Dear First-Years: The World Has Slowed Down. So Can We.

The Maroon Editorial Board urges incoming students to prioritize rest and community-building as they begin their time at UChicago—not just academics.


Christine Schmidt

An O-week procession.

By Maroon Editorial Board

Dear First-Years,

These are, as you may have heard, unprecedented times.

There’s a global economic downturn, national conventions have been reduced to virtual livestreams, and the urgency with which many of us used to bustle about our day has been put on hold. As we’re living through history, we’re discovering that our world isn’t built to function at full speed during a pandemic. 

Neither are you.

UChicago can be a beautiful and delightfully eccentric place—read: uncommon admissions essays, niche student interests, and Scav—but it can also be a demanding one. Our school, for better or for worse, is known for its “grind culture”; in 2016, Business Insider ranked us the second most hardworking school in the nation.

As we enter a quarter that promises unique strains, we must be mindful of the effect this ethos of productivity has on us. This quarter more than ever, we must give ourselves permission to rest.

Grind culture takes many forms at UChicago. It manifests as “academic one-upmanship” and the nagging urge many of us feel during quarantine to do something productive—anything. Workaholism can even seep into our social lives, when our desire for companionship morphs into a fixation on being socially productive and popular.

As Derek Thompson wrote in The Atlantic, at elite institutions like ours, work has evolved from a means of material production to a means of identity production. Work has become “workism,” “a kind of religion, promising identity, transcendence, and community.”

While the roots of workaholism are too deep to address in a single quarter, there are steps we can take to mitigate its worst effects. We can commit to seeking out help when we need it from peers, tutors, TAs, or professors. We can prevent burnout and chronic overbooking by actively scheduling time for relaxation. We can be mindful of moments when a workaholic impulse arises and seek to quell these over time.

But thankfully, one of the most effective remedies for workist culture is something that our campus offers in abundance: community.

We know how it feels to be anxiously facing months of uncertainty. When the pandemic hit, we played the role of both students and journalists, covering the chaos around us while still reacting to it ourselves. Ultimately, what got us through those difficult moments were social support networks, like ours here at The Maroon

Here are some activities being offered this quarter that we think might help us stay connected to one another, despite being physically apart.

To refine your rest or spiritual practice…

To just have fun…

To find community through common interests…

To stay musically active…

To tap into your introspective side…

To bond over shared identity or culture…

To stay sporty….

The ability to rest is a privilege that not all students are equally able to pursue, and an individual rest practice is no substitute for the difficult work of addressing a larger paradigm that values productivity over well-being. But even this, the work of bettering our world, requires a well-rested generation of thinkers and change-makers. 

Give yourself permission to do however much or little you feel inclined to do this quarter. If keeping your nose to the grindstone during a pandemic feels traumatic and taxing, that’s okay. If you feel energized and ready to explore your interests, that’s okay too. And if you aren’t sure how to feel, and you just need a moment to breathe, then welcome to the club.

Take this quarter to go easy on yourself, to “treat your calendar as a sacred text,” and to tend to the relationships that will make up the core of your college experience. Because in 2020, a year only fully captured by the word “unprecedented,” self-compassion and social connection will pay higher dividends than a few extra hours burning the midnight oil.

With love,

The Maroon Editorial Board