Over Critical State of Mind

Nadia Shahab Diaz ’21, Opinion Columnist

Now, this may be an unpopular opinion, but I’ve genuinely enjoyed eating on campus lately. I can play with different combinations of CYO smoothies in the Juice Bar or the variety of student feature sandwiches at the Quarry. I’ve liked seeing the new recipes added to the Dining Hall menu, the vegetables at the pasta bar and the increase in ice cream options, and I’ve always taken advantage of the deli sandwich station with the panini press. 

I’m not saying that I wouldn’t rather go home for a homemade meal, or that it’s the same quality as a five-star restaurant; however, I can’t deny my admiration for Dining Services. Arguably one of the most-critiqued departments on campus (and I base that assumption on seeing how popular a Dining Services forum hosted by Student Senate ranks in comparison to student attendance at open forums for other departments), it continues to gracefully take student feedback, both positive and negative, to implement changes that they hope will go by well. 

This isn’t to be an opinion article on what I think of Dickinson’s Dining Services. But, it is an example for a pattern that I’ve seen throughout campus in my two years here, where it has become so easy to critique and complain about what is not perfect. 

It seems that, when students first arrive on campus, there is so much excitement for what’s to come, the new things to try, the overwhelming number of college hacks and traditions to discover. And, yet, that enthusiasm and eagerness quickly fades as people uncover little things, and even big things, that aren’t perfect about this school, whether it is the faulty parts of their residential facilities, the menu for the day that’s somehow collectively agreed upon as “inedible,” or any major frustrations with transparency and action by the administration; it accumulates. A negative mindset toward the school develops very quickly. Sometimes to the point where I’ve heard (and, admittedly, even made) jokes that our school spirit centers around what we hate about Dickinson. It’s toxic. 

Maybe that’s just me. Maybe that’s only been the experience of myself and the people that I surround myself with, but it seems to be too common a pattern. In fact, if anyone is familiar with the infamous “Sophomore Slump,” I remember feeling overwhelmingly unhappy on campus at the start of my second year, to the point where transferring was a serious consideration for many months. I felt so overcome by negative experiences and what negative talk I was surrounded by that there seemed little reason to stay at Dickinson, especially when many people around me even encouraged the move to transfer. Frankly, such negativity isn’t a mentality that I wanted to graduate with, especially after investing thousands of dollars into this experience, especially when I’d been so passionate about this institution during my college admissions process. 

I have no step-by-step instructions on how to change that mentality, but here’s something I did: I applied to be a tour guide for Dickinson Admissions. In the process of training to advocate for the school, to advertise it to prospective students and families, to present what were the parts of it that I loved, I started to rediscover the reasons as to why I came to Dickinson. I became more invested in Dickinson’s Student Senate as an APSC (Academic Programming & Standards Committee) Senator, where I had a direct hand and voice in decisions made about academic policies on campus, realizing how much the faculty and administration take students and the student experience into account in their decision-making. I watched department heads present at open forums hosted by the Student Senate, where they tried to be transparent about the state of the college and any initiatives that they were working on, trying to debunk any rumors that were spread throughout the student body. I made efforts to see the college that I had chosen, that I had fallen out of love with, in a different light, after having driven myself into a self-reinforcing spiral of negativity.

In no way am I saying that there aren’t things that the school does wrong, or that it isn’t flawed. I also don’t want to insinuate that those who decide to depart aren’t justified in their transfer, or that they didn’t attempt to give the school a chance beforehand, or that the school was a perfect fit for them aside from the fact that they were too pessimistic about it. However, I think that there is a point at which one becomes overly critical, where one’s complaints frame things in such a negative light that they cannot easily look beyond it anymore. That mentality is contagious. I really believe that there is an issue amongst the student body in regard to trudging through the Dickinson experience with dread and complaints, with walking into Old West carrying a passion and going back down those steps relieved to get out. Although I don’t have the authority to tell someone how they should view their experience, I do truly wish that this will not continue to be the norm.