Letter to UT

So, I just turned in my final english paper for the semester, which was a social critique of our choice. Although this is a sad topic, I think it’s important to share, and I hope you enjoy my critique of the University of Tennessee.

**Note: I love the University and support it despite my view on the polarizing topic of mental illness on college campuses**

Dear students at the University of Tennessee,

We have stopped caring about human life, our own and each others. Walking to class at 12:30 on a Wednesday when it is sunny and seventy-five degrees outside, I expect to find students socializing, laughing, and enjoying the weather on their way to class. Instead, I find students hunkered over their phones, headphones plugged in and eyes glued to their screens. It’s quiet, to the point of seeming abnormal. In class, sole discussions revolve around how well classmates do on each exam. At night, students tuck themselves away into library cubbies in the hopes of getting grades good enough to bring home. When did our grades, our accomplishments, and our involvement begin to outweigh our love for ourselves and our concern with our mental health? Throughout high school, I was a mostly drama-free, fun-loving child who got good grades, was active and involved on campus, and had a good relationship with those around her. I didn’t genuinely begin to have serious self-esteem issues until reaching campus. No one simply chooses to sit and talk to their classmates when they could be snap chatting their best friend down the hall. The sole purpose of socializing with classmates is either to cheat on homework or to see where you landed on the grade scale for the last paper. Students compare grades, and who is dumb as opposed to who is a pushover. There is no winning situation. We tell students to stop being depressed, but how can a student simply choose to be happy when their lives consist of the need to be the perfect body weight, have the best grades, and spending extensive nights in the library under synthetic lights that buzz after too many long hours in order to seem effortlessly smart. Student mental health is deteriorating on the University of Tennessee’s not only due to lack of facilities, but also due to our generations social disconnect due to technology and social media.

On campus, I’ve lost one acquaintance already this year to suicide. From what I knew of him-or rather, what I gathered from his witty twitter and popular Instagram- he was the picture of happiness. He was in a loving relationship and had many friends that loved him dearly. When he passed away, I expected an outcry. I expected people to talk about it, and desire to know why it happened. However, no one said a thing. The people who knew him posted memorial pictures on Instagram, there was a gathering of friends at the apartment complex he called home, and then everyone simply let it fade away. Without talking about depression or suicide, how can we ever hope to change this well known college pattern? I know more than a few others who have actively self-harmed, self-loathed, or considered what it would be like to die. What’s sad to me is that there are so many people who have serious issues, however there are very few programs about how to get help. At orientation leading up to my freshman year, there was a seminar for parents about how well the university provides facilities for those that need mental and physical help. However, something is going wrong. Students are scared to be seen as damaged, and refuse to seek help in the first place. For those that do try to seek help, our on-campus health center has been booked through the year since early March. This lack of availability doesn’t make seeking help any more appealing to those who may need it. As a result, we are drowning in our work, relationships, and commitments. When did our grades and our reputations become worth more than our lives? I believe this high level of depression comes from our belief that the only people that matter are the people who are the prettiest, know the most, and accomplish more than everyone else, which stems from our social media sites that are set up to show only the highest and most wonderful points of our lives. This social media presence is not real life, however. Rather, it is leading to de-valuing of our fellow friends and encouraging us to tear each other down, one by one.

It’s not simply that we tear ourselves down, either. While students do devalue themselves, it stems from our lack of respect for each other. I wish I knew where this lack of empathy came from. Perhaps is began with our use of technology and superiority complex. No matter what, something in our brains has caused us to stop caring for each other, and rather do whatever pleases us or elevates us in our own minds. Earlier this semester, I was told to kill myself. No, it was not a joke. It was a genuine request for me to end my own life. The reason? Because I was in an argument with one of this boy’s friends. I don’t know when, but somewhere along the line we have decided that it is acceptable to tear someone down to the point of not wanting to be on this earth.

If you saw me from the outside, I would seem like the picture of college happiness. I have a large group of friends, I have a leadership position in my sorority, I am a campus ambassador, and my grades are well above the university average. I spend free time singing and drawing, and am not short of extracurricular activities. However, when this previous friend and his group of guy friends got together to text me hate messages, I felt like a college failure on my way to dropping out. I questioned my worth, and wondered what would happen if I simply disappeared. Luckily, I am strong, and was eventually able to dust off these hateful sentiments. However, not everyone is able to step outside of their situation like this. Thinking about how easy it is to tear someone down genuinely frightens me for the rest of my peers.

With so many unique people and talents, how is it possible that so many of us think our existence is trivial, or optional? We are arguably one of the brightest generations in history and have technological advancements that make it possible for us to make an incredible impact on the world. In an era with so much tumult, we need to be able to step outside of our political opinions, our need for status, and our desire to fit in to be there for each other and look out for those of us that need it. Imagine if you did just three kind things a day, such as compliment a girl walking past you, or say hello to someone sitting alone at lunch. Now imagine if every student on campus was able to do the same thing. Our campus would truly be the accepting, kind community that we claim to be. Many days, I walk down the hill towards Neyland Stadium past the student union. With the sun shining, and the fountains bubbling, I like to think that our university is one of the most beautiful places in the world at times. I challenge us to be just as beautiful as the place where we live or even more so.

We have to learn how to treat ourselves and each other in order to survive as a generation. In a period where things are valued more than people, I fear that we are losing the importance of each other in the excitement of invention and ingenuity. Our generation needs to remember the importance of sitting with friends and laughing until our stomachs hurt. When will we notice that six hours in front of a television set doesn’t provide joy, but simply makes us numb the the world around us? I fear that it will take us too long to notice how much we are drifting apart from one another. One day we will wake up, and realize that the whole world has moved on while we were too busy waiting for the new series of Keeping Up With the Kardashians to come out.

In no way do I think our campus is a bad community. I’ve met some of the best people I’ve ever known through my sorority, various clubs, and organizations. I’ve sat with my best friends on the outdoor steps of HSS and talked until sunset. I’ve watched students go out of their way to sit with special needs students, people give out flowers simply to bring a little joy, men and women hand out candy to help people who just need a pick-me-up. However, we aren’t perfect. No community or person is. There are so many strides we can take to make this campus even a little more welcoming to those around us. I challenge us to be above our generation as a whole. Be aware of each other, and our feelings. Step out of your way to be kind to someone who looks like they could use it. Know what you’re saying when you text someone to “go die” or “just disappear”. Your actions have meaning, even if you can’t see them. Lastly, know you’re not alone. If you are feeling depressed, or even just sad, talk to someone. There are so many people on this campus and in life who love and value you. As a school, lets be a little more loving and accepting, and be the university that we portray to others.

Sincerely,

A Girl Who Loves Her School

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