3/10 – 3/16

New Quadcast: Elon University President Connie Book

On the new episode of the Mary Christie Quadcast, Elon University President Connie Book, Ph.D., M.E., talks about the disruption of the last year and how Elon is addressing the health and wellbeing of students and staff at the North Carolina university. She calls mental health not just a student issue, but a “community issue,” describing a loss of normal structure and visible fatigue, amidst positive lessons learned.

This episode is the latest in a non-consecutive series highlighting college and university presidents’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mental and Behavioral Health

Main Stories
The cancellation of spring breaks at colleges and universities nationwide, and the potential effect on mental health, has gained national attention. Vox reports on the topic, explaining the reality that many college students use their time off to decompress and prepare for the next part of the semester. In a year of Zoom fatigue and excessive screen time, the article contents that breaks are even more important. Vox highlights the stories of three college students who are trying to find a balance between being Covid-safe and taking a mental break. A Yale student recounted,  “Yale is giving us break days throughout the semester instead of a full break in order to alleviate some of the pressure of going straight through. In my opinion, it’s a very fair solution because they don’t want people leaving campus, getting sick, and bringing it back to campus. But from the standpoint of a student who actually has to sit through this, it’s pretty brutal. It’s a lot of class and a pretty relentless schedule… The administration doesn’t take any joy in doing any of this. It’s just a terrible situation, and there’s no really good solution. I think everyone is just trying to do their best.”

In Inside Higher Ed’s Academic Minute, a short-form audio feature, Caroline Brackette, an associate professor in the college of health professions at Mercer University, discusses her research which found that students with mental health disabilities have lower satisfaction than their peers. Study participants say they are reluctant to disclose their mental health issues due to stigma, and report both negative and positive experiences with professors related to academic accommodations. Negative experiences included professors who didn’t understand the rationale for accommodations or did not work well with students who sought them. According to Brackette’s research, these interactions affected how participants viewed their experience.

On April 14th, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni will hold a webinar designed specifically for college trustees and other senior leaders to explore the latest research surrounding the impact of COVID-19 on student mental health, alcohol and drug use, and strategies to foster a healthy academic environment.

Other News
The Harvard Crimson explores a decline in student mental wellbeing amid the pandemic, as young people have encountered difficulties in distance learning, unwelcoming home environments, and challenges accessing health services.

The Minnesota Daily highlights the University of Minnesota’s new President’s Initiative for Student Mental Health, or PRISMH, a systemwide program created to improve students’ accessibility to mental health resources.

According to new research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston University’s School of Social Work, and McLean Hospital, students who had to relocate during the spring of 2020 were more likely to report COVID-19-related grief, loneliness and generalized anxiety symptoms than students who did not. NBC Boston covered the study and the pandemic’s severe impact on college student mental health.

In the Red and Black, University of Georgia students discuss the impact that sleep (or lack thereof) can have on academics and mental wellbeing.

A recent study published in the Journal of Urban Health found that CUNY students’ mental health has been impacted by the pandemic, with 54.5% of the students in the study reporting anxiety and/or depression. Additionally, half of respondents expressed concern over losing food or housing access.

A pilot program teaching mindfulness and coping techniques to University of Washington students has been shown to lower stress and improve emotional well-being. The program was offered in residence halls and later through classes and other organized campus groups.

In an op-ed in the Tulane Hullabalo, Anna Dixon writes that Tulane’s drinking culture did not decrease due to the pandemic; in fact, she says that, “If anything, drinking is one of the sole remnants of Tulane’s social life to survive COVID-19.” And with the party culture variable removed, Dixon argues that excessive alcohol use must be examined.

Boston University students reflect on their mental health struggles and working to overcome challenges over the last year. One student “dove headfirst into [her] mental health” after taking a semester off due to struggling with depression, anxiety, and her panic disorder.

The University of Alabama’s Student Government Association proposed a resolution to expand student access to the Counseling Center and increase its funding. It was sponsored by more than 30 senators.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

In a Daily Tar Heel op-ed, Editorial Board member Caitlyn Yaede calls on the University of North Carolina to do more for first generation students like her. According to Yaede, first gen students struggle to form a sense of belonging and acclimate to campus life, feeling disorientation coupled with imposter syndrome. “Perhaps now more than ever, UNC should take first-generation students into consideration: the emotional and academic barriers they face, and how virtual learning has fostered a disconnect between first generations and campus culture,” she writes. She says resources should be expanded and processes like major selection, financial aid applications and housing should be more accessible to those who are the first in their family to attend college.

In a meeting last week, University of Minnesota student representatives brought concerns and priorities to the Board of Regents, including hiring diverse faculty and staff and renaming campus buildings.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute announced that it will adopt a “test-blind” admission policy as part of an eight-year pilot. The Chronicle interviewed Andrew B. Palumbo, assistant vice president for enrollment management and dean of admissions and financial aid, who has been a critic of testing requirements. He said, “I want to be clear: This policy has nothing to do with Covid. It has everything to do with the inequities that standardized tests reinforce in college admissions.”

Georgetown University Law Center fired an adjunct professor whose “abhorrent” remarks about Black students on a video call were made public and drew swift national outrage. Another adjunct professor who was on the call with her resigned. The two adjunct professors, Sandra A. Sellers and David C. Batson, were apparently unaware they were being recorded.  In a clip of their conversation, Sellers discussed the evaluation of Black students with Batson after their virtual class had ended, saying, ““You know what? I hate to say this. I end up having this angst every semester that a lot of my lower ones are Blacks — happens almost every semester. And it’s like, ‘Oh, come on.’ You know? You get some really good ones. But there are also usually some that are just plain at the bottom. It drives me crazy.”

