Editorial Board | Nov. 2, 2013, 5:17 a.m.
It is no secret to students of the Claremont Colleges that the 5Cs can be a stressful place. Students constantly complain about their workload, which causes some to pull all-nighters and others to pull their hair out in frustration. As institutions intending to prepare students to live healthy, happy, and productive lives, the 5Cs should try to alleviate the stresses inherent here and, perhaps more importantly, encourage students to learn how to combat stress themselves so they can carry those skills on to life after Claremont.
There are certainly places on campus for students to do just this. The Monsour Center offers psychological support to students, as do various mentor and resource groups. But simple exercise and meditation, perhaps the most effective means for dealing with stress and leading a healthy life both physically and mentally, are too often pushed to the side of the academic conversation at the 5Cs.
This is not to say that students ignore their general well-being here or that there are not opportunities available to learn about mental and physical health. In fact, a large percentage of the community participates in varsity or club sports, and myriad physical education classes ranging from yoga to racquetball are available. Rather, the problem is rooted in the lack of school requirements to participate in these activities. Neither Scripps College nor Pitzer College have any physical education requirement, and Pomona College requires just one semester, while Claremont McKenna College and Harvey Mudd College do require three PE credits for students who are not varsity athletes.
It is not that students are out of shape or that there is necessarily a health crisis on the campuses. We know better than to say that only one type of body or one form of physical or mental exercise is inherently more valuable than any other. We do live in a world, however, both at the 5Cs and outside of the bubble, which seems to conspire to stress us to our limits. Dining halls and fast-food chains provide cheap and easy access to unhealthy food, made all the more appealing by how little time many of us seem to have outside of our commitments. Anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders are not uncommon on these campuses, however happy our admissions offices say we are.
It is irresponsible to ignore these realities of the world we wake up to every day, and failing to prepare us to deal with them when we are on our own is even more irresponsible. The point is to not make everyone run 20 miles a week, but rather to force students to think about our health in a world in which health is too easy to ignore. We need to take time away from our hectic schedules to evaluate the way we are living and its impact on our mental and physical health.
If the 5Cs create an environment where neglecting one's health is so easy, the colleges should make sure their students are able to combat any negative ramifications to their physical and mental health. This does not mean requiring everyone to take a traditional physical education class, however. Classes ranging from Hiking/Geocaching to Life Bliss Meditation are already available through our PE departments; intramural sports, dance teams and other organized fitness activities can provide similar benefits. Even dancing raucously at Table Manners or weekend parties can serve as an escape—both into physical activity and away from emotional stress.
Learning how to live a happy and healthy life in an increasingly hectic world should be a central tenet of our education. We cannot accept as necessary or conditional the stress and unhealthy lifestyles that many 5C students suffer from now and are likely to battle for the rest of their lives. By creating more stringent requirements for physical and mental wellness activities, the 5Cs can encourage their students to live healthier and happier lives, even in a world that makes that goal seem unreachable at times. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to overwhelming stresses, but requiring students to think about and actively engage with their own health is a good start.