4 stories of how higher ed minds students’ mental health

How colleges and universities can provide more support during tumultuous times
By: | November 4, 2020
(GettyImages/Klaus Vedfelt)(GettyImages/Klaus Vedfelt)

Social isolation, health and financial fears, political upheaval and natural disasters are fueling the rising anxiety among college students, whether they’re on campus or online this fall.

Campus life during COVID requires students to have “courageous conversations” about personal safety and behavior, says Asia Wong, director of student health services and the University Counseling Center at Loyola University New Orleans.

“You used to fight with your roommate about doing the dishes, and now you’re having conversations about what party you went to last night or who you brought home,” Wong says.

Administrators can support these discussions by giving students a safe space to report unsafe situations—such as a party they may have attended—without fear of reprisal or feeling like they are snitching on friends.


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At Loyola, students have also participated in socially distanced bingo games and other events while the university’s student organization fair was held online with chatrooms for individual clubs.

“Campuses need to create opportunities for in-person engagement that feel safe,” Wong says. “For me, the two words around student engagement that are different than in the past are ‘safe and intimate.’ ”

Along with creating a supportive campus culture, there are several other steps campus leaders can take to care for mental health of students, whether they are on campus or online.

Bonding in tumultuous times

Some campuses have suggested that students form small COVID pods while other colleges are asking students only to take masks off when they are with their roommates.

Administrators should make it clear that large gatherings, such as homecoming, will likely be canceled but should return next school year.

“This is the year for administrators to encourage students to form small, close, deep friendships, and say, ‘This is not the year for you to go to giant tailgating events.’ We have to put those on pause,” says Wong, Loyola’s counseling director.

For students in New Orleans, she uses the example of the lure of Mardi Gras and the bars on Bourbon Street. Risk reduction behavior means conveying the idea to young people that COVID is a marathon, not a sprint, she says.

4 stories of how #highered minds students' #mental healthClick To Tweet“We’re telling students, ‘You’re here for four years, you’re going to get three more Mardi Gras,’” Wong says. “We have to say, ‘Skip Bourbon Street for a minute. It’s still going to be there. We have to stay away so there’s something to return to.’ ”

As for dating, Wong has seen students going on socially distanced walks and connecting virtually. COVID-era rules such as prohibiting guests in residence halls are likely putting a dent in the more promiscuous “hook-up” culture that had taken hold on some college campuses.

“An unseen side effect,” says Wong, “is people taking a little bit more time to get to know each other.”