A cozy 36 people sat in the Tomlinson conference room to take part in Wednesday night’s State of the Campus event, named “Owning Your Wellbeing.” The group discussion, hosted by the SGA as a part of its “State of the Campus” week of events, focused on the mental issues that arise from Davidson’s culture of perfectionism. Two questions dominated the night: how students can take control of their mental health, and what barriers lie in the way of that process.
The discussion broke students into three different groups, led by Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Wendy Raymond, Staff Counselor Lisa Collard and Therapist and Staff Counselor David Graham, each focusing on separate issues regarding mental health at David- son College.
Raymond’s discussion focused on stress tdue to academic pressures. She began by addressing the “Myth of Effortless Perfection,” or the façade that many students put on in order to mask their deeper stress regarding their workload. This issue was addressed much throughout the night, and was deemed by many to be a contributing factor to the culture of overwork at Davidson.
Raymond then asked students to share their experiences regarding academic stress. The dom- inant grievance was the large amount of work that many students faced. One student listed off all the work she had over a period of a few days, which included reading from multiple books and writing parts of a thesis paper. Another student said that she had, “So much reading it isn’t hu- manly possible.”
Complaints were also raised about the ability for professors and students to communicate regarding workload. Students cited scenarios which ranged from a lack of knowledge on the part of professors regarding workloads to outright hostility from faculty. In response to these specific complains, some students proposed the creation of a faculty ombudsman position, which would handle disputes between faculty and stu- dents. There was also talk of a system to facilitate professor-student communication.
Students also reported feeling as if both professors and the culture of Davidson in general disapproved of students who took time off schoolwork for personal activities. There was concern about the pride that many students take in working at the detriment of their own health.
Lisa Collard’s group focused on body image issues and concerns with perfectionism, though the discussion mainly centered on the latter. Stu- dents reported that they had issues with attempting to do too much, especially in the form of ex- tracurricular activities. Another issue raised was some students’ trouble with rejecting opportunities or requests, which can lead to a cumbersome workload. In response to the issues presented, students expressed an importance in scheduling free time and with making their concerns about stress open, so that other students can be aware that their peers face issues with perfectionism as well.
David Graham chose to center his discus- sion on mindfulness. Graham expressed his belief that it is important for students to live in the moment, rather that constantly worry about the future. Multiple students stated that journaling helped them balance the stress of schoolwork with their own mental health. One student said his strategy to relieve stress was to leave campus.
When the discussion groups convened, Raymond expressed her desire that the students and faculty of Davidson might create an atmosphere that is conducive to the discussion of stress. “We don’t know what is going on with every student… but we can offer a generosity in spirit.”
When asked if she had any concrete plans for addressing the issue of mental health in response to the discussion, Raymond stated that she had none yet, but that she would take into account the responses of the students in future Educa- tional Policy Committee meetings. Raymond also expressed surprise at some faculty practices that students reported, which she considered, “Not educationally productive.”
One solution that she raised as a possibility was the creation of a guide for new professors that would help adjust them to students’ needs, but there are no concrete plans for such a guide as of yet.
When asked for a statement, SGA president Pablo Zevallos `16 ensured that the current SGA administration is prioritizing student mental health as an issue to be addressed.