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Faculty receive report on student mental health, discuss plan for classes post-election

October 30, 2020

At this week’s faculty meeting on Wednesday, Roland Mendiola, interim director of counseling and wellness services, presented a nationwide survey that showed two-thirds of college students nationwide reported feeling “overwhelming anxiety” as part of their normal college experience. This statistic was part of a larger update on how the College’s Counseling Services was handling the remote semester and its impacts on students’ mental health.

“It is important to acknowledge … that our students are extremely taxed and very exhausted. And, they are often overwhelmed by everything happening in their lives,” Mendiola said.

He went on to say that it is already challenging enough to be a young person in this current climate, but with the isolating nature of the pandemic and the current political situation, students are increasingly in need of extra support.

However, Mendiola argued that this is not a time to give into despair. Rather, he said, it could be an opportunity for faculty and administrators to tackle student concerns directly.

“I look at this [present moment] as an opportunity to face this conversation with a lot of honesty and a lot of integrity,” Mendiola said.

In public comments following Mendiola’s presentation, Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Nadia Celis said she could picture her students’ faces throughout Mendiola’s presentation and urged professors to find ways to support their students, especially this semester.

“The culture of hyper-achieving is something [I have found] to be so toxic … I have found myself so many times this semester having to tell my students, ‘you are something beyond what is happening right now, you really have to calm down,’” Celis said.

Professor of Government Michael Franz outlined possible scenarios for election day and its immediate aftermath. Taking President Clayton Rose’s lead, Franz expressed concern with President Trump’s recent rhetoric questioning the legitimacy of the election and urged professors to be thoughtful in how they approach the topic in class.

“Many students may experience a range of emotions, ranging from a struggle to concentrate, due to a late night on Tuesday … to significant stress and anxiety,” Franz said.

Dean for Academic Affairs Jenifer Scanlon also addressed the faculty about the upcoming election.

“In this election year, we have marked the 150th anniversary of the Fifteenth Amendment and the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment … And now we face what many of us believe to be the most significant election of our lifetimes,” she said.

Acknowledging that student emotions may run high before and after the results of the election are announced, Scanlon reminded professors not to engage in inappropriate electioneering, including wearing campaign propaganda, but clarified that faculty may share their opinions with students while remaining in line with the official non-partisan position Bowdoin must maintain as part of its nonprofit, tax-exempt status.

“As with many things, it’s not cut and dry … It’s your opinion, it’s not the opinion of Bowdoin College … if the topics are related to what you teach, you could argue that gives you even more leeway,” Scanlon said.

Like many, Franz maintains the importance for professors to address the outcome of the election in order to best support students and offer a space for community reflection.

“Many students will want professors to address, even briefly, the outcome [of the election]. Our classrooms are moments where we come together as a community, after all, and when we gather, we share, explicitly or implicitly, whatever is going on in our broader environment,” Franz said.

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