Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus.) We welcome faculty, clinicians and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
Every night when I come home, I sit down with my mother. She always asks me, “Any new news?” I always respond that all news is new and we laugh, sharing updates and talking about our days. If I have a particularly difficult day, I may join my 11-year-old sister in an impromptu dance party or walk my dog, Blue.
Family has always been the most important part of my life, and I imagine many of my classmates feel the same way. Now that I am leaving my family for the next nine months, I have to consider how I will replace the stability and comfort they provide. Yale will surely challenge me with difficult days, so who am I going to sit down with and ask, any new news? Who I am going to have an impromptu dance party with? Who am I going to take a walk with? Yale sells its residential colleges as being like a home, Frocos like older siblings, and residential college deans and heads of college like parents. But let’s be honest: They are responsible for hundreds of students, and their schedules are packed with classes, grading, and families. Some may respond that providing a family is the purpose of residential colleges.
They emerged, however, mainly to accommodate a growing number of first years. Edward Harkness ’97 opened the first seven residential colleges in 1933 when a shortage of on-campus space displaced over half of the first year class. Residential colleges soon accumulated their own faculty representatives, traditions, activities, and facilities. They focused on centering community life and structuring academics, not boosting student emotional health. While the college system has certainly evolved, it doesn’t substitute for the flesh and blood of family. But flesh and blood certainly doesn’t define family. Every potential pre-med has shared in the intimate joy that "Grey’s Anatomy" best friends Meredith Grey and Cristina Yang display in their 30-second dance parties amidst the stress of hospital life. The Yalie-beloved show "Gilmore Girls" features a lasting friendship between Rory and Lane that is cultivated by long walks around Stars Hollows. Family sometimes even materializes in coordinating jackets like those worn by the Pink Ladies and T-Birds in Grease.
Administrative structures don’t make a family, but they do grant us the opportunity to make one through singing and sports, societies, and study groups — through the ensuing GroupMe chats, iMessages, and Facebook messages. Each one presents an open invitation to start a deep conversation, to ask someone for their new news. In Marina Keegan’s ’12 view, published in the Yale Daily News years ago, what Yalies really want is the “opposite of loneliness.” I want that and so do my classmates. One of my hometown friends recently quipped that his roommate may not know it yet but they are going to be best friends. I never had a best friend in high school and simultaneously felt comfortable sharing personal details with any of my hundred peers. Like Meredith and Cristina, Rory and Lane, the Pink Ladies and the T-Birds, similar experiences bonded us with empathy. It gave us “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions” — emotional intelligence (EI), in the words of President Salovey and University of New Hampshire psychologist John D. Mayer when they defined EI in 1990.
Since then, Yale has drawn many administrative leaders from the field of psychology, including my own Head of College, Dr. Margaret Clark and Yale College Dean Dr. Marvin Chun. Psychologists generally embody impressive interpersonal and mentorship skills, making them apt advisors. These skills, from reading people to sharing vulnerabilities, foster deep relationships. Advisors supply occasional wisdom, however, not daily chats, dance parties, and walks. It is up to us to join activities, connect and find our collegiate family. That requires a strong sense of emotional intelligence. Just last week, a Yale squash teammate texted me, asking about my summer, checking in about training and seeing if I had any questions. In a nutshell, that moment represented what I came to Yale to find and that is what I hope all of us can find here. And if you need any help finding it, sit down with a classmate and ask them if they have any new news. You may start building your family sooner than you think.
This piece was originally published at yaledailynews.com.
Subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.
More on Mental Health on Campus: