February 20, 2016

NO, THIS ISN’T A PARODY: Schoolwork, advocacy place strain on student activists: Students struggle with mental health, academic pressures as they act on social justice responsibilities.

Two weeks ago, the University released the final version of its diversity and inclusion action plan, which could not have been compiled without the exhaustive efforts of students throughout last semester.

“There are people breaking down, dropping out of classes and failing classes because of the activism work they are taking on,” said David, an undergraduate whose name has been changed to preserve anonymity. Throughout the year, he has worked to confront issues of racism and diversity on campus.

His role as a student activist has taken a toll on his mental, physical and emotional health. “My grades dropped dramatically. My health completely changed. I lost weight. I’m on antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills right now. (Counseling and Psychological Services) counselors called me. I had deans calling me to make sure I was okay,” he said.

As students rallied to protest two racist columns published by The Herald and the alleged assault of a Latinx student from Dartmouth by a Department of Public Safety officer, David spent numerous hours organizing demonstrations with fellow activists. Meanwhile, he struggled to balance his classes, job and social life with the activism to which he feels so dedicated. Stressors and triggers flooded his life constantly, he said.

David turned to CAPS and reached out to deans for notes that extended his deadlines for assignments. These were helpful, he said, but acted only as “bandages” for the underlying causes of stress.

Justice Gaines ’16, who uses the pronouns xe, xem and xyr, said student activism efforts on campus are necessary. “I don’t feel okay with seeing students go through hardships without helping and organizing to make things better.”

In the wake of The Herald’s opinion pieces, Gaines felt overwhelmed by emotions flooding across campus. Students were called out of class into organizing meetings, and xe felt pressure to help xyr peers cope with what was going on, xe said. Gaines “had a panic attack and couldn’t go to class for several days.” . . .

Other students have also seen their academic work impacted by their efforts to advance social justice causes. This past semester, David spent class time on his activist work in order to address a time-sensitive issue. As a result, one of David’s professors lowered his grade because he was distracted in class, he said.

Sampedro was also on the committee that planned workshops for the Latinx Ivy League Conference, including Paxson’s presentation to students following the assault by a DPS officer on a student earlier that weekend. “I remember seeing all the tears in the room — that was traumatizing — and then not being able to focus on my homework,” she said. “Homework was the least of my worries.”

This is the Ivy League. Really, why not just abolish it?

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