It doesn't have to be this hard.
By now, many of you have read Fernando’s piece “The Unbearable Lightness of Being… in SIPA” and identified strongly with the feelings of turmoil, stress, and joy of being at this prestigious institution. I know I did. Classes can be confusing, my schedule is packed, and my inbox is always overstuffed with a million emails. I constantly feel overwhelmed with all that I should do, can do, and want to do with no time nor mental bandwidth.
And don’t get me wrong, like Fernando expresses in his piece, I absolutely love being in school and feel incredibly privileged to share this space with all of you. You are all so individually brilliant that it makes it even more tragic when I have to split my time between work, school, self-care (aka eating and sleeping), and a social life.
I am writing then, not to complain, but to point out that it does not have to be this hard. There are concrete ways that we can make the school and our lives substantially better, our educations richer, and our communities stronger.
For one, we do not need to get a million emails every day. I am currently enrolled in a law school class and thus get Columbia Law School emails. Do you know how many event emails I get per day? One. One email, every day, with all the events happening in that day. At the beginning of the week, I also receive one with all the events that are coming that week.
We can do that at SIPA. If Orgsync groups actually put their events in the Orgsync Calendar, we could generate a weekly email with all that information. One might point out that not all of the events are created by Orgsync groups. An alternative method would be to create a Googlesheet where student groups were invited to add their events and links, which would then be compiled into a weekly message. We can do that. I can do that, but first, we need buy-in from student groups on campus. If you want to see a change, tell them.
Secondly, classes don’t have to be so overwhelming. I have been a teacher before, and I believe that students shouldn’t regularly leave a classroom feeling more confused then when they entered, especially when those students so actively care about learning the material. One way to change this is by hiring TA’s not based on how well they performed in the course but on their teaching background. Of course, understanding the material is important, but at the very least, professors should at least provide basic training on how to scaffold, differentiate, or teach to different learning styles. Do not get me wrong, I am extremely appreciative of the work TA’s do, but it should not be this hard for them either. There should be standardized rubrics for tests every year. Most school teachers do it. Why can’t professors? As mentioned in “TA Plight”, student graders shouldn’t be forced to hunt for points to give students even when they’ve answered the questions completely wrong. TA’s should, instead, be focusing on how to teach the material better if classes are collectively not understanding it. If a whole class of smart, dedicated students was failing, I would stop blaming them and start looking at the ways I could structure my course to make it more conducive to learning. If this is how you feel, tell your professors.
Lastly, we do not need to have so many different websites to find information. We have one website for student organizations, another to pay our bills, another to look up next semesters courses, a second one to actually register for our courses… You all know. Why not put that information in one place? Or even, instead of getting a folder full of papers during orientation, why didn’t we get a link to a webpage that listed all the sites and what they do?
Furthermore, Courseworks should be standardized. It seems like every professor has come up with their own idiosyncratic way of putting up their information. I completely understand the need for different courses to include different resources, but we shouldn’t have to be hunting for recitation or office hours. If you agree, talk to your professors and reach out to the administration.
These challenges are not the only problems we face. For some, it’s the stress of leaving a home and everything that’s familiar. For others, it’s the struggle of writing papers in a foreign language and in a style that they have never seen before, and almost all of us can relate to the strain of the large financial burden of our education and expenses of living in New York.
But the emails, the TA’s, the websites, these are stresses that we can fix. I cannot speak for all students, but it seems to me that many of us are in policy school in order to learn how to create policies that fix some of the most challenging problems in the world. We pride ourselves on our initiative and engagement to be the changes we want to see. Well, why don’t we start at SIPA? Because it really doesn’t have to be this hard.