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Stop pressuring first-years into overextension

By José Castellanos

Section: Opinions

September 9, 2016

It’s a cycle seen every year without fail at Brandeis: First-years come to campus and are almost immediately bombarded from all sides by hundreds of fliers and Facebook posts advertising the different merits of joining the debate team, the crew team or the Wine and Cheese Club, on top of all the organizations promoting the various majors and courses of study available at Brandeis. This is most evident at the biannual Activities Fair, where a student who just wants to join an a cappella group suddenly finds themselves signed onto the listserv of 38 distinct clubs. As a result, it is not uncommon for the first-year class to begin overloading itself with both academic pursuits and campus organizations.

This is, in part, due to expectation. One of the dead horses that is most often beat is the joke that Brandeis students are somehow incapable of simply taking on a single major. Everyone double or triple majors, and probably has various minors as well. Overall, this expectation can be detrimental, as first-years may feel as if they are somehow inferior to their peers if they do not commit themselves to everything in sight or if they don’t take on five or six classes every semester. Simply put, there is too much pressure put on the first-year class, which leads to a perennial overextension and overwhelming.

It’s difficult for one to not submit to external forces, though. Human beings are naturally social creatures with a desire to impress others and adapt to the environment around them. hen this environment begins to overwhelm us, however, we need to tune out those external voices and influences and learn to focus primarily on a routine of self-care, rather than a habit of trying to earn the same number of degrees as your roommate, or feeling that you have to be the very best in debate club.

But it is counterproductive to criticize first-years for overcommitting, as we do not always know the circumstances that lead to this action. Rather than criticize first-years for wanting to be involved in a menagerie of activities or engage in as many academic pursuits as possible, we need to promote the idea that it is okay to take your time in figuring out what courses you want to take, or what clubs you want to be involved in. It’s uncommon for any student, even at Brandeis, to know exactly what they want to pursue before they get to campus and actually stick with that major for all four years. For example, a student who arrives with an interest in computer science may someday instead choose to study environmental studies or politics.

It’s okay to not know what you want to do with your life right off the bat because that’s the purpose of the first few semesters of college. It’s a time to understand yourself better both as an academic and as an individual, and to delve into different areas of study to figure out exactly what it is that you want to do.

And as far as clubs and organizations go, I would frankly be a hypocrite if I advocated against them, because to many, such as myself, they represent an escape from the normal throes of academia, but they should never take priority over a routine of self-care. Overextension is an unfortunate side-effect of the first few semesters of college, so it’s understandable that many students may fall into it. We need to understand, however, that it can be detrimental to new students to pressure them into joining everything on campus.

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