December 1, 1997
Volume 50, No. 14
More frenzied times can make it harder for students to cope
When I came to Emory in 1976 to obtain my doctorate in clinical psychology, I was following in the footsteps of my two older brothers, my father and my uncle, all of whom were Emory graduates. My father, who was a Methodist minister all of his life, spoke often of the influential people he met during his days at Emory.
Like my father, much of my own identity has been shaped by people I have met here. Specifically, my father's belief in the central importance of caring relationships was reinforced and expanded by my own relationships with faculty and peers. Since his time at Emory and even since my own arrival, the University has changed in most dramatic fashion. Most of us in the Emory community are aware of these significant, worthy and exciting changes. These changes and opportunities are a central reason I am still working here. There have been many, many benefits, including substantial improvements in both human and physical resources.
However, there have been other equally dramatic and not so positive challenges for our community during these years. One of which is the increased emotional burdens carried by our student population.
A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting with a group of Chinese college and university administrators who were touring the United States. They expressed a special interest in mental health services at U.S. universities. They were very attentive and polite as I spoke via translator about the many services our Counseling Center offers the Emory community. But they became most animated when I spoke to them about the increasing level of personal problems that our students are bringing to school, including severe depression, alcohol and drug problems, eating disorders, violence in relationships, absence of relationships, etc. They reported to me that the Chinese were experiencing the same problems. I knew that most colleges and universities across the United States were experiencing similar increases in troubled students, but I had no idea the problem might be global!
When I speak publicly about these trends I am usually asked why some students have such serious problems. Perhaps our society is not doing as good a job raising our children, many of whom are going off to school with very poor relationship skills. I have also wondered if the cultural and social changes of our times, much like Emory's success, play a role in the problems that some of our children have. Like our society and the rest of the world, Emory has become a much more fast-paced and busier place.
When was the last time we had freshman orientation without having to contend with bulldozers and construction equipment? How many "voice mail" conversations have you had this week? Our technological advances are miraculous and enthralling to me (except possibly the pager I wear!), but often they intrude into our lives and relationships.
With a computer and modem, many of us can work in our own homes. But is that really what we ought to be focusing on when we are at home with our family? We know from research that a basic human need is to have physical and relational contact with other human beings. It is possible, though, that some of the "days of miracles and wonders" that Paul Simon writes about are also days when we have become distracted from the most important part of our lives-our connections with each other.
With all of its potential and challenges, I believe that Emory can be a uniquely caring and supportive community, with faculty, staff and students, many of them my friends, who care deeply about each other. One example: For several years I have worked with a uniquely caring, bright, and giving group of students who now refer to themselves as the Umbrella Group. The group consists of six peer counselor and peer education organizations, the Alcohol and Drug Education Committee, the Committee Against Rape at Emory, Helpline, Emory Peer Counselors, Racial and Cultural Education Resources, and Student Educators on Eating Disorders. Together these groups have the capacity to provide a full range of services to fellow students, including crisis and personal counseling as well as education on alcohol and drug awareness, eating disorders, sexual assault and race relations.
Students in the Umbrella Group volunteer their time and energy to get the necessary training to educate and help their fellow students who may be in trouble. Many, like Helpline staff who keep their identities secret, have no hope of any public acknowledgment for their efforts. They do the work because they care deeply about their fellow students and their community.
Currently, the Umbrella Group is advocating for a house or other area on campus that can be identified as a student resource center. Given their energy and determination, I believe eventually-with the community's support and help-they will be successful.
An equally valuable resource at Emory is its caring and supportive faculty. Some members of our community believe our faculty are too busy doing research to have the time to establish and maintain mentoring relationships with students. We are all much too busy, but I have discovered that most faculty find meaning in their lives specifically through the relationships they have with students and the positive impact these relationships can have on both parties. In fact, over the years faculty literally have saved lives by getting troubled and potential suicidal students to necessary support services. Faculty are such an important resource that the Counseling Center recently developed a brochure specifically designed to help them identify and assist troubled students.
Emory may be rich in physical and financial resources, but its most important resource is its people-people who genuinely care about each other. In the midst of our busy lives, we must find ways of slowing down and tapping into these very valuable human resources.
Mark McLeod is director of the Counseling Center and an adjunct professor of psychology. To obtain a copy of the Counseling Center's brochure for faculty, call 727-7450.