Study Highlights Racism, Sexual Assault as Contributors to College Mental Health Challenges

A text mining analysis of academic and news articles related to mental health issues in higher education finds that racism, violence and sexual assault are key contributors to mental health challenges for students. The research also highlights the need for mental health services, and outlines some ways that mobile technologies may be able to help address these needs.

“We had found in our previous work that students are concerned about mental health issues, and we wanted to better define the scope of mental health challenges for students and what factors contribute to those challenges,” says Fay Cobb Payton, corresponding author of a paper on the work and a professor of information systems/technology and University Faculty Scholar at North Carolina State University.

To address these questions, the researchers used text mining techniques to analyze 165 articles published between 2010 and 2015. The researchers drew on both peer-reviewed research literature and articles published in higher-education news outlets.

“We included news outlets because that allowed us to capture timely information that reflected conditions across campuses nationally,” Payton says.

The most common theme that cropped up in the articles was an increased need for student mental health services, an idea that appeared in 68 percent of the analyzed material. Among factors that contribute to mental health concerns, the most common was racism and bias against ethnic groups, found in 18 percent of the articles. The researchers also pointed to violence and sexual assault – mentioned in 5 percent of the articles – as a significant contributing factor.

The researchers note that colleges and universities are taking steps to both provide mental health services and offer targeted outreach to students of color. But, the researchers say, many students are simply not taking advantage of the services that are available.

“More needs to be done to address the stigma associated with seeking help in the aftermath of violence or sexual assault, and more needs to be done to address the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health challenges,” says Lynette Kvasny Yarger, co-author of the paper and an associate professor of information sciences and technology at Pennsylvania State University.

“Students who are facing the trauma of sexual assault are dealing with the dual stigma of seeking help for both the assault and the ensuing mental health challenges,” Payton says.

The researchers also note that mobile technologies may help to meet some of these mental health needs.

“Mobile apps may be valuable for sharing information and resources with students, as well as providing students with improved access to treatment or to connect with communities that could offer peer support,” Payton says. “Apps could also be used to create opportunities for peer training or for storytelling that could address issues related to stigma.”

However, the researchers note, such mobile app interventions should be driven by evidence-based approaches – and the field of mobile interventions is still in its relatively early stages.

“Our study highlights salient mental health issues for researchers seeking to develop impactful mobile interventions,” Payton says. “Additional evidence-based research is needed in this domain.”

The paper, “Text Mining Mental Health Reports for Issues Impacting Today’s College Students: Qualitative Study,” is published in the journal JMIR Mental Health. The paper was co-authored by Anthony Pinter of the University of Colorado Boulder.

Social Work Degree: To Be or Not To Be

There are many benefits of being a social worker, and this article is going to focus on how and why you should get your social work degree. Start looking at social work personal statements examples and get a feel for what is expected early. You will also be able to measure your own enthusiasm versus that of the author. The personal statement for social workers is the most important part of your application because this is where you can shine outside of your academic results. It is a reflection of who you are. Let’s get into it and see how and why you should consider a career as a social worker.

Time management

The social work degree is going to be a lot of work and you might have to start learning how to manage your time properly. Your social work personal statement will be the first challenge and after that it is going to be a daily challenge. This is great in life in general and when you start working in your career at a later stage, it will also come in handy. There are things we learn that might not directly link to studying, but more add to your life skills.

Research

Being able to research any topic is going to help you a lot with your degree. There will be different topics discussed and it is important that you do your best. If you have researching skills, you are going to be able to take on any topic and cover it as far as possible. This is going to serve you well in your career going forward because as a social worker you will have daily challenges and some if it might be foreign to you. This is where your research skills come in and you are able to do well as a social worker.

Manage your finances

Studying for any degree costs an arm and a leg to say the least. Many students are on a strict budget because of paying for school fees, textbooks and living expenses. If you want to have a pleasant experience, you are going to have to learn to manage your money properly. There will come a time when you can spend some more money, but for now it’s about living a minimalistic lifestyle. Another normal thing for students to do is to find a part-time job. You can take up waitressing or any interesting part-time jobs in your area. Just make sure that you have the time and that it does not conflict with your school times.

