Mindsoak: A Healthy Student Body

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.

Image result for penn state gift of bench
We are. . .

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.

Where does that leave students and the faculty trying to support them? Read on to find out. . .





In Detritus Do We Trust

I live in a small college town that cycles with the currents of student life. This means that Fall is a busy time, with football games and the return of students to campus, and that Summer is a quiet time where the locals of our town enjoy pedestrian-friendly streets rather than the ones populated by texting undergraduates during the academic year. It also imbues August as a month of special significance:

Move-Out/In Month

Moving through the neighborhoods of my town during the month of August, you will be met with piles upon piles of furniture, carpeting, and various other home furnishings (not to mention the seemingly requisite mattresses) which have been deemed unusable by the oldest and/or newest tenants of a student rental.

If we zoom in a little closer. . .
Yes, an amateur nude. Yesterday’s semi-erotica is tomorrow’s dumpster dive.

The exchange of goods is staggering. Lined up curbside are numerous pieces of furniture, still fully functional if not fully modern, appliances, student artwork, and yes, as I already mentioned, lots and lots of mattresses.  Buried deep in the rubble are other offerings to the landfill. Items of clothing no longer preferred, decorative pillows, and boxes and boxes of student life de rigeur: air purifiers and dehumidifiers.

If there’s one lesson I am confident to have taught my children, it’s to never pick up a mattress on the side of the road. Never.

I often wonder at the process of this material overflow. What are students thinking when they cast a pillow they more than likely spent at least $20 on into a curb-side pile to be ruined by the elements? Why stack towers of books and line up upholstered furniture indefinitely until our beleaguered garbage carriers have enough room in their normal routine to pick up the overflow? Why are bundles of seemingly clean t-shirts cast off into the street? Better yet, I have to question the logic that requires every piece of furniture be discarded and replaced by a newer version when moving.

Can you spot the decorative pillow? It’s next to the Brita Filter box.

Overall, the abundance of discarded objects littering my town right now saddens me. It seems so clear that simply a touch of care, an extra few seconds of packing, or a single trip to the Good Will drop-off only minutes away, could have found another use for much of this supposed ‘trash.’It begs the question:

Must a clean slate always come with a rejection of the old?

If our next generation finds gently used pieces so distasteful, I can’t help but wonder what they will do with us, those older and wiser than them, when we lose our shine. Will those past the point of modernity be deemed disposable?

Moving through the streets of my small town, past guitar cases and dusty milk crates, next to formica tables and computer desks,

I cannot help but hope we will learn one day to treasure the imperfect for the past it holds.