As we approach the end of the semester, when sunlight is scarce and nighttime a bleak expanse, it may be worthwhile to check on the state of our community, specifically our health and well-being. This is not as easy as it seems: Like all ambitious college students, we're accustomed to projecting a veneer of calm and composure, despite inner discontent.
The motifs of stress culture are widely familiar: witnessing the morning sun spilling out from over Hamilton and through the windows of Butler, taking a short nap in a stifling lecture hall, and embracing schedules that groan under the weight of classes and extracurriculars. We've observed, experienced, and critiqued this trend at length. And yet, for all our griping, many of us wear stress as a badge of honor. We bond over our shared anxiety—it's the quintessential Columbian hazing. Consequently, when we voice our dissatisfaction about Columbia's ever-pervasive stress to administrators, they are unsurprisingly "flummoxed" as to why we are not having fun.
There are certainly some remedies—offering varying degrees of relief—already being implemented. The hiring of eight new staff members, including psychologists of color and a transgender clinician, by Counseling and Psychological Services will increase the office's receptiveness to the diverse needs of the student body. And the push to require all lectures with mandatory discussion sections to be worth four credits instead of three can help align Columbia's expectations of what a reasonable workload is with those of peer institutions.
Of course, there is still more to be done. In the class of 2013, approximately 50 percent of Columbia College students and 40 percent of School of Engineering and Applied Science students visited CPS in their four years. To be clear, these numbers are not necessarily indicative of some odious trend: They represent a population mindful of self-help and willing to reach out to health services. That attitude should be encouraged. Therapy doesn't deserve to be stigmatized as a last resort in cases of personal weakness.
To that end, it may perhaps be beneficial for all incoming students to be introduced to CPS through a short, required meeting with a CPS staff member to understand the services provided. Counselors should be treated as an integral part of every student's supportive infrastructure. As soon as students arrive on campus, it should be made clear to them that counselors are available for the entirety of their stay at Columbia. How this resource is used is then up to students.
Additionally, we suggest that CPS hire a counselor who is a military veteran. While the existing hires are a laudable improvement, adding a veteran to the CPS staff would fill a significant gap in the office's area of expertise and coverage. Veterans come from an undeniably distinct background—it would be valuable for them to have access to someone at CPS who can relate to their experiences and concerns.
Some of these ideas can be traced back to the student-led Mental Health Task Force. Last year, they presented a series of proposals to University President Lee Bollinger for improving student well-being, including implementing mandatory mental health and suicide prevention programming during the New Student Orientation Program and amending CPS schedules to be more accommodating to student needs. These proposals are sound—training students and resident advisers to identify and act on warning signs seems especially easy to implement.
Still, despite the concerted efforts of a small group of students, the bureaucracy lumbers on at its usual pace. Clearly, we can't rely solely on the administration. Columbia's bureaucracy, often a stressor in its own right, has certainly shown its inability to respond quickly to student concerns in the past.
Ultimately though, independent of administrative successes and failures, we must ask ourselves: Have we, as students, played our part in alleviating stress on campus? The question requires personal and collective soul-searching. Our community has been called fragmented, polarized, hostile—there's been no shortage of discourse with fair criticism to this effect. But discourse aside, how much have we committed to organized, substantive change? Our own agency is one factor that we may too easily—though we should hope not willingly—forget vis-à-vis administrators.
Admittedly, some groups do admirable work to brighten student life. However, study breaks with Insomnia Cookies or puppies, while helpful (and cute!), are focused more on temporary stress relief. Our situation requires more than just a sprinkling of goodwill.
What we really need is a paradigm shift—a willingness to reverse our most ingrained habits in the interest of long-term self-care. There should be a sustained push across the student body to encourage students to take proactive measures, such as reconsidering multiple majors or participating in a more sustainable number of extracurricular organizations. The obvious critique—that we're Ivy League students and should have expected this burdensome level of stress—needn't apply: There must be some way for a world-class education to coexist with the very basic need to maintain one's mental health.
Think about the Columbia that you want underclassmen to experience. Then, lead by example. When it comes to stress culture, progress must start with us. No amount of discourse or administrative action can relieve us of that which is so often self-inflicted.
To respond to this staff editorial, or to submit an op-ed, contact email@example.com.