This is a letter to the editor submitted by incoming Common Council member Jorge DeFendini. It was not written by the Ithaca Voice. To submit letters to the editor, please e-mail them to Matt Butler at mbutler@ithacavoice.com.

This past week has been hard for Cornell Students. A bomb threat on Sunday, November 7, was followed by warnings of an active shooter near North Campus on Tuesday. For many students who sheltered in place, uncertain if they were in harm’s way, the top concern was not their safety— it was handing in a late assignment. While this may seem irrational, consider that there was no respite the following day, no leniency for late assignments, and only a one day postponement for exams. And from Cornell’s Administration? A mere email acknowledging the events of the week with hyperlinks to “helpful resources.” 

This mentality is a product of the toxic work culture Cornell has actively encouraged on campus. With rampant grade deflation, professors boasting the difficulty of their “weed out” classes, and student organizations that can quickly transform from a hobby to a job, the stress that Ivy League students find themselves under quickly becomes visible. Unfortunately, their options for help grow slimmer with each passing year. During the pandemic, our only peer-led counseling program, EARS (Empathy, Assistance & Referral Service), was impaired due to a complete restructuring over concerns about Cornell’s general liability insurance. Similarly, Cornell Health’s limited staff of therapists and psychiatrists can mean wait times as long as months for a consultation, with care providers juggling dozens of patients at once. Pair a competitive and overworked student body with limited health resources, and suddenly the fear of midterms begins to make sense.

This mental health crisis did not begin in 2021; it didn’t even begin at the start of the pandemic. This problem has been festering for decades now, and Cornell’s Administration appears to be as prepared to address it now as they were then: not at all. The demands for more trained therapists appear on the list created by Latinx students who took over Day Hall in 1993—nearly 30 years ago. With no aid from the Administration or from professors who risk their own tenure tracks by falling behind their departments’ unrelenting expectations, the burden of support falls to upperclassmen, themselves heavily overworked. Mere months from graduation, juggling their academics, leadership roles, and now the health of their peers, we have cultivated a culture of sinking ships saving other sinking ships.

Cornell University cannot boast that they foster the future leaders of this country if they all burnout before they can graduate. Cornell students, exhausted and fed up with their University’s negligence, recognize this too and are also calling on Cornell to Do Better. They have published a list of demands and are calling on the Administration to respond accordingly. As an incoming member of Ithaca’s Common Council, I recognize the importance of validating the lived experiences of a community and responding accordingly. As a student, I’ve lived through the unsustainable culture Cornell continues to perpetuate. Sadly, many have not. In their honor, and for the sake of current and future students, I am calling on Cornell to validate their students’ humanity and adhere to their demands: DO BETTER.