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Opinion: Oberlin Not Equipped to Handle Student Mental Health Needs in the Summer Semester

by Kira Mesch

art by Ella Causer

[originally published July 2021]


To occupy me when I walk from my dorm to Decafe and back again, which is all I do these days, I have been listening to an audiobook about a woman who tries to fall asleep for an entire year. At this point in the semester, that is starting to sound like a really good idea.

I will be the first to admit that I am exhausted. Right now, I feel like I have been working to no end. All I do is eat my Decafe celery and peanut butter, avoid my statistics readings, nurse my Ebay addiction where I add things to my watchlist but do not buy them, and stay up late and skip classes then feel guilty about it because of how much money it costs to go here. I feel like I am spiraling into a kind of low-level burnout and despondency. All I need is a break.

Before starting the summer semester, I had spent an entire year of my life only seeing people at work and at home. Even when I was on campus in the fall, I oscillated mostly between my North Hall single room and Stevenson Dining Hall. When I moved into an apartment in the spring, I spent my time indoors: I cooked, I learned to knit, I watched old ABC Family shows with my roommates. I walked to work and then, after work, I walked home again.

When I got to campus for the summer semester, everyone was saying things were back to normal. Before May, I had forgotten about parties (along with all other forms of leisure that weren’t television or knitting), and the fact that when you go to parties, you have to walk about two miles in a night to get to one that hasn’t been shut down yet.

This is all to say: I got to campus this summer and was absolutely and completely exhausted by everything that seemed to be happening here all the time. Not just mentally, but physically. My body literally was not used to walking so much or seeing so many people. I spent the first month here mostly just in class or napping.

Two weeks into this semester, I made a therapy appointment with the counseling center — then, once my scheduled appointment approached, I was so tired from doing work that I slept through it. Last week, in an attempt to get another therapy appointment, I tried four separate times to contact the counseling center before I was able to reach someone who could schedule me. When trying to get a counseling appointment in August, I called twice in two days and left a message once. I got my appointment not on the phone, but by going in person three different times. Two days after my second call, I went twice in one day to the counseling center, and nobody was at the desk. The third time I went, four days later, there was no office assistant, but rather a counselor at the desk serving as one. The closest appointment I could get was two weeks out.

At times, it seems like the difficulty of coping with life on campus is my own fault. In a real way, it was my fault that I slept through the counseling appointment that I made when I got here, and it’s my fault when I skip class. A part of me wonders if the fact that I’ve been wearing myself without knowing what I’m working towards just means that I’m not actually good at doing work.

Part of this feeling is because Oberlin wants us to think everything is fine. And not just fine, but great! Oberlin students aren’t drowning in work! We aren’t afraid of the very real pandemic that’s still happening! All this in their emails and yet, Oberlin students have emerged from isolation and indoor mask mandates only to regress back into it, and their very real anxiety is being denied by college messaging.

I wish the counseling center had better support staff. I wish they had an all-campus email chain with programs, or social media, or at least someone who would respond to their phone messages. If the college has the resources to dig up half of this campus, I would assume that they have the money to make their mental health resources more robust in the middle of an ongoing pandemic. At the very least, I wish we got a break. One full week of no classes. Mindfulness resources like MindSpa are well and good, but they do not work on the level of the institution to uncouple students’ understanding of their productivity from their self worth. The absence of a break, or really any changes that achieve this in the summer semester is a profound failure on the part of Oberlin.

Oberlin as a unit should not be responsible for solving the pandemic, or capitalism’s mindsets of productivity, or even my depression. But it does have the capacity to make life easier for its students. I hope Oberlin moves from this semester to provide well-staffed, comprehensive counseling and resources for students, and provides more leniency within its workload and expectations.

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