I can guarantee that virtually every student on campus will, at some point or another this year, wonder if he or she is going insane as the pressures of college life begin to accumulate. If your trigger isn’t a perceived failure to meet an arbitrary social quota, it might be a disappointing grade in your prospective major’s introductory class, or the realization that the independence you feigned during those rebellious high school years is not as attractive as it once seemed. Whatever the cause, you are certain to eventually feel dejected, angry or both.
For some reason, however—perhaps a fear of upsetting some superficial euphoria afforded us through perennially cloudless, azure skies, or perhaps a fear of sounding ungrateful when you know you could not have landed at a better school—very few students will ever admit to experiencing anything short of halcyon cheer in our Southern California wonderland.
I am not dissatisfied with the student body’s ability to challenge this utopian image when group principles are at stake. If what it means to be a Pomona College student is in doubt or the cogs of the bureaucratic machine malfunction, we are unmatched in our communal urgency; last fall proved that all too well. When our problems are individual in nature, however, and we lack safety in numbers, we withdraw and pretend all is well.
In March of my first year, there was a week when a combination of homesickness and social anxiety threatened to push me off the deep end. My problems were quite minor in scale, but I struggled to find support because I felt like my friends were too busy dealing privately with their own, surely more significant, issues. There was an element of shame in my anxiety, a sense that my trivial melancholia disturbed the school’s sunny equilibrium. Unhappiness did not seem permissible at Pomona.
During that first year here, I encountered forums on racism, classism, heteronormativity, substance abuse and sex toys. I am thrilled to attend a school where students can discuss topics that would be dismissed as unsettling or irrelevant elsewhere. And yet, I believe all this audacious discourse is futile if we lack a framework that addresses the individual’s daily stresses. Whatever happened to nonspecific, raw, existential, scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs complaining? Even among tight circles of friends, there is a campus-wide fear of baring oneself and admitting the vulnerability of the solitary, isolated collegian.
I do not know whether a clear, administratively-ordained solution to our emotional reticence exists. Pomona, of course, offers therapy sessions at Monsour to help students through more severe problems, but we cannot pathologize and treat every case of finals-week anxiety or post-breakup anguish. The only option possible may be a broad, concerted effort to change our way of thinking and speaking about individual disillusionment.
Nobody wants a culture of negativity, but constant, artificial positivity is in some ways even more insidious. If we spend four years in a school of fewer than 1,600 students keeping quiet about even occasional unhappiness, how will we be heard in a world of seven billion unrelenting voices?