After reconnecting with friends after break, talk inevitably turns to the imminent stress of juggling course work, GPA, potential majors, and internships. This quarter, however, there’s a stock response to the impending work load: At least it will be better than winter quarter.
The winter doldrums, now lifting, share some similarities with the beaten-into-the-ground “fun goes to die” stereotype. In both cases, negative expectations create their own truth. There’s a strong undercurrent of a complicated, near-obsessive relationship with our stereotype at this school. Even if a visiting prospective student doesn’t bring it up, it seems like eventually someone will vehemently assert that going to school here is fun—if you can escape the stereotype in order to find it.
And that’s what people try to do—escape the stereotype. One of my housemates has said that she isn’t “that kind of UChicago student.” Setting aside the ambiguity of that statement, it seems a bit ridiculous to attend the school while simultaneously distancing yourself from it. Describing yourself as “quirky” long ago became somewhat passé, but most people are here because they identified with that label to some extent. Wouldn’t this all be easier if we hadn’t created these stereotypes, which we now try to escape, in the first place? I don’t think anyone would or could deny that the University of Chicago is difficult, exacting, expensive, and even soul-crushing at times. But prematurely anticipating it to be like this limits us, and runs the risk of blocking the really great parts of college life from our view. I’ll be honest. The UChicago I fell in love with was actually UChicago in the winter, the snow-covered, lamp-lit, bitterly cold, horrendously windy, dark-mullioned-windows UChicago. The first time I visited as a prospective student, it was raining to beat the band; the next time, in late January, was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life—and I’m from Minnesota.
And, perhaps because of these initial experiences, I found that winter quarter was a great quarter, contrary to many other narratives. Maybe the barren, snow-covered tundra between classes over the last three months reminded me of home (where April just began with yet another blizzard), or maybe I’m just lucky that winter doesn’t affect me the way it affects many students. But part of it was certainly that I expected winter quarter to be worth the chill, stress, and all-nighters.
Spring quarter is expected to be better—and already, people seem happier, more active, and more balanced. The sunshine and rising temperatures absolutely help, and it’s great that things are looking up. But if spring quarter is seen as great only in comparison to winter quarter, that necessitates a dynamic range of enjoyment over the course of the year that serves very little purpose besides clearly demarcating quarterly moods. The truly significant things—friends, classes—don’t change with the weather, and dreading colder temperatures while exalting higher ones does more harm than good.
Similarly, by anticipating that the stereotypical UChicago experience is negative, the unfortunate aspects of college become all but inevitable, and the expectations reaffirm themselves. It’s a problematic and destructive cycle that contributes nothing to campus life besides a particular brand of martyrdom. So as prospies begin to arrive, carrying as much hope as the spring, don’t drive them away with UChicago horror stories. Instead, let them start their own journeys here, free from the negative culture we have now.
Ellen Wiese is a first-year in the College.