By Roz Edward
The COVID-19 pandemic is putting unprecedented pressure on Black, Brown and White college students engaged in virtual learning situations to find ways to engage and interact socially. Post-secondary students explain that the isolation caused by the pandemic is not only disruptive to the campus life experience, many worry that the lack of socialization is impacting their emotional welfare and even their mental health.
“I really do miss waking up and going to class way more than I thought. I miss the whole college experience because I had a normal freshman year and now it’s done a complete 180 sophomore year,” explains Prairie Dolton, a sophomore at North Carolina State University. “It was just unexpected and kind of rough with the transition to everything new,” she continued.
Homecoming, freshman icebreakers, fraternity functions and sorority soirees are more than simply an opportunity to party, they are an essential part of college campus life. Student socialization is a basic for one of the most memorable periods of a young adult’s scholastic experience. It’s also fertile ground for personal development, and in many cases helps in building long-term friendships and life-long relationships with future colleagues.
The bottom line is that collegiate camaraderie is proving to be more than a social benefit, it is especially important to relieving anxiety and tension for post-secondary students who are already at risk of succumbing to the challenges of rigorous course work and arduous testing.
“The worst-case scenario is that we see more black students leaving, not enrolling, dropping out or not experiencing success,” said Frank Harris III, a professor of Postsecondary Education at San Diego State University.
A survey of 195 students indicated that more than 80 percent of participants report that decreased social interactions due to physical distancing and increased concerns regarding academic performance during the pandemic are leading distressed students to in some cases adopt extreme behaviors to cope with stress and anxiety including self-medicating and/or leaving post-secondary educational pursuits altogether. Harris said the response by the Black Collegians program at Santa Monica College and other similar support programs to the financial, social, academic and emotional fallout from COVID-19 may serve as examples for other campuses to keep damage to a minimum among black students.
Findings of a study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information and published in the National Library of Medicine underscored the urgent need to develop interventions and preventive strategies to address the mental health of college students.
College students are also reporting that they are finding it harder to connect to mental health services amid the pandemic. Forty-two percent of all respondents indicated they had attempted to seek care during the pandemic. Of those, 60 percent said accessing mental health care has become “much more difficult,” or “somewhat more difficult,” according to study, conducted by the American College Health Association and the Healthy Minds Network. The survey included 18,700 students across 14 campuses between March and May 2020.
“A student who doesn’t have a community, who’s not already connected in some way, could literally be kind of lost in the abyss right now, with no one to turn to, not sure where to go,” Harris said. “No one is looking for them, no one is necessarily looking after them.”
The Centers for Disease Control reports that in June 40 percent of adults in the U.S. indicated that they have been struggling with mental health since the start of the pandemic. That statistic is compounded by the fact that college age is a time when many emotional and mental disorders present normally.
Experts agree it’s a hard time and students are feeling it in different ways. “College students we know for one, it is the time where a lot of anxiety and depression disorders present,” Dr. Mary Kimmel of University of NC explains.
Colleges and universities are responding and attempting to alleviate some of the pressure of virtual learning by creating online groups for students cyber celebrate accomplishments and check in with friends and classmates. “I know this is new ground for everybody, faculty and students,” admits HBCU grad Cherylynne Washington. “But the problem is that all of this is still occurring online and in a virtual environment. We need to find meaningful ways to connect and ensure that all students are getting the support they need to get over this hump and cross the line into the realm of graduation … online or in person.”