The Davidson experience is not one size fits all

Shane Gilbert

Davidson is an amazing place, and I will always cherish my experience here, but the emotional and mental health of our student body concerns me. For example, how many times a week does a simple “how’s it going” instigate a recitation of agendas? Maybe Davidson should publish everyone’s calendars so we can put this facade of a social interaction to rest. While some people gripe more than others, the main culprit in this story is the academic environment in which we reside. In a sense, many students vent their frustrations often because of the ridiculous course load that we are expected to carry.

Particularly in the early years, Davidson makes too many people chase perfection. Impressive courses, the GPA to flaunt it, and extracurricular superstardom. Make sure you spend 48 hours a week on classes, but you better be prepared to drop another dozen or two on other activities if you want that cush job. A good night’s sleep? A regular workout? Or, dare I say it, a day off? Not if you want to excel at the Davidson game; forget your mortality and get back to work, dammit. In this light, it is obvious why so many Davidson students (including yours truly) utilize our counseling resources. If you have a concern that preoccupies you emotionally, then you can forget about fulfilling these expectations.

The fact that we are too bogged down is a depressing one because it makes us tend toward hypercritical and negative thinking. This instinct is especially problematic because we miss the big picture realization that we have it oh so good. We have the ability to be full-time college students surrounded by engaging, brilliant, and kind peers. Davidson affords us the absurdly unique opportunity to study what it is that lights our academic fire. More importantly, we are developing, maturing, and finding ourselves in ways that we never thought possible back in the days of secondary education. And the college helps us with every step along the way. No matter where you come from in life, things could have gone worse; this is a fact for no other reason than you are here. However, we fail to appreciate fully our good fortune because of our constant stress.

But, you might reasonably retort, what can we do about it? Well, there are many international, domestic, and administrative factors at play. Something needs to change, and it will take time to fix. In the meantime, however, you can change your perspective of your Davidson experience. Maybe you fit the workaholic mold and are content with the grind. But if not, it is okay to put your computer down and relax. Apart from professional development, college is about finding a balance in your life between academic, social, and personal needs. In addition to future security, you can seek immediate happiness. If you live the Davidson experience that fulfills you, it could mean you do not do as well academically or that you have fewer shining stars on your resume, but you will be happier and still prepared for a meaningful life. And when you are less stressed, you appreciate more the incredible hand that you have been dealt. Sounds like a good trade-off to me.

By now, you have probably realized that, along with the pleasures of incense, yoga, and kale, I acquired a mindset from my hippie dad. While my view of this academic environment might lean on the free-spirited side, it at least begs the question of how we should address this issue. It is okay to not work all of the time. If anything, it shows that you are human. Ask yourself: what is it that you want to get out of this experience, and what is the daily life that you want to have here? It does not matter if your answer is not the mainstream one; it matters only that it is genuine and makes you feel alive.

Shane Gilbert `16 is a Political Science major from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Contact him at shgilbert@davidson.edu

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