Editorial: Is our constant stress necessary?
Dear Hamilton College students, faculty, and staff,
As we enter the final stretch of the semester, it seems every “how are you?” we ask is met with some form of “too busy” and “stressed.” We, in turn, answer similarly. In the backdrop of a tight labor market that has made it harder for students to find gainful professional opportunities in their field of interest, and mounting global crises, it is impossible to remain unperturbed.
Though it would also be easy to chalk this up to the time of the academic year, we feel this is a simplistic answer that does not engage with the underlying sense of being overwhelmed many students, faculty, and staff feel all academic year. Our collectively ailing mental health can, yes, be addressed in part by the Counseling Center and other campus resources.
However, from a student perspective, we hope to begin a deeper campus conversation at a structural level about why so many of us feel buried. Addressing the symptoms is good, but wouldn’t it be best if we focused on identifying the root causes, and implementing preventative measures?
It often feels like to be a good Hamilton student, you have to do it all. We should succeed in various rigorous courses, serve in leadership positions, have a job, participate in some kind of sport or physical activity, socialize frequently, be civically engaged, and generally excel in all areas simultaneously. The message – and at times, requirement – to do so is sent from many places: peers, professors, coaches, parents, staff, institutional branding, and more. As just one example, Hamilton expects that courses have 12 hours of work a week – in other words, 48 hours across the expected four classes.
How often do we as a community stop to consider whether this way of being is healthy, let alone constructive? Is our goal to accomplish things, or appear as though we have?
Skimming a reading to find a useful nugget to prove class participation, to make space for an extracurricular that amounts to little more than a resume line, so that we can have an excuse to hang out with friends under a pretext of being ‘productive,’ all carefully planned by the hour, is a story all too common on our campus. Many students, most we would wager, are spread so thin, are so ‘well-rounded,’ as to be deprived of true depth in any one area.
To those students who feel exhausted and empty, we remind you of the possibility of getting an incomplete on your courses, that the Counseling Center and Student Support Team can be a resource for taking things off your plate, and that, while they can be important for professional advancement in some areas, grades are generally an arbitrary numericalization rather than an objective assessment of your value and learning.
But stopping here and saying we need to change our mindset alone would befall the same issue of focusing on individual solutions to collective problems. We pose a few questions for our community and its many leaders to consider:
What can we do to discourage spreading ourselves thin, and encourage depth of engagement?
Where are logical intersections between different student, faculty, and staff initiatives that can be combined to reduce redundancy and increase capacity?
How can students be made more aware of the support systems that exist for them?
What is missing in enabling students to build attainable perceptions of success, balanced in growth, passion, and rest?
Are the overall expectations we set for one another reasonable when accounting for our well-being?
Why has our campus conversation about mental health historically focused on the Counseling Center, and what can we do to broaden that discourse?
Our constant stress is not necessary, nor should it be normalized. It’s time for us to have a systemic conversation about our community’s long-standing mental health crisis.
The Monitor Editorial Board
Gabriel Bit-Babik ‘25, Digital Managing Editor
Ava Cargan ‘27, Perspectives Managing Editor
Vivian R. Miller ‘26, Co-Director of Audience Engagement
Adina Mujica ‘24, Co-Director of Audience Engagement
Eric Santomauro-Stenzel ‘24, Editor-in-Chief