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Credit: Janine Navalta

“If I don’t get an internship this summer,” I hear someone say on Locust, “I’ll be so far behind. Some people are already recruiting for next summer.”

On Canvas, I finally receive the prompt for a reading response that I need to submit in 36 hours. An email notification pops up: It begins with the all-too-familiar “URGENT” and “ACTION REQUIRED,” but this, too, will ultimately be buried in my inbox for a good few days until I have the time to go through it. Over time, I began to question the sense of urgency that dominates Penn’s campus, and whether it’s doing more harm than good.

This isn’t a problem exclusive to me. One of my friends has over 10,000 unread emails in her inbox from various departments and clubs with which she is no longer associated. Every so often, I will hear professors and teaching assistants suggest that students start their assignments earlier, and that a significant portion of work was turned in late. At the other end of the classroom, I hear conversations about just how behind and sleep-deprived everyone is amid the barrage of midterms, club interviews, rushing, and job applications.

In “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander,” Thomas Merton say, “The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence.” 

As the overcommitted, overworked high school students we once were, Penn students are intimately familiar with this sense of urgency and obligation. There’s so much to do, always, and these impending tasks are completed at the expense of sleep, rest, and recreation. Instead of attributing this lack of work-life balance to poor time management skills or the need for prioritization, I’d like to suggest a different approach: Just how much of this is really urgent, anyway? How much of this is worth sacrificing our wellbeing over?

We labor under the illusion that even inconsequential things must be done immediately. If we miss the opportunity to apply for the position now, we’re letting go of one of the "greatest" opportunities of our lives. Not responding to emails in a timely manner is the sign of someone who’s “lazy” and “unreliable.” This is perpetuated in our classrooms as well: “Makeups will only be given under extraordinary and documented circumstances.” “Even habitual excused absences will negatively impact your grade.”

I firmly believe that academia, especially institutions like Penn, should be a space for fostering growth and intellectual conversations. How is this achievable, I wonder, if we don’t recognize and accommodate the very real struggles that anyone can come across? Surely, no one wants to experience a death in the family during finals season, but sometimes those are the cards we are dealt. What happens then? Do our deadlines take precedence over our health and our loved ones?

The implications of these sentiments can be sinister. They tell us that it is not important to take care of our bodies, listen to our needs, and live in accordance with what is most meaningful to us. Bombarded by constant deadlines, we are pushed to perform day in and day out with no space to reflect and connect with the lofty ambitions we initially came here with.

We have the power to reimagine academia — spaces like Penn are saturated with people who are dedicated to learning, contributing to social change, and becoming an integral part of our communities. However, taking advantage of this also means that everyone needs the time to explore and see their ideas through. Taking a step back from the one-time-only events and assignments piling up on our to-do lists, we are able to devote more resources to our goals and begin to manage our tasks instead of our tasks managing us.

I truly applaud Penn students for their commitment to success and achievement; however, I would like us to pause and reflect on what we would like to achieve. The narrative of urgency written into our deadlines can motivate us to go further, but it can also disempower us, clouding our ability to take charge of our lives.

JESSEY SHIN is a College first year studying sociology and communications from Seongnam-si, South Korea. Their email is