By Quinlyn Manfull
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8 a.m. I walk (more likely elevator) up to the fourth floor of Eaton for ANTH 344: Medical Anthropology. As I slink in and place my half chugged coffee from the Bistro down on the table, a friend always asks how much sleep I got. More often than not, my response is, “it was actually a good night! About 4-5 hours.”
Now I am vastly aware of how unhealthy this is. I am also vastly aware of how many Willamette students this is true for. When I came here in August of 2015, the main piece of advice I received from older students was to make sure I didn’t get over-involved. But this is no student’s fault, instead it is a reality of the late-capitalism hellscape we have been thrust into without consent.
We often cite this as Willamette culture, but its not unique here. Students across the country are competing to be the most involved for a multitude of reasons.
First, as a Bachelors becomes more necessary for entry-level positions, we have to take it upon ourselves to stand out any way we can. It is not enough to graduate with a 3.0, you have to also show numerous examples of leadership in multiple areas of interest, but also show a focused and understandable career trajectory while also being flexible.
Pressure to join clubs also comes from a desire to “get the most out of your college experience.” Are you really living it up and getting the college experience if you go to bed at 9 p.m. every night, don’t join a club, don’t make friends? Probably not, but that’s also just what we’ve been told.
Then, because of the failures of capitalism: increasing income inequality and lack of access to escape from oppressive cycles, students become even more overworked in order to pay for food and housing. According to a survey by researchers at Temple University, 36 percent of college students say they are food insecure. Forcing students to pay skyrocketing tuitions, expend an excess of unpaid labor on campus, and then work through the night on both homework and attempting to pay the bills results in students unable to dedicate adequate time to academia.
46 percent of students, from the same survey, say they had difficulty paying for housing and utilities. This is in part because of skyrocketing tuition, but also skyrocketing housing prices as attempts to make a University stand out and bring in wealthier students raises prices for everyone (including those in the surrounding city).
When university students glamorize suffering, they bolster the late-capitalist hegemonic ideology by valorizing exploitation. This makes the most exploited, the most exhausted and the poorest students the epitome of academic nobility.
Capitalism tells us that our value is sourced from our productive capacity. To be overworked is to be valuable. We should, from birth, glamorize a future in which we earn money – that money should dictate our hopes, dreams and goals. Competing to be the most overworked, the best laborer or the best at self-exploitation merely reinforces notions of giving your body over for others to profit off of.
Only eating ramen, sleeping less than five hours a night and having the purple-est bags under your eyes is an attempt to prove yourself to the future workforce, to prove that you can be exploited easily. We stress to stand out among other overworked and underpaid peers as the best at being utilized.
We may be preparing for the workforce this way. Seeing as, according to a Gallup poll, full-time employees work up to 46.7 hours a week on average, nearly a full extra 8-hour day over the 40-hour week norm. Even more work over 60-hour work weeks. These hours are normalized and glorified, even as they slowly kill our bodies and our spirits.
Leisure should be felt by all university students with no shame from parents who think you should be spending all your time working towards an expensive degree, from professors who think you should spend more time working on their class or your friends who make you feel bad for taking the evening to sleep instead of starting that 20-page paper.
Obviously, many of us do not have the time to leisure – and that’s the point. Leisure and the $40 soy candle self-care industry is reserved for the wealthy while the rest of us are supposed to be constantly proving ourselves to future exploiters – or employers.
Willamette can choose to be as Liberal-Artsy as it wants, but at the end of the day we are here to become more employable. We do everything in order to prove our productive capacity, in order to make a living so we can be exploited daily until we die. Competition over who can sleep the least is just an extension of this – its time we start thinking this way.