Academic Rigor and Cura Personalis at Holy Cross

Julia Maher ‘23

Chief Opinions Editor

It is no secret that the College of the Holy Cross values academic excellence. With a 34% acceptance rate and a hustle culture, many students and professors push themselves and others to work an exorbitant amount of hours. This is often seen as a virtue, since it reveals a strong work ethic. But it is also a major vice, since it leads to the compromising of one’s mental health for the elusive concept of “success.” Eventually, we all reach our breaking point. It is not healthy or sustainable to expect academic, extracurricular, and social perfection at all times. This pressure is created not only by Holy Cross professors but also by the legacy of the College and the social norms perpetuated by its students. As a rigorous Jesuit institution, Holy Cross faces a unique yet critical obligation to preserve the wellbeing of its students.

     Holy Cross has a unique obligation to foster an environment that supports mental and emotional health due to its Jesuit identity. The College preaches the concept of cura personalis, which translates to “care for the whole person.” The “whole” of the person denotes not only striving for academic excellence, but also making room for rest, which is essential for mental and emotional health. Although the College constantly refers to this principle, the implementation and practice of it is fairly weak.

     The institution’s obligation to preserve its students’ wellbeing is also critical because many students struggle with mental health. The academic, extracurricular, and social norms perpetuated by professors and students just do not allow for any time to rest. It is extremely unrealistic to fulfill all of these norms and still function like a healthy human being. As a rigorous college with a strong legacy of tradition, however, it is difficult for Holy Cross to alter its culture.

     Some norms created by professors and students are the culture of hustling at all costs, regardless of health consequences, being involved in an endless list of extracurricular activities, networking to land internships, and going out every weekend with friends. With the academic rigor of Holy Cross in mind, this is almost impossible to achieve, unless you are superhuman or a robot. Each of the classes at Holy Cross should take 8-12 hours out of your week, according to the College. That adds up to 32-48 hours per week, and some students work even longer hours than this, depending on the classes. Solely from taking classes, students are already working full time jobs. Now factor in employment, networking, extracurriculars, and social events, and students are absolutely swamped with commitments. The expectation to party or go out every weekend is especially not inclusive of introverted and neurodivergent students, who might require ample alone time to recharge.

     One way for students to resist this hustle culture is to simply embody a lifestyle that prioritizes rest and mental health. There are several options on campus to achieve this goal, such as the Counseling Center, Chaplains’ Office, and wellness programming. But these options only add more time and commitments to students’ schedules, when what students actually need is to be less busy. With that in mind, it is easier said than done to prioritize wellness when you’re constantly surrounded by social pressures to fit in and get ahead. We can only do so much as students to try to shift the culture from the ground up without help from the administration to create concrete structural change.

     It is really important that not only students shift their perspective but also professors and the administration. There needs to be some reform to make room for students to rest and prioritize their health. One simple policy change could be to not assign work to be due after academic breaks. The first one to two days after students come back from break could focus on reviewing academic material from before break, and there could be a short period of respite from the hustle of everyday life at Holy Cross. This would allow students to truly rest during break, instead of worrying about the assignments they have due when they come back.

     Although not assigning material for immediately after break would inevitably cause delays in the curriculum, these rest days could be built into the syllabus from the very beginning of the course, which would allow for the completion of the whole curriculum. Personally, I had to take three days out of my fall break just to complete readings and assignments for my classes. This is ridiculous and should not be necessary.

     Aside from shifting courses to allow for actual rest during breaks, there also simply needs to be more leniency in professors’ policies, particularly if students need extensions due to mental health concerns. This is tricky, though, since Holy Cross has a long legacy that sets a precedent for academic rigor. But progress is inevitable as time goes on, and I’m confident that eventually the College will understand students’ struggles and perspectives. It is never a valid excuse to say, “This is how it always has been.” Time always changes things.

     Ultimately, there needs to be change in the expectations of students, both from the bottom up, through the culture created by the students, and from the top down, through the structural change supported by the administration. We really cannot keep going on as we are right now because it will worsen mental health issues in students. To truly align with the concept of cura personalis and the College’s Jesuit heritage, structural changes to the culture and policies of Holy Cross must occur.

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