While everyone seemed to put last school year under a microscope, there seems to be less of a conversation about the switch flipped on this year. Many universities have returned to in person learning, requiring students to be thrown back into a life that some could be experiencing for the first time. Classes, football games and even parties are not the same as they were one year ago. The current freshman class were juniors in high school the last time they saw the inside of a classroom, and it seems that students and faculty alike are having a difficult time getting back to normalcy.
Students like junior psychology major Alex Bush are no strangers to the challenges of the new semester, but have found positivity in the return.
“I’m so grateful to be relatively ‘normal’ again, but it has definitely been an adjustment from being completely virtual last year,” Bush said.
Bush mentioned that her biggest challenge this past year has been her schedule, since so much has moved back to face-to-face. While the University of Mississippi has required masks in all on-campus meetings and gatherings, clubs and student life have begun to open up since August of this year.
“As a result, this semester has been an adjustment back to all of the meetings, events and other commitments,” Bush said. “Overall, this semester feels significantly busier.”
Despite the change of schedule, she emphasizes how much better the past semester has been. She said that she has seen improvements in things as little as her daily schedule.
“Before the pandemic, I did not recognize the substantial difference it makes to have daily social interaction and basic exercise,” Bush said.
Bush is not alone in this sentiment. According to health research publisher JMIR publications, 94% of college students said the pandemic affected their living situation, but now things have seemed to go back to normal for the most part.
Bush, who is also a keynote speaker on mental health since her junior year of high school, has interacted with countless college students throughout the country. She echoes the sentiment that students across the country are facing challenges.
“Throughout the pandemic, there have been countless changes impacting daily life, so it is no doubt that people are struggling with adjustment,” Bush said.
According to think tank Thirdway.org, 67% of current college students have expressed difficulty with accessing student support systems.
Juawice McCormick, interim director of the University Counseling Center, has been in the position since July. While she has been with the counseling center since 2018, she stepped into the position after the departure of former director Bud Edwards — and after the year that classes went online. While McCormick admits to shortcomings when it comes to the resources provided on campus, the staff has thrived with what they have been given, even in the middle of the pandemic.
“I think we all do a really great job with the resources that we have, and certainly would benefit from more help, but we have great campus partners as well as ones in town,” McCormick said.
According to the International Association for Counseling, a leading accreditation association for counseling centers on college campuses, the standard for accreditation is one professionally licensed counselor to 1,500 students. This would mean that the university would need around 12 licensed counselors. The center has almost doubled its staffing since 2018, with 10 licensed counselors, versus the five they had four years ago.
McCormick said that the semester has been a period of readjustment across the board, even for faculty and staff. She hopes for a smooth transition since the administration considers mental health a high priority.
“Mental health is a priority for the chancellor as well as the provost. Student mental health and employee well being also is a priority,” McCormick said. “I think they’re really pretty good stewards of the resources that we have available.”
This agenda has been in the works since the appointment of Bud Edwards to direct the counseling center in 2014 and the creation of the dean of students position in 2016. Since then, the university as well as the Institution for Higher Learning has attempted to improve counseling services in the state.
As students have begun to return to in-person classes and events — as well as the counseling center getting back to in-person sessions, McCormick has continually noticed that one thing has stuck out to her.
“I’ve seen so many acts of kindness on our campus, students reaching out to each other trying to be welcoming and inclusive,” McCormick said. “I think one blessing is that we have all been made very aware that, you know, of giving, loving people’s momentary kindnesses.”
“While there are campus resources such as the counseling center, William Magee Center, and COPE, these programs often lack appointment availability and funding,” Alex Bush said. “As a university, we must continue to expand the resources and increase student outreach.”
The attempted improvement of mental health resources has been in the works for years, but has come to a head after the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s chancellor declared a day to address a “mental health crisis” after two suicides and two attempts in October.
Brent Marsh, Assistant Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students, believes in the importance of looking back on the college experience in a positive light, and that includes being mentally healthy. He said that even when students become alumni, the social experiences will leave a significant impact.
“I believe students will look back with a lot of fondness, and great memories will be those social experiences that they have, because those really do help leave such an important effect on our lives, as we’re here as students, and during the college years, but then beyond as well,” Marsh said.
In comparison with the rest of the country, Marsh said the University of Mississippi was a part of a group that prioritized social opportunities as much as possible.
“I would say that our university, probably compared to many others across the country, really tried to prioritize as much as we could, the student experience and as much student-to-student and student-to-faculty interaction as possible,” Marsh said.