The Hopkins culture of collaborative suffering

By CARMEN SCHAFER | March 8, 2018

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What are you looking forward to most in college?”

For any of who expected to party a lot, find your soul mate, achieve academic success or join a fraternity in good standing with the University: I’m sorry for the loss of your high school hopes and dreams. 

I get it, though, because when I was in high school and people asked me what I was most looking forward to in college, I answered, “Having access to a 24-hour library.”

Hear me out.

I am both physically and mentally incapable of getting work done in a room that contains furniture suitable for sleeping. Given that I took a nap in the Gilman Atrium last week, as well as Garland Hall on Monday morning, I fully acknowledge the argument that anywhere is a bed if you try hard enough. That being said, I think we can all agree that some environments are more conducive to sleeping than others.

This unfortunate reality, combined with the fact that despite not being a STEM major I am in fact an individual with responsibilities, frequently forces me to venture outside the comfort and safety of my bedroom.

In high school, Starbucks was my go-to locale — an oasis of productivity that facilitated the creation of some of my best and only work second semester of senior year. However, despite a need for caffeine that I would prefer to recall as a torrid love affair and not a problematic addiction, my relationship with Starbucks was confronted every night with our one irreconcilable difference: No matter how many hours of work I had ahead of me, Starbucks insisted on closing every night at 9 p.m.

Brody, the University’s pseudo student union and signature study space, was supposed to be my promised land. At last, my potential would not be thwarted by closing time. The lack of caffeine past midnight was a non-issue, because I found the (fleeting) strength to get caffeine-clean the summer before college. 

However, upon arriving on campus, my naïve college dreams were mocked to death by reality: Though Brody is formally referred to as an environment designed for collaborative learning, I quickly became disillusioned by its culture of collaborative suffering, a culture that is not isolated to Brody or even to Hopkins, but is certainly concentrated there. 

If you don’t vocalize how stressed you are, is it even possible for you to be stressed? And even if you do frequently vocalize your stress, is it even possible that you could be more stressed than I am? (Read: no.)

If you don’t incessantly complain about how much work you have, would you still have work? Would deadlines still exist? Would your exams still take place?

If you don’t regularly compare your enormous workload to that of less rigorous majors, can your course of study really be considered difficult? Is the future value of your degree directly correlated to how much it inflated your ego during undergrad?

If you don’t verbally question why you chose Hopkins at least once every three days, will your education amount to anything?

If you’re not miserable, are you even trying?

Don’t get me wrong: The culture of collaborative suffering that exists on this campus is a culture to which I have shamelessly contributed. As a general rule, I’m not opposed to complaining. I love complaining. In fact, I love complaining so much that I’ve been allocated a biweekly column dedicated to it. But even though I recognize that complaining can be therapeutic, I also suspect that a widespread culture of collaborative suffering does far more harm than good. 

Misery loves company. At Hopkins, misery is head over heels in love with company, and by breeding together they have trapped our student body in an echo chamber of incessant, vocalized suffering. Even if you avoid Brody, all of your negative feelings are guaranteed to be reinforced elsewhere.

Though I was born and raised a devout pessimist, our student culture doesn’t exactly encourage converting to optimism. And while it’s been easy to blame Hopkins for my misery, it would be hypocritical of me to not also acknowledge that I have myself to blame. After all, complaining is self-reinforcing, and by vocalizing my woes, I have only made them and myself more insufferable. 

At Hopkins, lacrosse may be D-I, but students have turned suffering into an Olympic sport. So this year for Lent, regardless of whether you subscribe to Catholicism, I encourage you to quit. Next time you feel the urge to reaffirm your perennial misery, maybe try to communicate a less self-defeating sentiment instead, for once in your college career. 

You may be surprised at how tolerable Hopkins can be when you’re not constantly telling yourself otherwise.

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