OPINION: Being unhappy at one of the ‘happiest colleges’ in the U.S.

upset woman near red flag
Graphic by Nina Potischman

Claremont McKenna College is often touted as one of the “happiest colleges” in the U.S. for many reasons. It’s always sunny, most of us don’t have classes on Fridays and we’re given a great deal of freedom when it comes to party culture.

However, CMC can also be a great source of stress, anxiety and isolation for some students. As a result, this happy reputation sometimes leads students to internalize the idea that they’re supposed to be happy and when they are not, it’s somehow their fault.

This is true for me.

During my first year at CMC, I was introduced to a new environment. It was particularly difficult to adapt to a classroom and social setting unlike any other school I had previously attended.

Despite having attended predominantly white institutions my entire life, I felt as if the fall of my first year was defined by events, small and large, that reminded me of my otherness as a black student on campus.

One incident was particularly damaging to my CMC experience.

Like many first-years, I was excited for my first Toga Party. As the night progressed, I found myself in a room with one of the students with whom I went on a trip during orientation. Shortly after, one of the leaders of that trip came to the room.

He clearly was very intoxicated and took a seat next to me. The n-word had been used in a song playing in the background, and I vividly remember him blurting it out, so I asked him what he said.

He said the n-word again.

My black friend and I were in shock, and said it was not his place to use that word. He responded that because he was a quarter Japanese, he was allowed to say it.

Any pre-existing sense of trust or respect that I had built for this leader quickly deteriorated after this night. I did not know how to voice concern about this incident, and I certainly did not know to whom I would express it.

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I told a few other people who also went on the orientation trip, but they found the situation comical. I could not understand why people would laugh at something so hurtful.

I was led to doubt myself and question my anger. I found myself increasingly isolated, having lost a source of support while also feeling more distant from a community in which I already felt like I did not belong.

This experience, along with others, has defined my past two years at CMC. My experience has been one marred by confusion, isolation and anger.

I write about this story to show how loneliness and isolation can manifest within students on our campus. I felt alienation by people who were meant to make me feel more at home at this institution.

What keeps me at CMC is the education I receive. I am a student before I am a member of this community. However, I fear that many lost in loneliness or unable to express their unhappiness grow increasingly helpless.

We assume happiness to be a requisite for being a CMC student, which leads many to ignore underlying issues concerning mental health across our student body. Without sufficient support networks fortified by inclusivity, tragic events like the death of two students earlier this year may reoccur.

For CMC to be more inclusive, the administration must pour resources into tackling the issue. As individuals, and a community, we deserve more from one of the “happiest colleges” in the U.S.

Chris Agard CM’ 21 is a philosophy, politics and economics major. In his free time, he thinks of things to do with his free time.

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