It seems there is heightened amount of conversations about students coming into our universities as fragile, coddled, and riddled with heavy mental baggage. The severity of the situation hit when I opened up an article on Psychology Today titled “A Nation of Wimps.” The article paints a frightening climate of psychological distress (anxiety, depression, etc.) on the steep rise and the more developmentally appropriate issues like relationship problems and time management not taking a backseat either. Counseling centers across the country are completely booked with students waiting at the door hoping that someone cancels.
How has student affairs responded to that? If current events tell us anything we typically will create a new office or new initiative to try and broadly assist all of those loosely defined students. Whether that course of action works or not is dependent on your school, but typically I feel that approach falls flat. I tried to put myself in an administrators shoes: My students are coming in more medicated, with more mental health issues, and are more over stimulated then any other generation. That’s a tough problem to solve and most people would say it starts with K-12 and parents, which is a nice way to say, “it wasn’t our fault.” Colleges bring students in already carrying baggage and the onus on us is to unpack that and help the student become fully developed and ready to enter the “real world.” (Let me just say, the “real world” as a term is bogus. If college is a fake world then it’s our fault for creating it.) Colleges were never in the business of fixing student’s problems. Even in the 1900’s professors acting in loco parentis did not go so far as to try to disassemble their students to the core and try to tinker with its systems. It’s a tough challenge, and as I sit here writing about the topic I realize that there might not be a great answer. In a perfect world students would get one-on-one focus, consistent mentorship, and counseling, but the one downside about staff: they aren’t easily scalable. University’s will continue to increase enrollment and tuition, and with that comes even more students who need extra assistance, but the amount of staff hired will not directly correlate to the extra students. Compound that with students staying longer then four years, and you have a potential recipe for disaster.
Student Affairs practitioners will always have a strong bond to this problem. We are charged to focus on student identity development, amongst a host of other “outside-the-classroom” responsibilities. Yet how many in our profession take a student and get to the core of their issues? Most of us aren’t counselors and might find it irresponsible to try and act as one. But in this culture of student fragility should we have to adjust our education and practices and add more counseling to our plate? Should all student affairs practitioners go through programs that have a heavy counseling aspect, not just those who select counseling based programs?
Steven Harowitz is a graduate student at the University of South Carolina, and serves as the Graduate Assistant for Carolina Productions.