Why does campus culture stink?

Bex Heimbrock, Opinion Editor

Illustration by Kai Bowen.

The wet-blanket-ification of Whitman College has resulted in a campus culture of finger-wagging and desolate energy. Multiple times throughout this semester, I’ve asked my classmates, “Is it just me or is everything garbage right now?” Thankfully, I’m not the only one who feels it — general suckage is currently at an all-time high on campus. At the core of the problem, however, is something not easily fixed by “de-stress fests” or zen club.

There’s a term for what’s happening: student disconnection. Recently, The Chronicle of Higher Education asked over 100 faculty members about student disengagement. Faculty responded with descriptions of students as “defeated,” “exhausted” and “overwhelmed.” In an op-ed for the New York Times, a professor at Southern Methodist University wrote that “[students after the pandemic] performed worse than any students I had encountered in two decades of teaching.”

These feelings are not relegated to academic performance. Though we have emerged from lockdown, social isolation has largely continued.

Social media usage skyrocketed during the pandemic. While this allowed users to stay connected with friends and family, it has now become detrimental to users’ well-being. Social media has created echo chambers in a moment where society is frazzled, exhausted and irritable.

On a college campus, there’s no better place for those emotions to come out than on YikYak.

“Anderson ladies! Quieter vibrators please!”

“Whoever’s literally screaming on Ank at 1 a.m., just know I’m thoroughly judging you from the comfort of my room.”

“I pissed in a bottle for the first time in my life because someone I really don’t want to interact with had an hour long convo outside my door.”

“The frisbee team does not appreciate whoever did this. The 12 teams we’re hosting no longer have access to the bathroom,” attached to a picture of two knocked over porta potties.

Chiding fellow classmates, even over something as banal as talking in a hallway, has become a norm on YikYak and other spheres of communication at Whitman. This culture of shaming stems, in large part, from the hyper-individualization that the lockdown created, and which extensive social media use promotes. The neologism “couldn’t be me” perfectly encapsulates this problem: what you’re doing is embarrassing/wrong/below me. It couldn’t be me, so I refuse to empathize.

We should be careful to distinguish between necessary critique and chiding. Necessary critique is done with careful intention, bringing our community together to confront issues. Chiding is complaint for the sake of complaint, sometimes bordering on bullying, like the YikYak demeaning “Anderson ladies” for having loud vibrators — something completely out of anyone’s control.

When we ask ourselves why at least 61 percent of young adults feel “serious loneliness” and why professors are sounding the alarm over a clearly growing crisis among students, we should first look to the cultures we are creating in campus spaces.

Do we truly want to be the kind of people who shame each other over loud vibrators and tipped-over porta potties? Or, after a heart-wrenching three years of pain and isolation, do we want to embrace life? Why shouldn’t we do radical, risky and fun things?

If nothing changes, it’s safe to say that campus culture will be like a porta potty: you never know whose shit you’re gonna get.