College offers resources to help stressed-out students

Though academic stress will always be an issue at the College, this year the Dean’s Office is especially focusing on the increasing amount of academic stress first-year students are placing on themselves. In an effort to address the problem, the Dean’s Office is making larger efforts to inform the student body about the services the College currently offers to those who are experiencing academic stress as well as discussing new measures, which may be implemented to ease students’ academic anxieties.

Although the number of first-year students who actually left the College due to academic stress is difficult to quantify, the Dean’s Office realizes that many first-year students are experiencing stress as they try to adapt to the academic rigors of the College.

“I just do not think it would be fair to say that more first-year students left school this year due to academic stress,” said Dave Johnson, interim associate dean. “I just do not know that to be a fact. It is fair to say that I am more concerned this year than ever before that first years are putting themselves under increasing academic stress.”

He said that some first-year students who earned high grades throughout high school put pressure on themselves to achieve the same results in college. This tendency increases as the type of student the College is attracting changes. “The academic bar of expectation is being raised slightly each and every year, and students, first years particularly, just seem that much more vulnerable to the pressure that brings,” Johnson said.

The Dean’s Office is particularly concerned with this self-imposed pressure that first-year students are experiencing. “We want kids to enjoy Williams,” Johnson said. “Grades are important, work hard, but be sure to leave time for other things.”

With this in mind, Johnson encourages students experiencing academic stress to take advantage of the wide variety of services, both academic and non-academic, that the College currently offers. Primarily, Johnson said that the first line of resources for first-year students is the Junior Advisor (JA) system, which is a unique feature of the College.

Johnson said that JAs are sensitive to their first-year students and are asked to “be on the lookout for kids who might need help.” Since JAs are aware of the many resources available at the College, they can easily help their first-year students find the appropriate help when needed. Furthermore, first-year students may find their JAs more accessible since they are not employed by the College and will not report any difficulties the student is experiencing to administrators.

In addition to the JA system, the College also offers many resources to a student who is seeking help with a specific course or subject. Students may speak with the professor of the class in which he or she is experiencing difficulties.

Johnson said that frequently first-year students do not realize that attending office hours or arranging a meeting with a professor is okay and expected. Consequently, they are reluctant to ask for help from the professor. Furthermore, students who are having trouble with a course or writing a research paper can visit the Math and Science Resource Center or Writing Workshop. If they need more individual attention, students can even arrange for private tutoring with another student.

First-year students may also alleviate stress by improving their study skills through one of the workshops held by the Office of Special Academic Programs. Molly Magavern, coordinator of special academic programs, and Bob Blay, assistant to the coordinator, arrange these workshops, which take place at various times throughout the school year and focus on skills such as speed-reading, time management and test-taking.

Johnson said that this is one area that the Dean’s Office aims to “improve upon and make sure we are up to date with the current resources.” He also hopes that the new Baxter will serve to “consolidate all the student academic services into one area” and, therefore, make it easier for students seeking assistance to find it.

Furthermore, Johnson said that first- year students may be experiencing academic stress because they have special needs or a learning disability, which has been undiagnosed. These students should meet with Amy Pettengill Fahnestock, assistant dean, and she will help meet their academic needs.

Lastly, there exist several places on campus where students experiencing academic stress may find relief. Primarily, both the Dean’s Office or Chaplain’s Office are available as resources for students. Johnson said that Rick Spalding, chaplain to the College, truly “cares about the inner life of students” and can offern to assist the overstressed student. The Health Center is another important resource a student may use, and Johnson said that it often serves as a “haven for overstressed, overtired students” who need to sleep or relax.

The College is considering implementing new measures to help first-year students better adapt to the rigors of college life. Johnson, who is working closely with next year’s JAs, said that JA training will now be a day and a half longer. They hope to use this additional time to address issues such as how to identify and help an overstressed first-year student.

Johnson also said that the Dean’s Office is consulting with the Community Life Coordinators with regards to new measures and resources. He said that since the staff is younger in age they may have a better sense of what college students need. Through these steps, the College hopes to ensure that next year’s first-year class will more easily make the transition to college life.