If you’re not talking about the fraternity party you went to Saturday night, Snapchatting pictures of the breathtaking campus or posting on Instagram with friends you made two hours prior, are you really having a good time in college? The fact of the matter is, even if you are doing these things, there’s a good chance that you feel alone.
As a freshman there’s a great deal of pressure to prove that you’re enjoying college at any school, particularly at one commonly referred to as the “Social Ivy.” On many occasions, I’ve heard Penn described as a “work hard, play hard” environment. In fact, one of the reasons I chose to attend Penn is its vibrant social scene. I wanted to have friends that are as fun as they are intelligent.
However, I’ve found that the academic pressure that exists at Penn very much extends itself into the social life here. Again, social pressure exists at other schools, which The New York Times columnist Frank Bruni so eloquently articulated in one of his most recent articles, In the article, Bruni also cited a survey conducted by the American College Health Association that found of 28,000 college students, 60 percent “felt very lonely in the previous 12 months.”
Although it seems a majority of college students feel lonely, the obligation to be out and about and doing something exciting with other people is especially prominent at the “Social Ivy.” Simply put, being alone isn’t “cool” here, and Penn needs to improve its existing resources so that it is better equipped to cope with students' loneliness.
At New Student Orientation, freshmen attended numerous panels where the nuances of consent, dangers of alcohol abuse and importance of public safety were thoroughly discussed. During some of the panels, students were provided the phone number of Counseling and Psychological Services; however, the emotional implications of adjusting to college were not addressed in any major way. It’s not enough to blindly throw resources at students and expect mental health problems to evaporate.
There seems to be an expectation that freshmen who are away from home, many for the first time in their lives, will seamlessly adjust to college. Peers, friends from high school and family friends do not just check on us based on our GPAs; they also look at how happy we are and if we're having problems making friends in college. If we aren't happy, we are deemed as failing.
But starting college is not a class we earn a grade in. It’s a new life. And happiness is not a permanent state — it’s a fleeting emotion. Sometimes you’ll feel good, and sometimes you won’t. That’s life, and that’s college too.
My loneliness set in after my first calculus class at Penn. The curve and homework assignments confused me. I could barely hear the professor or see what he was writing on the board, and it seemed like everyone else knew what they were doing.
I held in my tears during the walk from David Rittenhouse Laboratory to my dorm room in the Quad and immediately called CAPS, explaining that I wanted to talk to someone. They told me they’d call me back in about 24 hours for a consultation, but if it were an emergency I could speak to someone immediately.
How could I assess if what I was feeling were an emergency? It didn’t seem like one. Yet, I had no friends that I felt comfortable talking to, so I was left to deal with my anxiety alone. I told the woman on the phone that I was okay.
CAPS’ first response to a student call should be to offer instant counseling, as it’s often difficult to admit that what you’re feeling is an emergency.
Students have to advocate for themselves a lot in college. If they’re struggling with an assignment, need help applying for a job or are having trouble with time management, it’s up to them to figure it out independently. But receiving assistance with mental health shouldn’t be something they have to fight for alone.
During future NSOs, Penn should make a more conscious effort to normalize loneliness and strengthen CAPS so that it is more immediately available to students. Ultimately, the University must make it so that seeking assistance with mental health issues is not a last resort or an emergency, but a first impulse.
ISABELLA SIMONETTI is a College freshman from New York. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Simonetti Says So” usually appears every other Tuesday.