I hear (and participate in) a lot of discussions on campus about how CMC does not provide enough support for students who are not interested in economics/government/consulting/finance/etc. While I agree that we can do more, sometimes I worry that the bigger problem is actually that even when the institution does provide resources and opportunities for students with more diverse interests, our community does not come together enough to appreciate and celebrate their accomplishments.
A few weeks ago, I attended the Appel Fellowship’s Athenaeum lunch and I left the Ath sincerely wishing that more of the CMC community had attended and heard from these students. This is not to pat myself on the back; I attended largely because a couple of my friends are Fellows and because I once again forgot to go grocery shopping and needed to eat lunch somewhere.
The Appel Fellows are a group of now-sophomores who received funding during their first summer to complete a writing project based on whatever experiences they had during their summer. Honestly, I was pretty floored when I heard my peers talking about their experiences and reading excerpts from their written work. These are students who exhibit so many of the qualities that CMC claims to want to see and develop. They specifically chose nontraditional summer experiences, they took new opportunities and carved their own paths, and they all sought to broaden their perspectives and engage with the world around them. And they did this all while completing immense (and immensely impressive) written projects that are much different from the Stata analysis that so many CMCers seem to believe is a necessary part of their summer experiences.
I want to commend the Appel Fellows for their work, but I also want to challenge the way the rest of us engage with these aspects of our community. There were maybe twenty attendees at the Athenaeum celebration, and many of them were faculty and staff associated with the Fellowship. None of the Fellows seemed phased; I am sure they have seen how CMC places different levels of value on various activities. This was not just a case of students not receiving institutional support, however. On the contrary, it seems like they had a fairly high level of access to resources–both financial and academic–and they were receiving an Athenaeum lunch celebration.
What they lacked was interpersonal support from the community that is not simply resource-based. If we want to encourage more students to explore non-traditional experiences and seize opportunities that may not be a part of the usual CMC path, then we have to show that we value more than simply who scored a summer internship at Bain. We, as students, should celebrate CMCers for all their achievements, especially those that challenge us to think critically about our own decisions and experiences.
Sure, we packed Parents Field for the Roberts Dedication Party, but do those of us who complain about the lack of support for the arts attend the senior music recitals and art shows or read and share pieces from Discourse Magazine? Maybe we like our friends’ Facebook posts about the homogeneity of certain academic departments, but did we show up for the Faculty Diversity Awards to congratulate Professor Selig and Professor Hwang? I am just as guilty of falling into this trap: it is easier to complain about what CMC fails to do than to celebrate the accomplishments of students and faculty who make the best out of non-ideal situations. I hope, however, to push myself and others to be more cognizant and recognize that CMC does produce a variety of experiences and opportunities for community members. We should pause and appreciate them even as we continually work to improve this institution.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention the benefits that we gain from celebrating the under-appreciated aspects of our community. When you are struggling to figure out what your passion is and what you want out of your life, it is helpful to hear about someone else’s journey. There are CMCers who are writing novels, exploring their histories and identities, challenging their previously held beliefs about what work can mean, and so much more. They can provide inspiration, force us to reflect upon our own lives, or maybe just become new friends or mentors. Regardless, they broaden our perceptions of what is possible, and that is invaluable in and of itself. If we truly want to encourage more diversity in all aspects of CMC life, then we must do better to appreciate what we already have.