An Exaggerated Diagnosis

Last week, Alex-Maree Roberts ’16, discussing the culture of self-deprivation at Andover in her article “Unwellness Week,” concluded that we compete with each other in terms of who has the most unhealthy habits. She claims that the most respected student is one who regularly stays up until 3 a.m. or eats only a salad for dinner. The notion that we compete to be unhealthy, however, is inaccurate because our community does not associate such practices with success. To refute Roberts’ point about sleeping habits: we typically do not profess admiration for those who do not sleep. We all know the pain of staying up late, yet sympathy and empathy do not translate to praise, as nobody ever actually enjoys being in that position. In fact, many students are even embarrassed to admit when they have had a particularly late night. Likewise, we rarely use poor eating habits as a point of pride. While it is true that some students may not eat regularly during the day, day students have food at home, and boarders can take advantage of Fourth Meal and munches. Even the most difficult of circumstances, like not having a lunch period or having an athletic practice during dinner, should generally not result in a student being completely unable to eat, unless he or she is actively depriving himself or herself of food. The generalization that Andover students associate academic success with self-deprivation or hope to achieve perfection through such means is fundamentally wrong. In fact, individuals who are truly academically successful typically finish their work quickly, get enough sleep, eat regularly and, as a result, are healthy and energized. Moreover, Roberts even points towards the acknowledged importance of sleep in her own article. She cites the statistic that teens perform best with eight and a half hours of sleep, suggesting that most successful Andover students are likely those who get the requisite amount of sleep per night. The behaviors that Roberts mentions are, obviously, extremely self-destructive, but students who partake in them are aware of this fact. As a community, we should work to stem these behaviors, not because students associate them with academic success, but because students know such behaviors are bad and need help curbing them. Roberts’ answer to this conundrum—daily fixes and suggestions—ignores the heart of the issue. It accommodates students’ bad habits with short-term solutions that create long-term problems. For example, telling a tired student to simply go to Isham or bringing food to a hungry student will not keep him or her from sleeping or eating irregularly; instead, it sends the message that such practices are acceptable. The best possible solution is one that nips these bad habits in the bud. For example, proctors and prefects can pay close attention to younger students in dorms to ensure that they are not up late procrastinating. Teachers should keep a close eye on students who are having trouble completing assignments and should suggest they visit the academic skills center or study halls as necessary. In terms of eating habits, house counselors should make sure that fourth meal is always available to students in dorms. Dorms could also collectively purchase “emergency” food that could be set aside for students who do not have time for breakfast or dinner and would prefer to eat before or after Paresky Commons’ regular hours. Just this week, Aggie Kip, Nutrition Counselor and Sports Dietician, initiated a healthier addition to fourth meal, including fresh fruit, yogurt and granola. Most importantly, a profound understanding of the causes of certain behaviors on campus will allow us to come up with the most appropriate solutions, creating the best learning environment for each and every one of us. This is a gradual process, and, as we become more aware of our own and each others’ unhealthy habits, we can develop strategies to cope with them. For that to happen, we must first refrain from blaming it on a culture of competition or making assumptions about students beliefs.