I recently came across an interesting quote by Plato that summarizes how I try to approach college students: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Through academic advising, I get to interact with the full spectrum of college students at Bellarmine, from go-getter leaders with high GPAs wondering if they can squeeze study abroad into to their double-major curricula, to students on probation dealing with many personal issues wondering if they will be able to avoid dismissal at the end of the semester.
Many students I meet are in the midst of mild skirmishes. At this time of year, a real concern is maintaining motivation during the doldrums of February—spring break won’t come fast enough, papers and project due dates seem distant, and the cold, gray weather makes one want to bundle up and hibernate instead of trekking to class. Procrastination will always be a constant companion to college students, but most have learned costly lessons in the past and eventually learn to start earlier on drafts of essays and test reviews. For freshmen, these lessons are ongoing, and although it is almost March, I continue to hear “aha” revelations such as, “I am starting to realize I need to study a lot more than I did in high school,” or, “maybe I should go to a tutoring review session” (this after several failed poor test grades). It occurs to me that watching students learn to adapt to this new experience of college is almost like watching someone learn a new dance or to play an instrument, and sometimes it ain’t too pretty at first.
A few students I talk with are clearly on the losing side of their battle. They’re far from alone—national surveys of college students reveal that as many as one in five demonstrate clinical levels of depression or anxiety, but yet, only a small number of these students will seek out counseling. There are multiple reasons these struggling students do not get the expert help they need. Unfortunately, a strong social stigma against mental health and related treatment persists, including the belief that such illnesses arise in weak or lazy people and that if only such students would “just try harder” they could succeed. Still others lack simple knowledge about how to access available campus services. I’m heartened when I suggest counseling to students and they follow-up by making an appointment, or tell me later that they have gone. In rare cases, I have dialed the counseling center number and handed the phone over to the student sitting across for me in my advising office.
Last week, I heard a faculty member remark that students at Bellarmine are lucky, because they can find a friendly and interested ear behind just about any door. Now, if only we could get them off of Facebook and into those doorways…