April 5, 2011

Spring awakening

Spring quarter offers a much-needed opportunity for new experiences

When the temperature rises above 50 degrees, it suddenly seems as though the student body has doubled in number. It’s a phenomenon witnessed on most campuses, but particularly at the U of C, where the infamously brutal winter never ends.

Until, miraculously, it does. Students, pale and withdrawn, suddenly find new color in their complexions and newfound energy in their expressions. Spring quarter, as the common sentiment suggests, means better weather, friendlier faces, and lighter schedules.


Well, that remains to be seen. As the third quarter of my first year begins, I wonder what my goals for this final quarter are. I realize I, like many others, have psychologically paired winter with work and spring with, well, restoring my sanity. A reawakening, if you will. My goals, then, accurately reflect this: meet new people (an activity precluded by my hermetic winter Reg habitation), go to the gym (the walk to Ratner will finally cease to be an icy trek), and most importantly, take all the classes that I believe will begin to shape my future path at the University (a.k.a. my first non-Core classes). The first two: very doable, if I commit. The latter? That’s a little more complicated.

I wanted to, for example, take four classes, only one of which is part of my Core requirement. The other three were either classes I wanted to take to explore my potential major, or ones I wanted to take simply for my interest in the subject. The problem, though, is whether or not taking a full course load would mean sacrificing my other two goals. Did I really have time to take three reading-intensive classes, another class that meets five times a week, work out regularly, and show my face to the world every once and a while?

The answer, I realized, was no. I had to take into account factors like RSOs, the unfortunate location of my dorm relative to the gym, the additional time needed to not only meet new people but also to cultivate those friendships, and my powerful—and still unfulfilled—hope to forge a stronger connection to the city itself.

Hesitantly, I dropped a class, but the specter of my tuition money loomed over me, inducing intermittent pangs of guilt. The whole decision-making process, though it led me to what I believe is the right choice, was accompanied by a large degree of anxiety, the same sort of anxiety I watched my peers experience as they tried to figure out what classes to take in the frenzied period known as Add/Drop.

Some students attend as many as six or seven classes in a hectic two days to try to determine those three or four official slots. Major reading assignments—and sometimes even written assignments—are due as early as the second day of class, which forces students to commit before they’ve even gotten a feel for the class. It’s frustrating for many students to have to make such important decisions in such a small window of time, which is what Add/Drop necessitates.

How can some of these time limitation-induced anxieties be reduced? Extending Add/Drop to create a period similar to other institutions’ “Shopping Periods” is structurally impossible due to the quarter system. It would be helpful, though, if professors limited the workload for the first few classes before fully diving into the course load, or possibly made sure the syllabus was available for students to view before the first day of class. Even small changes like these would make a big difference.

Another way to reduce stress, though, relies not on structural changes or the decisions of professors, but on changing our attitudes about course loads. The system allows you to drop classes as late as the third week of class if it’s not working out, but this is assuming you’re comfortable taking only three classes, and many people simply aren’t—I’ve had several friends contend that doing so would be wasting their tuition money and not making the most of their time here. Taking three classes often comes with the stigma of being a slacker or, in our future-obsessed college culture, of being shortsighted.

But many people forget that college isn’t necessarily about accumulating or possessing knowledge, but being initiated into the world of knowledge; this consists not only of taking classes but using the critical thinking skills developed in those classes to explore the world beyond Hyde Park. Scholarship isn’t confined to the classroom. Seeing plays downtown, biking (or tandem-biking!) with friends on breezy weekend afternoons, and tasting the culinary delights of world-class restaurants are just as valuable to the college experience as taking that extra course.

So, for those students facing similar dilemmas, are lighter schedules and less stress realities for spring quarter? They can be, if we realize that fewer classes don’t necessarily result in an intellectual letdown.

Emily Wang is a first-year in the College.