Widgets Magazine


Should this be required reading?

I’m a senior, which means I’m double-checking my list of DBs and ECs to make sure I graduate. Every time I look over the list of required courses in the Bulletin, the thought hits me: Why are Stanford students not held to the some standard of emotional or mental growth during their four years on the Farm? Just as the toddlers at Bing are expected to meet certain friendship and communicative standards before moving onto kindergarten, why shouldn’t we have to do the same before we are let out into the real world, wherever that may be?

As we’ve seen demonstrated by students who are forced to stop out each quarter because they are overwhelmed by academic or personal stress and unable to manage the extreme mental balancing act asked of us as full-time students at one of the most rigorous schools in the world, our “depth and breadth” as individuals does little for us if we are unable to function in daily life.

Apart from academics, there are a few essential skills that should be learned in college. Students should graduate from an institution like Stanford with a basic knowledge of sexual health, relationships (what constitutes good communication with your partner, and how to maintain a healthy relationship with your partner), mental wellness (i.e. the causes and symptoms of depression, what to do if you or someone you know seems depressed), and basic listening skills (how to really listen to someone, not just pretend you are listening as you finish a problem set). In an ideal world, we would pick up these skills outside of class, on the weekends, and in everyday interactions with peers, partners and professors, but my fear is that in our current overachiever, busy 24/7 culture, these essential skills are being pushed to the periphery and replaced by prep for consulting interviews and what can seem like thousands of applications for summer jobs.

I view this issue as one similar to the common principle that some liberal parents adopt: Let a teenager experiment with alcohol while they’re still living at home and then they won’t die of alcohol poisoning in college because they’ll have learned their limits. It’s the same thing with college students – Stanford should be educating us and making sure we get these essential developmental experiences before we’re turned loose.

I worry that these essential life skills are being pushed out of the way as we try to meet our academic requirements at college. These are things that all students should be learning prior to having to live in an apartment somewhere away from the security of campus, find friends in a big world where not everyone has the common tie of Stanford love and where our ties to the people around us are put to an even greater test.

In addition, these courses would surely de-stigmatize discussions of such issues on campus because they would bring an element of universality to the conversation about health resources among students, would train students to detect potentially serious issues in themselves and in others for the rest of their lives and would give students much-needed information about how to deal with the more personal issues of balancing a demanding academic career – issues that are usually left to fringe resources outside of the classroom or relegated to a self-selecting group of students who naturally want to get involved with mental health resources on campus.

I see no other solution to this issue than Stanford requiring undergraduates to take at least one wellness course during their undergraduate career that would focus on some element of mental health, from sex education to stress management to meditation. In an ideal world, I think Stanford should require students to take a differently themed wellness course each year, but I’m starting with a simple request. In the post-IHUM era, this requirement would surely not upset any great academic plans and might even help students get through their course loads. Chances are, knowing how to talk to your girlfriend may end up serving you better in the long run than any gender studies class on female voices in literature!

Your next required reading assignment: emailing Emily at ecohodes@stanford.edu to let her know what you think!

About Emily Cohodes

Emily Cohodes is a senior majoring in Psychology. She has been a peer counselor at the Bridge for the past three years and now serves as the course coordinator for the training courses. A lover of all animals, Emily has been a vegetarian since age 3 and is very interested in food production and sustainable food systems. In her free time, she can be found riding horses, cooking meatless delicacies, reminiscing about her time abroad in Italy, and hiking. She is always looking for ways to improve campus mental health culture and would love your feedback.
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    Thank you, Emily. Glad you are bringing these issues up.