Nuancing the ‘Happy Cobber’
On every poster, in every picture that slides across the Concordia webpage and in every pamphlet and brochure sent to prospective students, the “Happy Cobber” is front and center.The photos in our advertising and marketing materials feature sunny skies, racial diversity, and smiles on every face. Concordia College markets itself, like most schools, as an institution rich with people from different backgrounds getting along in perfect harmony and perfect weather. The way Concordia students and faculty talk about “Cobber Spirit” and the way Cobbers live suggests an inherent and unfailing happiness that is found in far fewer of Concordia’s students than you’d think.
The Happy Cobber is a well-rounded liberal arts student who is involved in at least one student organization, an extracurricular or two and two or three academic departments. It is so encouraged that it feels mandatory to be a Happy Cobber. In my personal experience, it has become very much frowned upon to not be engaged on campus. It is taboo to struggle in class. It seems that being anything less that exceptional is unacceptable. Concordia affords its students something truly unique: an opportunity and an expectation to do it all. Which, arguably, can be a great thing.
For example, a sophomore biology major and theatre minor friend of mine was looking at transferring to NDSU and chose to stay at Concordia not because he’d get a better biological education here but because he could get a biological education while also being involved in theatre classes and productions. He chose to stay because he could dabble in all of the things he was passionate about at Concordia.
Concordia offers the kind of education you can’t get anywhere else: a truly interdisciplinary one. Because the education one receives at Concordia is so extraordinary, the price tag is pretty extraordinarily high. Because the price tag is high, students at Concordia feel pressure to take advantage of all the various clubs, organizations, extracurricular activities, majors and minors that are served up on silver platters for them to choose from. We have events like Cobber Expo and we encourage students to get involved but at what cost?
The “Happy Cobber” cookie-cutter mold that many Concordia students fit into ignores a burden that weighs on a good number of us. According to the Counseling Center, 330 individual students are seen each year for mental health and counseling services, accounting for 2,200 scheduled counseling appointments. The Mayo Clinic estimates that there are 3 million cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder or Seasonal Depression diagnosed in the United States per year with over half of those cases being 18 to 25 year olds. We live in a town where winter starts in November and ends in early April so it stands to argue that most of us struggle, at least a little, with S.A.D.
Now, obviously every college is going to market itself as a sunny skies kind of place where everyone is happy and involved and living life easy and free. I don’t have a problem with the “It’s a great day to be a Cobber” slogan. I have a problem with the fact that we don’t talk about the not-so-great days. Sure, we have a Counseling Center that tries its very best to accommodate every student but the wait for an appointment can be anywhere from a week to two months. Sure, we have Active Minds, a great student organization that addresses mental health in every event, but we talk far more about choir and football and SGA than we do about Active Minds. There is an awareness of mental health issues at Concordia but the issue is still swept under the rug with a Minnesotan “let’s talk about anything else” broom.
It is expected that every student at Concordia does well in class, engages in activities and is a Happy Cobber. The Happy Cobber trope alienates students who don’t do well in class, who aren’t involved on campus or who struggle with mental health. The Happy Cobber creates stigma around having mental health issues. It engenders a fear of failure and weakness that keeps many students from getting the help they need.
It’s a great thing to be a Cobber. Concordia is an amazing school with brilliant faculty, engaged administrators and countless opportunities for its students. We should absolutely talk about these things. We should absolutely love our school. But we should also feel comfortable talking about the bad things. We should be able to struggle without feeling like we’ve failed our community. We should be able to advertise a Cobber who pulls Bs and Cs and only occasionally gets involved on campus. We should be encouraged to go above and beyond. But we should be able to just meet expectations once in a while. It’s not always a great day to be a Cobber. But that’s okay.
Natalie Dulka is a sophomore English Writing and Theatre Art double major from Minneapolis, MN. She keeps herself occupied by holding the position of Chief Executive Officer of Feminism Club, being involved with the theater, and writing plays. Her passions include sarcasm, wool socks, and equality.