Your life is not yours

Before you decide to become a social worker, be sure to look into the life of a social worker. It is no party and many social workers work long hours and sacrifice their personal time for those of the people the work with. You also need to be emotionally prepared for some of the difficult cases you will be faced with. Are you ready for all of that? If not, it may be time to reconsider. Be 100% sure that your motives behind this is right and you should be good.

Passion

If you are passionate about doing this with your life, you are going to make a great social worker. There are no short cuts because you are working with others and this is important. Working with other people is what this job is about. You will be required to find a solution to others problems. There will be days when you feel like you are carrying everyone else’s problems on your shoulders, but you have to be able to do it from a place of love.

Being a social worker is a great thing and you can achieve this goal if it is what you want. There is no reason as to why you cannot complete your degree. Hard work and dedication will take you far in life and by giving this studies your all, you will soon be one of the best social workers out there. Be precise in your studies and take away as much as you can from this experience. Visualize your life as a social worker and before you know it your dreams would be realised. During your studies, try and find some time to enjoy the process. Yes, you will work long hours, but there is also satisfaction that comes from it because you are helping other live a better life.

Four Tips for Dealing With Mental Health Needs in College

CAMBRIDGE, MA, USA - NOVEMBER 2, 2013: Harvard Yard, old heart of Harvard University campus, on a beautiful Fall day in Cambridge, MA, USA on November 2, 2013.
Photo Credit: Harvard University

Utilization of mental health services on college campuses have been increasing quickly each year, and college campuses are increasing mental health services in an effort to meeting the needs of students. A recent study found that 1 out of every 12 college students has written out a suicide plan.

Due to the increase in federal funding, programs that focus on eliminating suicide, reducing stigma, and bringing awareness of mental health issues have been placed in middle school, high school, and colleges throughout the country.

On many college campuses, counseling services have been improved in order to cater to students’ schedules and expand the utilization of therapy by hiring more counselors and extending the hours. Being a college student is already difficult and adding a mental health issue can make it seem impossible. Here are some tips to help you get through another semester.

1. Learn about the resources offered on campus

Many students with mental health needs don’t know that their campus has resources that can help them. Before you start classes it would be helpful to set up services at the Counseling Center and Disability Center. College offers accommodations that could help you get through a tough semester and really set you up to succeed despite any challenges you may face. Some accommodations that may be offered are extended deadlines, a quiet/private place to take exams, and more.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Due to stigma, many people feel afraid or even ashamed to reach out for help. Just like going to the doctor for a physical illness, mental health needs should be dealt with in the same manner. There are people out there to help and the first step is to ask. Identify and locate your University’s Student Health and Wellness Center who can assist you or help provide you with information to assist someone you care about.

3. Stay connected on campus.

It’s very important to make connections on campus. Not only will you make friends, but it will also provide you with a support system on campus. Take a look at the clubs and events held on campus and join a few. Students who are a part of social life at their school tend to do better and cultivate solidarity in their lives.

4. Create a self care plan.

The most important of these tips to maintaining mental health during school is to create your own self care plan. These are your own steps, resources, and supports that can help you get through tough times. This may include remembering to take your medication every day, picking up yoga, going to a Zumba class each week, and/or eating healthy foods. Self care is such a vital part of mental well being. Even taking 10 mins at the end of each day to relax can help you feel so much better.

New Study Finds 1 in 12 College Students Make a Suicide Plan

Cornell University students cross the college's Thurston Avenue Bridge in Ithaca, N.Y. on Tuesday, March 16, 2010. In the past month, three students have fallen from campus bridges. (AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth)
Cornell University students cross the college’s Thurston Avenue Bridge in Ithaca, N.Y. on Tuesday, March 16, 2010. In the past month, three students have fallen from campus bridges. (AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth)

Des Moines, Iowa – This week, ending on Friday February 12, 2016, former foster kid turned national speaker and author Travis Lloyd is seeking support in the form of online votes for a new Suicide Prevention campaign aimed at impacting college campuses nationally titled #STOP1in12. #STOP1in12 represents the epidemic of high suicide rates amongst college students aged 18-24 and references the statistic that 1 in 12 college students has written down a suicide plan as a result of stresses related to school, work, relationships, social life, and still developing as a young adult.

