It has been—to put it lightly—a stressful year. In addition to the global pandemic, the recognition and repudiation of systemic racism and injustice, there was also the US election—oh, and keeping up with work on a campus that has adjusted to meet every possible challenge.
And so, just like people everywhere, the staff of Bowdoin College rode waves of tension, anxiety, and isolation. Job descriptions shifted wildly from March to November to meet the needs of a community committed to safety. The strength and support that staff members usually find in seeing one another on the Quad, in Thorne, or in the library, was difficult to replicate on Zoom—between bouts of home-schooling and scheduled COVID tests.
Roland Mendiola, interim director of counseling services, recognized that Bowdoin students (and others) could benefit from the opportunity to hear voices across the College on a more personal level—specifically exploring the intersection of mental/emotional health, social stigma, personal identity, and culture.
He began with a rough outline of five questions:
- Did you grow up talking about mental or emotional health?
- How do you think about those things now?
- How does who you are and where you’re from inform that?
- I think we can consider mental health as one of the ongoing elephants in the room. What other kinds of elephants in the room feel salient to you, your life, or the world we live in today?
- From your own experience, what kind of message feels important for students to get about how to cope with the times we’re living in today?
The conversations unfolded from that basic structure, often touching on the intersecting and overlapping roles of family, upbringing, faith, geography, gender, and growth.
Recordings of all of these conversations can be found on Bowdoin’s YouTube channel, and they make for great listening just as much as great viewing.
So grab your headphones, head out for a walk, and realize that you are not alone in figuring out one of our biggest challenges: how we care for ourselves.