default mode of discourse.
I believe that attending a school like Penn is a privilege. I certainly have enjoyed being a student here, but I understand that mine isn’t a universal experience. There are plenty of valid criticisms one could hold against the University: The food isn’t great, it’s scholastically competitive, and the social scene can be very intimidating. There are genuine struggles related to the Penn experience. But, it’s also time for Penn students to consider the advantages of a pre-professional culture, the elite opportunities available to them, and how unique their educational situation is.
It’s absurd to not recognize that access to Ivy League resources, incredible human experience, a good neighborhood in Philadelphia, and high-paying jobs after graduation create an objectively remarkable situation that very few students are afforded nowadays. At a time when our school is being painted as a creator of dreadful experiences, it’s crucial that we resist the urge to give in to excessive dissatisfaction.
Even as we returned from winter break, Sidechat was flooded with desperate pleas of students wishing not to start the new semester. Complaint culture is stronger than it’s ever been. It’s as popular and unique to our community as ‘SABSing’ and Penn Face, yet it goes entirely unrecognized by those who blindly accept unhappiness as the norm. Penn needs a complaint cleanse. I challenge our community to be more positive. Many of us have plenty to be grateful for.
JACK LAKIS is a College first year studying political science from Kennesaw, Ga. His email is email@example.com.