Center For Disease Control (CDC) lists suicide as the #1 cause of death amongst this age-range.
The #STOP1in12 campaign is competing for initial launch funding through the Dream Big Grow Here Competition, hosted by the Center for Business Growth and Innovation at University of Northern Iowa. This funding will allow the campaign to launch with marketing and awareness in the first 5 states of the developing national campaign. Sponsors of the event include Iowa Bankers Association, iHeart Media, VentureNet Iowa, Technology Association of Iowa, IA Source Link, America’s Small Business Development Center of Iowa, U of I Credit Union, and UI Partners.

Anyone with a Facebook account can log in from their mobile device or computer to vote.

To vote, visit www.STOP1in12.org & click the link to the Dream Big Grow Here competition at the top of the page.

Campaign Developer Travis Lloyd has personal experience with stressful situations as a former foster kid himself who later served multiple communities as a mental health nurse and Mobile Crisis Worker, even talking someone off a bridge at one point. Travis states, “There were times that I would get called to talk a college student out of swallowing a bunch of pills because they were home-sick or got broken up with. So many people laugh at that, but it is a harsh reality and one that matters. We as a public need a better understanding so we can support each other instead of brushing those feelings under the rug.”

The staff at Changing Lives Entertainment is encouraging everyone in the community to be an active ambassador simply by voting. Every vote can make a big difference in launching this campaign on a national level by funding marketing efforts and initial media production.

The first campaign stop, where they plan to do the initial video shoot, is scheduled for September 9, 2016 during Suicide Awareness Week at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, IA.

To sign up for #STOP1in12 Campaign Updates, visit www.STOP1in12.org

Giving Students Therapy is Not the Answer to Dealing with Microaggressions in Education

This article is continuing analysis of the Atlantic’s article, Coddling of the American Mind written by authors Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff . The authors believe that ‘political correctness’, or reacting to ‘microaggressions’, is damaging students’ intellectual and emotional wellbeing on university campuses. In an earlier article, I considered what microaggressions are and some of the unsaid assumptions and attitudes of the authors as well as taking into consideration their backgrounds.

In short, microaggressions are small and unconscious acts of oppression, such as erasure, using someone’s identity (sexuality, gender, race) as an insult, assimilation as a compliment, and assuming badness or deviance as a result of someone’s identity. Here, I want to consider more of Haidt and Lukianoff’s content, beginning with their concern:

“What exactly are students learning when they spend four years or more in a community that polices unintentional slights, places warning labels on works of classic literature, and in many other ways conveys the sense that words can be forms of violence that require strict control by campus authorities, who are expected to act as both protectors and prosecutors?”

I’ve already noted their victimising, legal vocabulary – ‘polices’, ‘prosecutors’, ‘strict control’, ‘authorities’, but it is worth bearing in mind. In fact, American college campuses are surprisingly lax in their response to problems around race and sexual assault. Sexual assault is common on college campuses and misogynistic language is rife, yet policies, discussions, and ‘messages’ around dealing with rape and sexual assault properly are lacking.

Likewise, there are examples of students who have not faced consequences aside from criticism and discussion after chanting actively racist slurs on film, and there are a great many incidents of verbal or physical racism with no real consequences to the perpetrator (although, as the last link shows, there are also cases that do have real consequences, such as court cases).

Essentially, it’s difficult to believe that whilst overt cases of aggression are not being dealt with effectively, college campuses are somehow ‘policing’ microaggressions. In fact, the authors later go on to give an example of pro-‘trigger warning’ policy that was “subsequently retracted in the face of faculty pushback”, which does not suggest ‘policing’ or ‘victims’, but people who were listened to.

