April is my least favorite time of year at Tufts. The weather is rainy. Coursework is bearing down on you. You’re dealing with summer plans, fall plans, life plans. Then there’s the fact that every possible extracurricular event under the sun occurs in April. From plays to sports events and a cappella events to academic symposia, April wears us out.
As I prepared myself for a month of little sleep and lots of late night Brown and Brew, I was reminded of something Byllye Avery, a health care activist and founder of the National Black Women’s Health Project, said when she came to speak here in the fall. She commented on the tendency of leaders to get so caught up in helping other people, that we forget to take care of ourselves. She suggested that students consciously take one hour a day just for themselves. No homework, no housemates, no e-mail.
But that’s hard. I find myself even negotiating with that dictate. How about one hour, three days a week? Where amidst the chaos that is college life do we find 1/24 of our day to just give away…to ourselves?
I don’t think Tufts is a particularly competitive environment, certainly nowhere along the lines of other institutions where students fight each other tooth and nail to succeed. But it takes a certain amount of drive (or family money) to get into a school like Tufts. We have demonstrated in our high school experiences that we are not slackers. We have motivation. We have desire. We have intellect. And many of us also have the urge to serve our communities.
As an institution, Tufts takes pride in its commitment to public service, and pride in its students’ involvement. Looking through the students profiled in one of the new admissions publications sent to admitted students, there is a clear emphasis on students who have been involved in pretty impressive public service activities, some even in high school. In choosing to profile these students, the University sends the message, “Come here, and you can do these things, too!”
However, this isn’t necessarily possible for all students, or desirable. There is some merit to being one of the ‘ordinary’ students at Tufts. The ordinary student doesn’t completely forsake his or her civic responsibilities, but understands the importance of a well-rounded college life. He knows that he has his entire life ahead of him to make change, but only four years to go to frat parties, explore the city, make friends, and just enjoy life with little responsibility.
I’m not saying that public service isn’t a virtuous activity by any means. But as an institution, are we encouraging students to help others to the point of failing to take care of themselves? If one looks at the equivalent “public service” activities done by the University in terms of its community relations, it certainly seems to be the case. In several instances, the University focuses on helping the communities of Medford and Somerville at the expense of the student population. Take the issues surrounding the construction of Sophia Gordon Hall. The University has failed to take a strong stance against the manipulative, extortive tactics of the City of Somerville, in the interest of community relations, at the expense of the student body, who will have to go yet another year with nothing done to relieve the chronic housing shortage.
Just look at the programs available here. The University has numerous programs designed at increasing the health status of populations in Somerville and Chinatown, yet we are one of the few colleges in our peer group with no comprehensive campus health education program. There is an entire division of the University designed to assist and encourage students to pursue public service, yet resources for students’ personal development are at best limited, and at worst, nonexistent.
We have one of the highest tuitions in the country. Yet our dorms and classrooms are lackluster at best. Students are the customers of this University, and they should thus be the priority. We don’t pay to go here to help other people. We (or our parents) pay to better our own situation. In the end that may lead to bettering the situation of others, as it well should. But the University has an obligation to provide services to its students so as to make the healthiest college experience possible.
The money and student interest is out there, contrary to the belief of some administrative and student leaders. Students recognize the stressors that exist on this campus just as much as they recognize the issues of poverty and social inequity in our surrounding communities. This year, Health Services is sponsoring a Spring Oasis, a health fair designed to reduce stress during this most stressful month of the year. There is no reason why programs like this cannot fill our calendar throughout the year, if the administration shows some commitment to it.
Sure, public service is great, and sounds great in appeals to donors and prospective students. But students shouldn’t feel pressured to do public service because Tufts says so. The best public service programs come from personal passions and inspirations. And those passions and inspirations come with time. If we overwork ourselves in our undergraduate years, we may never see those passions come to fruition.
As Byllye Avery pointed out, if you don’t take care of yourself, eventually you won’t be around to take care of other people. Like most things in life, a balance of public and personal service will yield the best outcomes for all parties involved. As the Jewish philosopher Hillel famously said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” We have our entire lives to worry about other people. For now, we have to remember to also worry about ourselves.
Adam Pulver is a junior majoring in political science and community health. He can be reached at [email protected]