My job at the Technique often has me steeped in the less-than-shiny side of life at the Institute. I’m prowling subreddits daily, combing through police reports, listening in on SGA meetings and talking to students from every area of campus to hear their experiences. From my time investigating and reporting, I’ve seen a lot. This year more than ever, students are struggling.
Just since February, there have been 25 police-involved incidents reported due to a mental health or welfare concern. Dozens more have posted to online forums expressing how they are “about to low-key lose their minds” or that things “feel impossible.” It may sound alarmist, but multiple posts from incoming students have expressed enough concern about not wanting to attend a school if students are this unhappy. Even my parents have expressed this, and have mentioned that they would be nervous for my younger brother, a junior in high school who loves to code, to come to Tech because of the stressful, high pressure culture.
For the sake of the Tech community and for any prospective students, I hate that this stress culture is normalized, even romanticized at times. I especially hate that it is well-documented online, from police reports to subreddits to media coverage. I say this not as a girl who has it all together, but from a place of empathy for the strained student.
At Tech, I’ve dealt with my share of mental health struggles. Freshman year was a storm of emotions thanks to a life transition at an unfamiliar school (the suburbs didn’t prepare me for this!) and a breakup with a high school romance (I thought we would at least make it to Thanksgiving!). Even more catastrophic in my mind, for the first time ever, I was a borderline B-student.
I quit a part time job I loved due to feeling overwhelmed. I took fewer credits than seemed possible for an on-time graduation. Eventually, I sought outside help for anxiety levels that I later learned were far from normal.
While all this unfolded and my mental health was at its worst, Tech gave me groups of friends who made all the difference. Community can look different in a lot of ways. Sometimes, it’s a group project team that not only gets work done but will laugh along the way with you. Or perhaps a structured organization is where you will meet like minded friends. My community started freshman year, when a fellow LMC major conveniently adopted my dorm room as her dedicated hangout spot, becoming a best friend during a time when I was “too stressed’’ to meet other people.
Sophomore year, I decided to expand my social circle at Tech and committed to trying one new club on campus. I had read the Technique fairly often, and I took note of their advertisements for general meetings for writers (with free pizza). I loved writing (and free food), so I took a deep breath and decided to find this “Flag Building room.” There I found a group of students enthusiastic about journalism, and I was hooked.
In fact, I loved it so much that when I was a junior, I got an internship at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as an online reporter of breaking news. Many of the responsibilities were the same as my time at The Technique: I took article assignments from my editor, I googled AP Style and over-relied on spellcheck, and generally reported on the goings-on as it related to the AJC.com audience.
What was missing from that job though was the sense of community I had built with the other students in the shabby Technique office. At the AJC, I did my assignments at my desk and maybe exchanged a few pleasantries with my co-workers. At the Technique, co-workers became friends. We overused emoji reactions in our slack channel, took selfies when the office flooded and pegged each other with questions about our layout software. Outside the office, we also studied together and rejoiced when our schedules aligned to take classes together.
While my time at the AJC was an educational experience and certainly boosts my resume, it was the community at the Technique that made my college journalism experience more meaningful.
I highly encourage anyone at Tech to drop a class or two, to join the campus organization over boosting your resume, to invest time in relationships over chasing the perfect grades. When else in life will you have those choices other than college?
This stage of life is precious for its ample opportunities to learn together and to participate in a community just for community’s sake. The stress and workday grind will exist for years to come. It doesn’t have to start in college too.
“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured,” American author Kurt Vonnegut wrote.
A community is made up of individuals, and I thank each individual in mine for sticking close to me through hard times, laughing away bad test grades and crying with me through feelings of failure.
It’s because of you, friends, that I know I will remember my college experience as one worth missing, not just escaping. Lastly, for the rest of you facing future semesters at the Institute: keep your friends close.
And then, once that box is checked, go out and invite others to join you. If it prevents one welfare check or even helps one first-year feel a little bit less lonely, it will be well worth the effort.