Haidt and Lukianoff’s lamentation that words can be treated as a “form of violence” is also somewhat problematic. They state it as though words and actions are completely separate. For example, by saying “You don’t look like a lesbian” as a compliment, you are performing the act of reducing the status of lesbians.

There are other ways that words perform actions, such as “I now pronounce you X and X” being the act of marriage, and “Sold” being the act of ending an auction. In fact, the part of the brain that responds to social pain (e.g. social insults) is the same circuitry of the brain that responds to physical pain. Additionally, words can be worse, as the damage of psychological abuse equals or outweighs the damage of physical abuse. So whilst words are clearly not the same as physical violence, that doesn’t mean they can’t be violent.

Now, let’s move on to another point they make: “Students seem to be reporting more emotional crises; many seem fragile”. These statements are curious. Firstly, somebody with a mental health or wellbeing ‘crisis’ is at risk of significantly harming themselves or others.

Most people, most of the time, are not in a state of ‘crisis’, nor would most students claim to be. And the problem is framed as the inherent fragility of the students, rather than emotional distress being a rational response to the way things are at the moment. They hedge this with “We do not mean to imply simple causation, but…” and then go on to do essentially that.

There is no mention of the fact that American college prices are utterly extortionate, and unemployment high in the young. America has been at war for most of students’ lives. Privacy is now essentially nonexistent, people’s very bodies are becoming objects as women and men are increasingly exposed to unnatural and unrealistic ideals. Lives are doctored through social media, so everyone else looks like they’re doing great while the gap between the haves and the have-nots in America is bigger than ever. More people are going to university, making it more competitive, yet job prospects are poor. This wasn’t always the case with university degrees.

Indeed, the two well-off men who wrote this article forgot, or just didn’t know, that the biggest predictor of ‘mental health’ and wellbeing problems in any society is its socioeconomic inequality.

That’s right, Socioeconomic inequality, and America does not do well on that front. On top of this, socioeconomic inequality is directly threatening university students. It seems staggering, if not downright insulting, that anyone could claim in light of this that students’ suffering is primarily due to their own faulty thinking patterns and oversensitivity to ‘triggers’.

Regarding ‘triggering’, the phrase ‘trigger warning’ can indeed be used thoughtlessly, or overmuch. Pre-discussions about potentially upsetting content, however, aren’t unreasonable. We often have these in my doctorate; it teaches us to trust and understand our rational and emotional responses together, wisely.

It also makes us realise things that weren’t a problem for us might still be a problem for someone else – the ‘social learning’ of which Haidt and Lukianoff warn is not learning to fear what others fear, but learning how to empathise with others who are bothered by things that we aren’t. Finally, it facilitates learning, because animals physically can’t learn when overly stressed and anxious.

They say of this: “However, there is a deeper problem with trigger warnings. According to the most-basic tenets of psychology, the very idea of helping people with anxiety disorders avoid the things they fear is misguided.” They appear to use one particular branch of psychological therapy to represent both their argument, and psychology as a whole.

It is difficult to provide an semi-objective reply to authors who have suggested that microaggressions based on societal oppression and ‘anxiety disorders’ are the same thing. It’s a struggle to understand quite how the cognitive leap from one to the other occurred.

The Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) data to which they refer is based on samples of people who have clinical diagnoses of anxiety disorders. The most ‘basic’ tenets of cognitive behaviour psychology suggest that, in people with anxiety disorders, exposing themselves to things they fear will habituate them, so long as this exposure doesn’t result in a negative outcome like a poisonous spider bite or falling off a high ledge.

CBT is effective for anxiety disorders not just because it exposes people to unpleasant thoughts and situations. It also provides through learned experience for individuals to see their fears aren’t as bad as they first thought. However, if your so-called ‘distortions’ are proved true through experience, then you are unlikely to be ‘cured’ as Haidt and Lukianoff suggest. This is why behavioural experiments must be chosen carefully – not to ‘fix’ a positive outcome, but to test reasonable situations. Indeed, Martin Seligman’s theory of learned helplessness suggests that the more you are exposed to negative stimuli over which you have no control, the more likely you are to get depression.