Student Success

In an op-ed in the Hechinger Report, Roslyn Clark Artis, president of Benedict College and Jamila Lyn, director of specialized programming, write that HBCUs play a “critical role in helping Black students feel at home in higher education and providing the coaching and support that all students — especially those who have been systematically disadvantaged — need to succeed.” According to Artis and Lyn, the pandemic has revealed the vulnerability of these institutions and their students. And while they applaud President Joe Biden’s commitment to expanding HBCU funding, they write that “sustaining that effort is just a necessary first step toward creating an equitable, accessible and diverse higher education ecosystem.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that after Ivy League and highly selective institutions waived SAT and ACT requirements this year, these schools received an unprecedented flood of applications. According to the Journal, this could mean these schools accept more low-income students from under-resourced high schools, as colleges say that “they’ll give greater weight to teacher recommendations and signs of intellectual curiosity, and judge candidates in the context of their environments.” Lee Coffin, vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions and financial aid at Dartmouth College said, the pandemic “is calling on us to walk the talk,” in thinking more broadly about assessing applicants.

College Affordability

In the  $1.9 trillion stimulus package, Congressional leaders eliminated the tax burden student loan borrowers would face if any portion of their debt was discharged, a step towards canceling some of the $1.5 trillion in federal student loans held by 45 million Americans.

In an op-ed in WBUR, Rich Barlow writes that Biden’s proposal to forgive 10,000 in student debt “passes both the economics and compassion test,” as it would target aid to those who need it most – borrowers who dropped out, keeping their debt without gaining the earning potential of a degree. These borrowers default at triple the rate of those who hold degrees.

Coronavirus: Safety and Reopening

The Wall Street Journal reports that colleges and universities are beginning to plan for the fall semester, anticipating more students on campus, more in-person classes, and concerts and athletic events. But they warn that plans could change, depending on the status of the country in dealing with the pandemic.

CNBC reports on students joining the fight against the coronavirus by becoming contact tracers. “It was a way for me to help,” a student said. “It was a way for me to rise to the moment and contribute some of the skills that I had.”

Travel restrictions are still blocking foreign students from countries like China, Brazil, Iran and South Africa, from entering the country. The constraints leave students seeking visas by qualifying for case-by-case exceptions or applying at U.S. consulates in other countries.

fraternity party that fueled an outbreak at Duke University has forced a university-wide, administration-mandated quarantine. School spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said in a statement that the new cases “are almost all linked to unsanctioned fraternity recruitment events that took place off campus” and are “the direct result of individual behavior in violation of Duke’s requirements for in-person activity.” He added that, “Those who are found responsible for organizing and hosting these events will be held accountable through the student conduct process.”

The Chronicle reports that a federal judge in Rhode Island dismissed students’ claims that they should have their tuition payments refunded because their universities switched to remote classes last spring. Students who attended Brown University, Johnson and Wales University, Roger Williams University, and the University of Rhode Island alleged that the colleges had breached their contracts.

Most colleges and universities across the country have cancelled spring break, but many students are traveling anyways, as most or all of their classes are held virtually. “You can make all of the rules and tell students to stay on campus, but at the end of the day, they’re going to do what they want to do,” says Daniel Mangrum, an economist who studied the connection between last year’s spring break and the spread of COVID-19.

The University of California at Davis is offering $75 grants for students staying in town for spring break in late March in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus as experts urge against travel.

Basic Needs

In an op-ed in the Hechinger Report, two authors with first hand experience stress the seriousness of the issue of food insecurity among college students. Christine Dickason, a Ph.D. student in Education Policy at Vanderbilt University and Cara DeLoach, a Ph.D. student studying Higher Education Leadership and Policy at Vanderbilt University and a former community college English instructor, stress the seriousness of the issue of food insecurity among college students. The authors have both helped start food pantries after learning about the hardships facing peers, students and colleagues, and know firsthand how they help students.

Online Radicalization

Christian Secor, a UCLA student, was among those arrested for storming the Capitol on January 6th. Others at UCLA said they had raised alarm over his words and actions including students of color and Jewish students who said they felt targeted by his rhetoric and worried about their safety. NPR reports that Secor took inspiration from online extremists and white supremecists, highlighting how extremism bred online can translate to real world violence.

Policy and Politics

President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package into law, which will send about $40 billion in direct aid to colleges and universities. Institutions must use a portion of their allocation to provide emergency grants to students disadvantaged by the pandemic.

Greek Life

In the Chronicle, Gentry McCreary, CEO of Dyad Strategies, a consulting firm engaged in applied research related to the fraternity and sorority experience, explains what colleges can do amid an alarming spike in fraternity hazing. His advice includes investing in intensive interventions to reduce alcohol abuse and eliminating the fraternity pledging process.

The New York Times explores the story of Antonio Tsialas, who was found dead in a gorge in Ithaca New York after a Cornell fraternity party where brothers ushered freshman through seven rooms, each of which contained its own alcohol-fueled challenge: In one room, fraternity recruits had to finish a bottle of vodka among them. More than a year later, his parents are still trying to understand what happened. They say their search for answers has been stymied by “fraternity brothers who will not talk, a campus police department unprepared to investigate and a university that seemed eager to label their son’s death as not suspicious.”