Journey to Cornell: Investigating the Student Social Life

Posted on December 29, 2010


      It began as a question from a friend while walking off Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn campus and quickly grew into an epic adventure fueled by curiosity. “I wonder what ‘regular’ college is like?” Will Van Zee, a 3rdyear Industrial Design major, asks as he passes by a gang of hipster-dressed design students. At first, the question seemed rhetorical;

yet, it stuck. What the hell is that suppose to mean? Pratt is just as regular as any other college out there. It has its fair share of Greek life, boring lecture classes and even a communally despised bursars office. Not to mention, students champion the local party scene as among the best in Brooklyn. “It’s even one of the only schools in the city with an actual campus with grass lawns!” Van Zee says.  But the general sentiment from students here seemed to be like Will’s: Pratt doesn’t fit the college stereotype that they’d imagined. Being solely an art school in New York City, this makes a lot of sense. But what is this stereotype and where may an example be found? This is where curiosity led into a weekend road trip to visit a friend at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. During the stay, I would attempt to experience this stereotype, first hand; At least the party aspect of it.

Perhaps the most apparent difference between Pratt and Cornell is location. The City of Ithaca, with a population of around 30,000, heavily depends on Cornell both economically and socially. It’s a tight community surrounded by lush forests and gorges flanked by the Pocono Mountains with breathtaking scenes of nature around every corner. “I find myself at absolute peace when trying to study” Maxwell Grainger, a fourth year architecture student says. “It’s a perfect studying environment! But sometimes it can drive you crazy…but that’s where the partying and friends come in.”

After an exhausting eight-hour trip that was intended to last only four, my traveling companions and I arrive to our friend, Sava Demanski’s house at roughly 1am where she lives with 10 other girls. “We call it the brothel house”, Demanski chuckles as she explains the sleeping arrangements on the couches. As we talk on the front porch, her roommates begin to trickle in, each more inebriated than the last. The entertainment really began once we were all introduced with mass confusion setting in after stating that we had come all the way from Brooklyn. Demanski explains later that the majority of her roommates belong to sororities making them more social and out going by default.It would slowly become clear that Cornell was a school where Greek life was important in order to become more socially identified and connected in a campus of roughly 20,000 students (Pratt only having 4,000 roughly) with a third of undergraduates involved, says From talking with various Pratt students, this is perhaps the most common stereotype that is associated with a “regular” college with Cornell having 63 registered chapters and Pratt only having four. “It’s probably just like the movie Animal House!”, Van Zee laughs. The consensus here seems to be that Frats and Sororities at Pratt are much less popular than at bigger schools in secluded locations such as Cornell. However interestingly enough, it seemed that out of all the people in Greek chapters we met, barely any had art majors. Yet, this did nothing to diminish their mutual love of having a good time. 

One stereotype common among Pratt students is the tremendous amount of schoolwork non art-school students had in comparison to Pratt students. No doubt, Cornell students have their stereotypes about art school as if it’s “perpetually lazy, full of drugs and self-loathing” Demanski, a third year BFA printmaker says. Though when comparing the amount of studying a week, how much that’s assigned and the kind of work that is given, the frustration seems to be equivalent but in their own respect. “I’ve got about 8 hours of homework a day, every week” Demanski explains. “Most of it is reading but I almost always have to write a paper for every class”. In comparison, Pratt’s own BFA program has about the same amount of time devotion, however, with mostly art assignments that require more manual labor, process and persistent creative thinking. A glance at the school’s acceptance rates can help clarify the school’s expectations with Pratt 41% of applicants admitted and Cornell 21%. Not to mention, in 2009 Cornell’s school of Architecture, Art and Planning was dubbed the most selective with only about 15% of applicants accepted. As an Ivy League school, it seems that Cornell has more expectations and fundamental ideas stressed upon the liberal arts and sciences. Their motto? : “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.”- Ezra Cornell

It was Saturday morning around 8:30am when we were awakened by the screams and shrills of the roommates in the kitchen. “Woooooah!! Homecoming! Time for shots!!” They then proceeded to blast rap and dance while the rest of us were just coming back from a morning cigarette on the porch. “Wow… I thought New Yorkers went hard!” my friend Rich shouts. The alcohol consumption wouldn’t stop until 2am. After a couple Irish coffees and a shot of rum, we then discovered that the reason for this was that it was homecoming and Cornell was playing against Yale’s football team. We then also realized that they had all made matching tee shirts for their entire house. “This isn’t a Sorority house or anything, we just wanted to rep 409 Elmwood St.!” Quinn O’Neil, Demanski’s roommate, goes on to explain. “I modeled it after the Budweiser can design”. As the day wore on, it became apparent that, apart from Greek life, relationship and friendship was essential in order to survive at Cornell. According to The Tech, MIT’s newspaper, Cornell has one of the country’s highest suicide rates for a school with 4.3 a year per 100,000 students, and with six suicides within six months in 2009. This explained the fences on the bridges and the cameras surrounding the steep gorges. In comparison, suicides by Pratt students are rare and happen a couple years around. Though even bigger city schools such as NYU have extraordinary suicide rates of 7.5 a year per 100,000 students and just recently stole the title of “suicide school” from Cornell, states an article from The Gothamist. Perhaps there is something to say about ‘location’ of a school whether it’s in a crowded city block or a deserted field. Though thanks to recent suicide watch programs, both Cornell and NYU have seen these numbers drop.

Towards the end of the trip, it dawned on us that the stereotypes were all mostly true and we were satisfied with simply getting out of the city. Interestingly enough, the motto “work hard, party hard” seemed to fit perfectly with maybe the partying emphasized a little more. Most students seemed to be generally happy with Cornell and what they were studying. The trip was refreshing and made all of us re-think at least once about living in Brooklyn and what we study at Pratt. Yet, when asked if they would stay in Ithaca after graduating, the majority replied, “You’re kidding, right? I’ll be seeing you in NYC!”