As a first-year student not so long ago, I remember my first real exposure to Declaration of Major Day being an abundance of little yellow stickers all across campus. I saw them everywhere: stuck on shirts, on laptops and water bottles, on light poles and bathroom mirrors and the sidewalk, each one reading a different major under the phrase “I Declared!” I, myself, did not attend the actual Declaration of Major Day event in Hicks Banquet Hall, despite the college’s invitation to first-years to “see what all the fuss is about,” for fear of being out of place. I figured I would wait my turn, just like generations of K students had done before me, to decorate all my personal effects with the hard-earned fruits of my endeavors to overcome agonizing indecisiveness by definitively declaring a major or two.
Of course, you can imagine my surprise only a week ago, on the fateful day I had anticipated for over a year, when it was not the faculty members of each department who passed out stickers, but the registrar representatives who kept them at the front, distributed only after all the necessary paperwork had been filled out and signed. And I was not alone in my confusion.
For those who don’t already know, the controversy (and I use that word loosely — even I know it’s excessive to devote an entire op-ed to stickers) comes from the college’s decision to get rid of the traditional model of passing out an individualized sticker for each declared major, minor, or concentration, and instead distribute one single sticker, indistinguishable from any other, to each and every sophomore. Though the school has made no official statement on the rationale behind this decision, circulating rumors cite a history of single-stickered students being shamed by their multiple-stickered peers, thus fostering an environment of needless competition in which one endeavors to accumulate as many stickers as one’s breast can withstand, regardless of their actual academic goals for their four years here at Kalamazoo College.
I can understand why the college would want to prevent such situations — I can even appreciate the attempt that was made. I understand that for every couple of relatively well-adjusted students here at K, there’s at least one asshat who thinks plastering half a dozen stickers on a Rick and Morty sweatshirt proves them to be more intellectual than the rest of us. I can recognize both the existence of the problem as well as the effort being made by the college to stop it and still believe they are going about it the wrong way.
Limiting everyone to the same number of stickers won’t cleanse K of excessive academic competition; you could very easily argue it won’t even stop those individual conversations which bring about hurt feelings in the first place. The mere presence of an “I Declared!” sticker almost invariably leads to the question of what it was the stickered student declared — and if the answer is a single major, changes to the college’s sticker policy will have failed to deny those sticker-happy asshats the opportunity to shame others.
But more importantly, to change the traditional sticker model without actively working to combat an overly-competitive campus culture is to treat the symptoms without curing the disease. If Kalamazoo College truly wants to foster an environment in which single-major students are never subjected to unfair stereotypes regarding their intellect or ambition, the administration will have to reckon with the fact that the solution to the problem might be a touch more complex than sticker reform. At the end of the day, we all know the stickers are not at the heart of the problem — so why would we believe they are the solution?