At her first fireside chat, Barnard President Sian Beilock led a conversation on stress culture at Barnard and Columbia and heard student suggestions on how to combat it.
A cognitive scientist, Beilock has conducted research on how individuals cope with stress and perform under pressure. She said that her research frequently has a “me-search” element, as her work—which especially focuses on how young women handle pressure—strikes a personal chord.
“It’s not like your brain decides you’re on campus or at school instead of at home, [and] those stresses can sit on you, they can affect your ability to reason and can hang over you,” Beilock said.
Students in attendance suggested that increasing proactive resources for students to take advantage of before their stress becomes overwhelming, as well as providing better support for those with jobs and internships, would make a difference in stress culture at Barnard.
Columbia students currently have the most rigorous academic requirements in the Ivy League, and some Barnard students said that this contributes to a larger stress culture that also affects Barnard students.
Emma Cunningham, BC ’20, said she feels that being stressed is seen on campus as a marker of success that puts pressure on students to always be busy.
“I think that there’s a kind of perpetuating undertone here that if you’re not stressed out, you’re doing something wrong, that if you’re not working all the time, you’re doing something wrong,” she said.
Beilock said that finding interests outside of academics is important to providing balance.
“Research suggests that when you have these other social identities you can be buffered,” she said. “When things don’t go great in one aspect of your life, you have these other aspects that you can turn to and feel good about.”
Cunningham reinforced that the balance between one’s academic life and one’s personal life is important, though it can be difficult to maintain.
“You don’t want to remember only being in the library—you want to look back on having fun with your friends, but you also don’t want to look back on failing that exam or having a terrible GPA,” she said.
Former Student Government Association Representative for Arts and Culture Linda Gordon, BC ’18, noted that although Barnard offers services to help students dealing with stress and anxiety, such as the Rosemary Furman Counseling Center, those resources can be stressors in and of themselves.
“We don’t have time to go to all of these other resources, even if they’re available,” she said. “We can’t alleviate all stress, and we don’t want to necessarily … but how do we stop that stress from occurring, how do we keep it from reaching a point where you need to reach out [for help]?”
One of the solutions that students mentioned several times were changes to Barnard’s current policy against granting academic credit for internships. Currently, neither Barnard nor Columbia award credit for internships. Several students said they felt that this made the balance between academics, work, and social life more difficult and undervalued the importance of internships.
Beilock said that she had heard similar commentary on the policy from faculty, who she said value internships as a way of enabling students to get hands-on experience in their area of study or related fields.
“One of the things I keep on hearing from faculty which I think is so amazing is that they learn with you,” she said. “I think this is something that we’re going to think about.”
Beilock also mentioned that as an undergraduate, she had to learn how to find the support that she needed.
“When I think about my undergraduate experience, it was about learning to ask for help and in what situations, because I don’t know all the answers,” she said. “I didn’t know all the answers. I don’t know all the answers yet.”