Editorial: Tick, Tock


The clock is ticking.

Three midterms in one week. It’s survivable, but barely. Two hundred pages of reading and at least 10 pages of notes for each course add up to roughly 630 pages of text. Admittedly, studying a couple weeks ahead of time would have been a better choice, but all those applications, the unyielding flood of regular homework, daily meetings and that unfortunate necessity called sleep got in the way. So here we are. The clock is ticking, bringing the first of three closer and closer.

That’s the kind of stress it seems only super-humans can deal with. Or, as James Atlas earnestly calls them, Super People. In his op-ed in The New York Times, he describes Super People as overachieving students who play musical instruments, volunteer abroad, are talented athletes, speak multiple languages, work towards multiple majors and/or minors and consider challenging pastimes, like mountain biking, fun. To Atlas, these are Super People. To many college students, they’re just the multitude of peers they’re competing against in the race for internships and jobs.

Atlas asks, “Has our hysterically competitive, education-obsessed society finally outdone itself in its tireless efforts to produce winners whose abilities are literally off the charts?”

Yes. Yes it has.

College students are pushed further and further toward extreme standards of success that make past generations look like slackers. Unfortunately, students today still face the same natural limitations. The clock hasn’t stopped to let the economy to catch up, so the time it takes to earn that spike in GPAs, leadership experience and activities has to come from somewhere.

Unfortunately, some students resort to less honorable solutions. In 2013, Harvard investigated over 120 students involved in an alleged cheating ring and sent 70 students packing. Plagiarism is one form of cheating that most students fully recognize as wrong, yet so many risked and lost their treasured Ivy League degree because of it. If a small number of students violate such a clear-cut rule, how many students seek less stigmatized ways to cut corners, such as un-prescribed doses of Adderall as a casual study drug?

“The numbers vary significantly by school, with the greatest proportion of users at private and ‘elite” universities,’” says Arianna Yanes in her article “Just say yes? The rise of ‘study drugs’ in college.”

Adderall has a strong presence on Lehigh’s campus. Mentioned constantly on Yik Yak, especially during 4 o’clocks, and even in a recent Brown & White article, enough students rely on it to get them through cramming sessions and the excessive demands of college life.

Just like cheating, Adderall may seem like an easy out. According to the National Council on Patient Information and Education’s factsheet, Adderall speeds “up brain activity causing increased alertness, attention, and energy.” It allows students to focus for extended periods of time, kind of like super humans.

But that’s not fair to their peers, the students who are genuinely treating their ADD/ADHD and the mere mortals relying on the ethics of hard work.

Adderall is a stimulant medication typically prescribed to treat ADD and ADHD. The factsheet says, “Of undergraduates that are taking stimulant medication under the direction of their doctor, more than half (54 percent) have been asked to sell, trade or give away their medication in the past year (McCabe et al, 2006).” Students who have these legitimate and necessary (key word: necessary) prescriptions are then put in an extremely awkward, not to mention illegal, position.

A students who asks his friend with ADD for Adderall is disrespecting her diagnosis because he is saying, in effect, that his night of studying is more important than her health.

He is also disrespecting his classmates who have worked tirelessly to master the course material, using their own time and energy. When students are graded on a curve, they are competing against each other. Adderall gives students an advantage, basically acting as a performance enhancement drug.

In the world of professional athletes, if a competitor tests positive for steroids, her medals, and all the honor that comes with them, are completely discredited. Her reputation is destroyed, and her actions are seen as betraying public trust. She is no longer a prized role model — she is a cheater.

There are huge repercussions for steroid use in the world of professional athletes, and what is truly lost? Yes, money and reputation are at stake, but when students use drugs to enhance their performance, they are earning degrees. They are becoming doctors, engineers, CEOs and lawyers. These are all high-pressure jobs, and if students can’t survive now without resorting to study drugs, how will they fare in their professional settings?

We might feel the unmistakable pressure to be Super People, but that pressure will only increase if we rely on drugs to push ourselves so far beyond our human limits. This is a relentless cycle of trying to gain one more little edge, and we’ll soon be falling over it. Hard work can’t compete against Adderall.

Unlike traditional methods of academic cheating, like bringing a sheet of formulas into an exam, study drugs haven’t really been branded as a form of cheating.

Granted, the skill needs to already exist for a study drug to improve a grade. Just like steroids can’t make a marathon champion out of a klutz, study drugs can’t make a genius out of an idiot. But, if steroid use brings out a two-second advantage that leaves the world horrified, do un-prescribed study drugs, which allow students to study almost 200 pages in one night, constitute some form of cheating, too? And, more importantly, why are students so pressured that they risk their health, view peers as competitors and find any miniscule academic advantage a cause for concern?

The clock is still ticking. In the race to be Super People, does anyone actually win?

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