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The tightrope act of being a college student today

The tightrope act of being a college student today

The tightrope act of being a college student today
July 22
13:00 2021

The buzzing arenas of classroom buildings and lecture halls are replaced with your childhood desk and chair, or one that you might not even own. Walking down a few doors to see a friend across the third-floor residence corridor now takes four hours to just visit them for a weekend. Instead of having the luxury of an extensive array of five dining areas (all within walking distance), a kitchen sits idle, now somewhat foreign to the nine months of your absence. Far from the independence experienced at college, many students find themselves taking up the space of their former selves at home.

It is a strange occurrence to live two completely different lives within the same year. College life was the crashing waves of the ocean: unpredictable, exciting and unexpected. When returning home, the waves wash away, leaving a pattern of the tide on the shore. This returning normalcy can be comforting for some students, while others experience negative consequences. To suddenly be propelled from the expeditious arena of the college experience, to return from the place many were so excited to escape is a daunting challenge, one that has a huge impact on college students’ mental health — for better or worse.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on students’ mental health, steepened from the already soaring mental health crisis. Virtually every small group, therapy session and conference shifted online, leaving many students isolated. Of 33,000 thousand students screened, 39 percent of students screened positive for depression and anxiety according to a national survey from The Healthy Mind Study. Eighty-three percent of students revealed their mental health has taken a negative impact on their academic performance.

Take UNT, for instance. The eerie silence of the Syndicate, void of live music and karaoke nights, empty classrooms and untouched event spaces. Combined with strict residence hall social distancing guidelines, the past school year has been characterized by an inescapable solitude. It was probably a huge relief for some students to finally go home after a disconnected year.

On the contrary, students who desperately need to escape a family situation are now at the place they longed to escape, now returning to old habits. CBS News psychologist Lisa Damour wrote that college students coming home for the summer can “feel like they’re on vacation, but it can lead to a confusing adaptation.” Many parent blogs attempting to tackle this issue discuss how to “deal with” their children when they arrive for the three months between semesters. The “Grown & Flown” website even features a blog entry titled “I don’t want my college son to move home for the summer.” Much of the language around adjusting these young adults back into their previous environments is frustrating and treats us as if we are an invasive species.

When I was preparing to arrive home for the summer, my mom casually mentioned that she would “have to learn to cook for three again.” Scuttling around parents’ and younger siblings’ routines creates the feeling of being an outsider in one’s own home. Personally, I love my family and I have a great relationship with them. However, I feel as though I am the third wheel in their relationship. Going from making my own schedule, cultivating a routine for friends, classes and activities, to having to answer to someone wanting to know where I am at all times is a shocking adjustment.

Switching between two lives is not an easy task and should be met with understanding and compromise, not a desire to control. Caging the wings of anxious young adults returning home for the summer makes them feel trapped.

Students need to be embraced with patience, grace, acceptance and love. Navigating past worlds is not as simple as it sounds.

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

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McKensi Bryce

McKensi Bryce

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