I find it almost ironic that I write about students working while technically at work right now, on a bus picking up students from New York City at 4 a.m. for the pre-college summer scholarship program. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this column sooner. Cornell has hundreds of job opportunities for students. The question is, which students get the benefits? In today’s world, working students deserve more credit than they get. Recognizing the privilege gap between working and non-working Cornell students is essential, because the stereotypical, perfect American college experience is itself a social construct.
Working Cornell students face the same things as nonworking Cornell students. For example, each of us has a social battery. However, some wear out faster than others, and for working students, their batteries are often drained by their daily schedule alone. Here is an example of my schedule for the past school year:
- Wake up around 8 or 9am.
- Get food.
- Go to classes.
- Go to lunch.
- Have time to study.
- Working at my desk job at the center of the Latin American Studies program.
By the time I’m done with all that, it’s already almost dinner time. My social battery is depleted and I need what’s left to do my homework. On weekends, I would get up, read, and be at the Mann Cafe for my managerial job at 11 a.m., working most of the day, then returning to the dorm at 5 or 6 p.m.
My schedule doesn’t look horrible. This may seem very productive and manageable to some. I love my job, my colleagues and my opportunities. Some days I walk past the clock tower and count my blessings. It’s everything a young me would have dreamed of. However, repeating this schedule leaves little room for social life and is a recipe for burnout and academic stress. Sometimes I watched people who might take fancy spring break trips, not have a single worry when it came time to pull out their debit card, and feel a pang of jealousy.
I’m not a party girl, but sometimes I envy people who throw parties and go out frequently. I wish I had time to do this, but I have to think about what time I should go to bed so I can get enough hours before my next shift. Going to Cornell made me realize that while there are a good number of students in my position, there are a lot who aren’t. Some students work but don’t think twice about calling a shift to study, travel, or just call in because they’re tired.
Most students who work while studying are divided by a barrier of social inequality created by race, income, and other minority labels, often earning lower grades (because their time and energy is spent on financial stability rather than academic stability) and are prevented from working in jobs that advance their passions, instead of working to put food on the table and pay for their tuition. Cornell offers the rare opportunity for students of all social classes to pursue their passions after graduation. The Ivy label is an equalizer – to some degree. Some Cornell offices, such as the Latin American Studies program, can only afford to employ co-op students for a limited number of hours due to a lack of funding. I love this job—wish it was my full-time job—but there are restrictions on how many hours I can work due to lack of funding. Therefore, I found another job. What’s even crazier is that this is now my norm: falling into the rhythm of two jobs, other extracurriculars, and a full course load. I’m proud of myself, but I have plenty of moments where I stop to question my standard against the socially expected standard of other students.
You can see the privilege gap within the Cornell student body by looking at their employers and socioeconomic status. Suppose a student only works to gain experience. In this case, they don’t have to worry about which jobs pay the most, how work-study works, or why they might need to take another job if they want to stay financially stable while building their professional career. Sometimes I wonder how some people can afford to go to Cornell without financial aid or at the very least work.
What working students gain, on the other hand, is independence. But does this independence come in exchange for long hours and chronic exhaustion? I like to be independent and dependent on myself, but I admit that I sometimes feel alone. I have nearly a thousand unread text messages. I just don’t have time, even though I feel lonely. I enjoy face-to-face communication or voice calls much more than texting; it’s because I need to be in the presence of another person willing to pour some social energy into me as a method of recharging my battery a bit, not talking to a one-sided void like Instagram.
College is meant to be the “time of your life” with moments you will never regret or forget. Yes, I had some of those moments, but I don’t think my college experience is made up of all those events.
Dear working students, I am here to say that the “perfect” college experience is a social construct based on the typical white student who can afford to live off campus. Therefore, there is no need to blame yourself if your college experience feels more like an adult. Ultimately, you’ll be better prepared for the “real world” than students who don’t know how to write a resume or interview for a job.
Dear working students, your efforts have not fallen on deaf ears and you are doing very well, even though no one has told you.
Daniela Wise-Rojas is a rising sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected] She is currently the Deputy Dining Room Editor on the 140th Editorial Board. Everything except the worldliness runs periodically this summer.