by J J Cohen
I'm sharing here an image of a letter that arrived in my office early in the week, an anonymous letter sent through the mail by one of my students, thanking me for a practice that has become automatic: talking on the first day of class about the right of every student to mental wellness. As I go over the details of the syllabus each semester, I linger upon the university resources that I have collected for them, and speak a bit about how even though college is supposed to the "best time of your life!" it is in fact a difficult period of transition and transformation during which many young men and women experience anxiety, depression, and other challenges to mental well being. I have been making this little speech for the past few years, ever since my son as a freshman grappled with panic attacks and anxiety -- and allowed me to talk about it in public so that other people his age would know they are not alone. He's pretty amazing.
I have been surprised and, when I think about it, deeply pleased that sharing this image catalyzed a helpful and intense discussion on Twitter (where it was retweeted and liked at what seemed to me an amazing scale) and Facebook (where Shit Academics Say shared it to quite a response) about college and mental wellness: follow those two links and read through the comments students and teachers have been making in response. I did not expect to hear back from a student about how simply speaking about these issues -- gently articulating that they are not abnormal and that every student has a right to thrive and to care for themselves -- made such a deep impression. I have found over the years that it is often the small, unguarded personal things we say in the classroom that stick, not the brilliant close readings or the magnificent PowerPoint driven lectures. So if this note encourages more teachers to speak about mental wellness on day one of class, I will feel like more good has been released into the world.
So thank you, anonymous student. You make me so very happy -- and I wish you all the best.