We are always running. We run to class, we run to work and we run to meet our friends. Running always seems to be fashionable at Yale. If your feet aren’t pounding on the pavement, then everyone thinks that you’re crouched over, wheezing and struggling to catch your breath.
Our lives are so often characterized by the amount of ink in our planners. We peer over our friend’s Macbook Pro to see how many events are plugged into their Google calendar. We feel inadequate when we have fewer entries on our own calendars, and then we wonder why we feel this way. Why are we judged if we don’t finish the three papers due at the end of the week, write two feature-length articles and show up to all of our club’s events? Many of us work so that we can buy the books that those essays are about. As much as we love running, we all need to tie our shoelaces eventually, lest we fall. But what happens when some of us need to pause more frequently than others?
We want to run all the time, but the racetrack is not paved evenly for everyone. Some of us trip over the cracks in our paths as we desperately try to catch up to our classmates who got a head start. Those cracks can be the 10-hour shift you have to work to pay tuition or the time you had to take off for mental health. Why can’t we have smoother pavement? If we stop to cement over the cracks, we’ll find ourselves at the back of the race. Even though there are often structural barriers concerning race, class and sex that prevent some of us from running as far as others, it seems that fixing these structural problems sets us back farther in our personal goals. If we fully want to work toward a broader goal — like faculty diversity — we have to sacrifice our own grades and personal commitments. Many campus activists struggle to balance schoolwork with activism. We’re forced to either keep running on cracked pavements or to quit the race altogether.
So many Yalies talk about this “running” in an abstract sense. We lament that we have to be the best at everything all the time, for no good reason at all. We bow our heads and pretend that Yale is the best racetrack in the world, because when we finish the race we’ll get a reward, no matter what. This only makes the situation worse; as James Cersonsky ’10 wrote in the Nation, “At once, Yale buys up and gentrifies local property, forces the hands of its labor unions … pours money into a new foreign policy institute and remains on the lookout for new global investment opportunities.” It’s a vicious cycle; when we convince ourselves that running on this cracked pavement isn’t too bad, because we’re at Yale, the worse the race becomes for everyone. The solution isn’t to dismiss activism, but to learn how to balance it with other events in our lives. Problems affecting students both at Yale and in the surrounding area are immediate and real. It doesn’t do us any good to pretend the pavement is perfect. Instead of focusing on how much we can do — and how far we can run relative to others — we should learn how to make the run smoother for everyone.
Instead of shunning people that don’t run a million miles, we should ask how we could smooth the pavement. This can range from making extracurricular activities more accessible to those with cracks in front of them by reducing the time required for them, or being an ally in activism when necessary. “Smoothing the pavement” can be as simple as withholding judgment when your friends didn’t finish all their papers or show up to your club’s events.
This cult of running is bad for everyone, but the constant need to excel at everything affects some on campus more than it affects others. The students with crappy running shoes and cracked racetracks just can’t keep up. Am I suggesting that we pull out completely? No. But there are ways that our running mates can pick us up when we fall.
Isis Davis-Marks is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .