After reading the “Despite Transports, Harwood Likely to Return” article published in last week’s TSL, my first thought was that this is very typical of how the administration responds to problems of this type. Instead of asking why there has been a spike in alcohol poisoning recently, the school’s response is to threaten to cancel a party associated with excessive drinking. I’m tired of hearing about how students need to stop drinking too much and/or be more responsible when they drink. Maybe I am asking too much of an institution in requesting introspection, but maybe the problem is not only that there is a drinking culture at the 5Cs. Maybe the problem is that there is also a pressure culture.
There are easy, classical ways to categorize pressure: pressure to succeed, peer pressure, societal pressure. But the pressure culture at Pomona is more than that: we’re supposed to be here to learn new things, but if we don’t understand everything perfectly right away, we won’t get As and we won’t get into graduate school. Is the school here to teach us something we don’t know and to love learning, or is its goal to teach us how to live in this kind of an environment? Shouldn’t Pomona aim to teach us to love learning rather than to believe that, if we don’t understand everything right away, we are going to fall behind and stay behind? College—and particularly a liberal arts college—should not only be about getting us ready for the world; it should make us want to learn, to stay curious, to enjoy life, and to get as much out of it as possible.
But I am not arguing that the drinking culture is solely reflective of the amount of pressure students at Pomona labor under; rather, I am arguing that the school needs to stop putting all the blame on students. People are not just drinking alcohol because they like it. The escapist element is unavoidable, especially when drinking becomes about excess. In my final year at Pomona, I’ve seen what the pressure of going to this school can do to people, and that, I think, is what we need to be talking about. Canceling Harwood Halloween is a red herring—it misdirects from the real problem, which is why some students drink too much.
I know I am walking a fine line here between arguing that the school is at fault and trying not to sound like I’m simply blaming the college for all its students’ problems. It’s important to acknowledge that there are greater forces at work in students’ lives than their time at this school. Being in my final year at Pomona has also made me realize something else: we are only here for four years. That is not a terribly long period of time. We have four years to leave our imprint on this place, and I want to speak up while I still can.