Art by Autumn Hardwick
Masks. Social distancing. Quarantine. Rapid tests. Zoom.
For all Pepperdine students, these were the aspects that framed much of the past two years.
However, with Pepperdine officially fully reopened, these same students must jump into “normal” life again — with significant social interaction, in-person classes and school gatherings.
While all of this is exciting, Pepperdine must help students adjust to this way of life through additional counseling services, the option of mental health days and flexibility from professors.
Firstly, Pepperdine should work to increase the availability and scope of the Counseling Center. COVID-19 caused a particularly negative effect on college students’ mental health, according to PLOS Journals. Coming back to campus, it is imperative resources are available to deal with the inevitable fact that mental health struggles will happen — especially in the midst of transitions to the new normal.
With the largest first-year class in Pepperdine’s history, the number of counselors must match the larger need from all levels of students.
Creating more opportunities for group counseling services would be a great start, so students can get healthy and necessary social interaction — yet in an environment that doesn’t feel as overwhelming.
New, specialized groups could be focused on aiding students in this adjustment, holding spaces for them to acknowledge and process the many different emotions they may be feeling.
For example, the Counseling Center offers specialized services for international students making different adjustments to entirely new cultures. This same group format could be used for students who are struggling to adjust to this return to normal life.
Second, Pepperdine should also offer students the option of mental health days. When struggling with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, it can be very difficult to find the motivation to attend classes, work and club meetings. This, combined with the strain of adjusting, should prompt Pepperdine to allow mental health days to be seen as an acceptable explanation for missing obligations. These mental health days should then be validated by administration.
Of course, it will be necessary to create limits so this system does not get taken advantage of, but it should be seen as a safety net for those who may potentially need it. Ideally, this would give students the space they need to work through their emotions without fear of repercussions or being seen as irresponsible to their obligations.
Finally, professors should create increased flexibility in their classes. In addition to transitioning, COVID-19 cases are a very real concern that have forced some to attend classes via Zoom while quarantining. Because of this, grace should be extended to students who struggle to get their assignments in on time, who don’t participate in class as frequently or who have to miss class.
With assignments, students could receive a few days of extra time to finish them. By extending this grace period, it will permit more focus on learning new material while dealing with whatever complications may arise as a result of COVID-19. Professors can temporarily waive attendance and participation to remove additional stress off of students.
Because this is not a normal school year, Pepperdine should not treat it as such. By implementing all these suggestions, it will be a clear indication of Pepperdine’s support of their students in the midst of a challenging time.
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