A reading week would ruin Cambridge
CUSU Women’s campaign and CDE have bred and spawned a new hashtag monster, #endweek5blues.
Every week in Cambridge seems to bring with it another ‘campaign.’ In Michaelmas, ‘No Platform’ reared its ugly head. Last week it was the spectactularly ineffective ‘WU?’ campaign’s turn in the spotlight.
And this week we have #EndWeek5Blues.
For those of you lucky enough to have not yet been exposed to #EndWeek5Blues, let me lay it out for you. From the creators of the CUSU Women’s campaign and Cambridge Defend Education (it already has the makings of a great movie trailer) comes a new campaign to… drumroll please… introduce a reading week into the Cambridge term.
They genuinely believe that after just 4 weeks of term, we already need a break. That after just a month of work, we are so exhausted that, without a week’s break, we will implode.
Ok, I hear you say, this sounds lazy, sure, but what damage could it possibly do?
Quite a lot, actually. This campaign runs the twin risks of both destroying what makes Cambridge University so great, and, just as worryingly, harming the very people it is trying to protect.
Let’s start by looking at the origin of this movement. #EndWeek5Blues began, quite commendably, as a reaction to statistics that are emerging regarding potentially worrying standards of mental health in Cambridge. The key source of these concerns is the recently published National Student Survey (NSS) 2014. The main statistics that are being thrown around are that only 55% of students find their workload manageable, and that, even more worryingly, 62% of students feel that their course applies unnecessary pressure.
However, what is remarkable is how high general approval rates were. There was a 91% overall satisfaction, the second highest rate of any university in the country. Meanwhile, only 38% of Cambridge students were satisfied with CUSU.
The statistical basis of the #EndWeek5Blues appears sketchy, at best. However, this does not undermine the importance of mental health issues in Cambridge. Of course, our university has a duty of care to protect and support any student who is legitimately suffering from mental health issues. But to dictate and reduce the best way of doing to a convenient hashtag makes grave assumptions that have little to do with the wider reality.
I take mental health issues seriously. I have seen friends have their lives torn apart by depression. However, it is precisely because of the importance of mental health issues that we need to grow up about them.
If you are stressed, you are not mentally ill. If you feel under pressure, tired or overworked then you are not mentally ill. Mental illnesses are medical disorders. These feelings, on the other hand, are perfectly natural human responses to difficult situations. And you know what? Cambridge is difficult. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be the best university in the country. If you are not feeling under pressure then you are not doing it right.
To say that your mental health is suffering when you are feeling this way is not just immature, but downright offensive to actual legitimate cases of mental illness in Cambridge, and dilutes their cause.
Of course, for those who truly suffer from mental illnesses, often the stress of a Cambridge term doesn’t help matters. However, in these cases, it is the underlying mental illness that is causing the problem, not the Cambridge workload. By and large, these students are perfectly capable of coping with the stresses of Cambridge life. If they weren’t, they would have made it here in the first place. It is the illness, not the workload, which is harming them, and thus the illness that needs to be treated.
The university is extremely good at dealing with mental illness. In response to last year’s Tab Mental Health Survey, the University issued a statement arguing that Cambridge provides more counsellors per student than any other UK university, and that this has led to one of the lowest drop-out rates in the world (1.3%).
I fail to see how introducing a week’s break in the middle of term will help to alleviate mental health concerns. Potentially, it could make them worse: staying in college for another week means paying another week’s rent, which could put additional financial stress on students, particularly those from low income backgrounds.
The potential harm that the #EndWeek5Blues campaign can do goes even further. It threatens to undermine one of the greatest strengths of our university.
Cambridge prides itself on producing future leaders in all fields, be it science, the arts, politics, international development or business. And the fact is, at the top level of these fields, you don’t get a week’s break every month. You work fucking hard, sometimes pulling 15 hour days, for up to 50 weeks a year, and barely get a chance to breathe. In almost all areas, you cannot separate success from hard, gruelling, constant work.
Oxbridge is the best preparation you will ever have for the difficulties of the real world- it throws you in at the deep end, forces you to sink or swim, to take responsibility for yourself and to force yourself to work harder than you thought possible.
Of course this is going to cause stress and pressure, but this is nothing compared to the pressure of working in a surgery, or an investment bank, or writing for a major newspaper- you don’t get 28 weeks holiday at the Times.
If you don’t think you can handle the workload, then don’t apply to Cambridge. There are plenty of other brilliant universities around the country with longer terms, reading weeks and less work. You can still come out of them with a fantastic degree, and great job prospects. But stop trying to turn Cambridge into one of them.
The caffeine fuelled all-nighters, fast approaching deadlines and intense, lightning short terms are part of what makes this place so special.