April 28, 2020

Remembering UChicago, Warts and All

We must resist the temptation to erase the negative aspects of UChicago in our memories, because confronting that toxicity is key to building a better campus for everyone.

"The perpetual wind that blows across the Midway. The Reg. Stealing a sleeve of bagels from the dining hall. The freezing cold while waiting in line for a frat party in skimpy shorts juxtaposed to the dripping heat once you enter. The Reg. Turning an assignment in at 11:58 p.m. on Canvas. The perpetual grey sky. The Reg. Getting food from the Kosher station since it’s the only food with flavor. Kent 107. Being sexiled by your roommate. Wondering how you can function off three hours of sleep. The Reg. Harper Cafe. Becoming a house ghost. Averting eye contact with the person you hooked up with at a frat. A constant state of exhaustion. The Reg. Explaining to your parents that you are ok just don’t have time to talk. Homesickness. Missing your dog. Realizing why UChicago is where fun comes to die. The Reg. Hum. Eating at Cathey although you live in North because the food at Baker and Bart is unbearable. The Reg.”

This list was provided by my Readings in World Literature class. It was our collective response to an unusual assignment: writing a list that characterizes our first-year experience. The list is rife with details of UChicago life, but the most essential thing it brings to light is that the University of Chicago is defined by a culture of negativity. Looking back and accepting this culture for what it was is especially important in times like what we are currently experiencing. 

The more time we spend away from campus, learning from the remoteness of our own homes, the more it seems we look back on our time on campus through rose-tinted glasses. I’ve heard even the most ardent anti-Bart eater comment that he would give anything to eat at the taco station. The resentment I held toward some aspects of UChicago has been numbed by the fact that I’m not at school. Waking up to the omnipresent gray sky was something that physically irked me while in Chicago. Thinking about the silver hue now, I am unable to replicate the feeling of deep antagonism I once held toward it. Like my friend, who spent his time in Baker, I would give anything to look up and see that sky once again. I would even go as far as to say that it would bring me joy, the absolute opposite effect it had on me this fall and winter. I even somewhat miss the physical feeling of stress—knowing there’s no way I’ll be able to complete my assignments without sleep deprivation—that manifested during late nights in the Reg. Yet, I know if the pandemic never occurred, I would still be at school, hating the gray sky and the intense workload without a second thought.

Quarantine has begun to act as anodyne for our bad experiences on campus. You may observe, as I have, that as we gain geographic and temporal distance from what were our everyday stresses, they can take on a positive hue. I found this rosy hindsight curious. How could the school that’s “the level of hell Dante forgot” transform into something positive? The answer is that the negativity at UChicago is mainly surface level. The reason it continuously taints our experience on campus is because we never get a break from the constant pressure. And since this tension is something everyone at UChicago can relate to, it is often what dominates the conversations and mindsets of the students. Nevertheless, I implore you to remember those adverse emotions for everything that they were. They were genuine and will resurface when we return to campus if we belittle the extent to which they negatively impacted us. We need to confront this negativity, to understand its source, so that we can be more mindful about finding positivity once we do find ourselves back at school.

Knowing that something we resent so passionately can evolve into something positive, given the right mindset, is a crucial thing that we can begin to apply to our lives in confinement. There’s latent positivity in many of the things we dislike, including the loneliness and frustration that come along with quarantine. If we can look back at strenuous 2 a.m. nights in the Reg in a positive light, we can also see a silver lining in the extended time with ourselves and, for many, our families. So, although difficult at times, we need to continuously remind ourselves that optimistic sentiments can grow from negative ones when we take a step back, and sometimes the best way to do this is through writing a list.

Maya Ordonez is a first-year in the College.