Headshot of Ronan Towell '24
Ronan Towell ’24

A full-time employee of Davidson College’s Health Center once told me: “I would never send anyone I care about to Davidson.” 

Davidson promotes the idea of “Our Shared Responsibility,” but at what point should the mental health of my peers no longer become my responsibility? When they can’t stay awake for a full academic day? When I send them notes because they haven’t come to class for two weeks? When I’m sitting in the emergency room parking lot? The Davidson community expects students to look out for one another, to keep each other safe. This shared responsibility, however, should never extend to crisis intervention without the proper training. 

I always thought that being a Davidson student was difficult, but I didn’t realize how difficult it was until I had a conversation with a full-time employee at the Health Center. I, like most of you, assumed that the amount of academic stress that the student body experienced was normal. It was expected in the context of Davidson’s proud marketing of academic rigor. I now understand that this sense of normalcy is false. 

At other universities, students skip class to be with their friends, take day trips, or watch movies without the fear of becoming behind in their classes for at least the next three days. At Davidson, students skip one class to use the time to do work for their other classes. This is not normal and this is not healthy. 

Being enrolled here, while an immense privilege, takes a significant emotional toll on every student, particularly those who do not come from high socioeconomic backgrounds. While Davidson champions its students for overcoming their circumstances and clawing their way into an elite institution, there is absolutely no support mechanism in place to keep track of these students and their emotional well-being once they move to campus. A student who has a privileged background and was able to attend a more rigorous high school will also struggle. These students, however, likely understand this culture of expectation more than their less advantaged peers, resulting in incongruent experiences. 

When students struggle with a surplus of work, or when this is observed by professors, the student is often referred to the Health Center for counseling. It’s common knowledge that this system is inundated with students and struggles to meet the demand for its services. Even if a student is fortunate enough to get an appointment — writing that sentence feels surreal — more often than not, they are left to their own devices during academic breaks from Davidson. Importantly, counselors are not legally allowed to conduct sessions outside of the state in which they are licensed. Though this is independent the college’s control, this limitation creates a structural gap especially for students who can’t afford or otherwise comfortably access therapy outside of Davidson. As the mental health system currently operates, a student can be receiving free counseling at Davidson once a week for an entire semester and then be expected to go five weeks without it over Winter Break. 

This was the motivation for me to establish Wildcat Wellness, a peer-to-peer check-in program that operates independently of the college and the Health Center. Working with the Mental Health Club and its co-presidents, Annabelle Ross and Cece Woo, we have trained 6 students in crisis response, common red flags, and empathetic listening. With this training, we will establish the opportunity for a student to sign-up for a voluntary check-in phone call from a peer during the academic break. 

This is not therapy or counseling. This is a confidential mechanism to support students who want to know that there’s somebody who cares for their well-being even when they’re not on campus. We are launching a pilot program during this upcoming Thanksgiving break where our six trained students conduct 3 wellness calls each. I have linked a QR code with the first-come, first-served interest form, which will be followed by a more thorough intake form for the first 18 people that sign-up. 

I am fully aware that this is not a long term solution, and I don’t pretend to have one. But that’s not my responsibility. As a Class of 2024 President, my job is to care for people, to give them a voice. Our goal with Wildcat Wellness is to create a space for vulnerability, reflection, and patience so that maybe one day this full-time Health Center employee will feel comfortable sending someone that they care about to Davidson. 

See the QR code for students interested in receiving a check-in phone call below.

Ronan Towell (he/him) ‘24 is an intended environmental studies major and data science minor from Durham, NC. Ronan can be reached for comment at rotowell@davidson.edu.