This month, Mindsoak editor, Jon Filitti, asked us to discuss when we feel most alive. Hard question, right? I’m blessed that there are many parts of my life and my relationships that bring excitement, joy, and authenticity to my daily experiences. Since I just wrote a piece for The Millions about my personal life and the necessary difficulties and hard-earned joys on the journey within my marriage, I chose to write about one aspect of my professional life: teaching my undergraduate students at Penn State in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies.
If you want to read more about my life as a Penn State lecturer (and my incredible students) while also checking out my terrible skills at taking classroom selfies, check out my end-of-semester blog from Fall semester 2016. You’ll see that, as far as future generations go, we are in good hands.
My first feature for Mindsoak this November emerged from a phenomenon I encounter every semester around this time–weeks 12-13 in a 15-week semester:
Students flooding my office hours
For most of the semester, my office hours (where I am expected to be ‘in office’ to meet with students if they choose to stop by) are completely empty. But there is something about this time of the semester–many students are looking ahead towards finals week and their final grades, other students are considering whether they should late-drop a course before the deadline due to their performance so far–that propels students to seek out their professors for a one-on-one meeting.
And, in my experience over the last 10 years of teaching in higher education here at Penn State, the vast majority of my meetings with students at this point involve me helping students connect with counselors and other mental health services because their symptoms of anxiety or depression (the two most common mental health issues my students describe coping with) have reemerged or worsened due to the academic stress brought on by the looming end of the semester. Alternately, I also regularly encounter students who have experienced some form of trauma during the semester which they have attempted to cope with on their own (sexual assaults being one common traumatic experience) but are now finding themselves unable to manage with the added pressures brought along with the end of the semester.
Just to be clear: These students are not meeting with me to seek out adjustments to their grades or extensions on assignment deadlines due to their struggles with mental and emotional health.
In my experience, these students are adamant about continuing to meet their academic responsibilities, but simply find themselves at a loss as to how to do so given their emotional burdens. In other words, they are coming to me and my colleagues for help.
But as I discuss in detail in my Mindsoak essay, the mental health care for students at Penn State and most other universities in our country is already stretched incredibly thin due to limited funds.