Microaggressions are rooted in real societal inequality. They cause a complex range of emotions, from anger, shame, confusion, self-consciousness, and perhaps fear if the person microaggressing seems threatening. The point is, there is an extraordinary gap between CBT for anxiety disorders, and calling people out on societally oppressive actions and comments.

Now, some people who ask for certain things (e.g. rape not to be included on an exam paper) may have PTSD or an anxiety disorder. However, that is a separate issue to ‘microaggressions’ as a whole, and should be dealt with on a purely individual basis – though I don’t see the problem in at least asking about individual support.

Additionally, we can make the argument there are some ideas we would rather people not be habituated to such as violence, hardcore porn or constant absorption in technology for example. Perhaps society-wide habituation is simply what we call ‘the norm’. In the case of microaggressions, is habituation for the people oppressed by societal power dynamics really what we want?  There is a statement about calling people up on microaggressions which has almost become proverbial:

“If you step on my foot, you need to get off my foot. If you step on my foot without meaning to, you need to get off my foot. If you step on my foot without realising it, you need to get off my foot.”

The last thing we should be doing is habituating people to having their foot stepped on. But this seems to be what Haidt and Lukianoff support by saying: “What are we doing to our students if we encourage them to develop extra-thin skin in the years just before they leave the cocoon of adult protection and enter the workforce? Would they not be better prepared to flourish if we taught them to question their own emotional reactions, and to give people the benefit of the doubt?”.

People from oppressed groups don’t suddenly hit university and therefore enter a “cocoon of adult protection” where discrimination no longer exists. They are, in fact, consistently taught to question their own emotional reactions to microaggressions, and to give people the benefit of the doubt, their entire lives. An example is women being harassed – ‘boys will be boys’, he ‘didn’t mean anything by it’, or the ever-present ‘it was a compliment’. People don’t need more of this.

Of course banning books like Huckleberry Finn isn’t appropriate. Treating such books, concepts and ideas with context, consideration and respect is appropriate. Demonising people based on their ignorant comments is an understandably contentious matter; there are unresolved arguments regarding “letting people learn” versus “when can we stop catering to the privileged”. However, the middlespace between intellectual freedom and respect is still being hashed out.  And people who have systematically been ignored and oppressed are angry. They have every right to be.

In their deep analysis of how this ‘situation’ came about, Haidt and Lukianoff fail to see that oppression and microaggressions may be becoming more prevalent discussions points on college campuses simply because people from traditionally marginalised groups are now more likely to go to universities in the first place.

Haidt and Lukianoff suggest “students should also be taught how to live in a world full of potential offenses”, but don’t seem to consider that this is exactly what people of oppressed demographics are doing by being vocal about microaggressions. They are probably pretty good at navigating the ‘offence’-laden system actually, having got to university in the first place. Now they’re trying to change it.

Perhaps we don’t want to prepare students for ‘the workforce’ as it stands. There is still racism, sexism and homophobia, particularly at higher levels of employment. There is still a gender pay gap. People’s income is still more likely to match that of their parents’ income, their skin colour, and their gender, than that of their potential. Why would anyone suggest people take therapy to get used to this system, rather than trying to change it? There is a balance to be had with dealing with and accepting current circumstances, whilst also committing to make changes where possible.

Is it not more reasonable to suggest that during their university education, students start to think about the actions that their words perform, instead of pretending ‘academia’ and ‘intellectual debate’ happens in a vacuum? Might it not be academically important to consider the context of one’s ideas, where they come from and why, and moreover in whose interests these ideas work?

If these ideas are perceived to be dangerous, and “fear of federal investigations” and “fear of unreasonable investigation and sanction” are rife within institutions, then perhaps it is not the students who should be receiving therapy for their dysfunctional thinking patterns.

Perhaps, instead, we should deal with the cognitive distortions within the system.

Microaggressions and Trigger Warnings Are Being Deemed Liberal Views Limiting College Students

PreCollegeProgramLL

After reading the article Coddling of the American Mind in the Atlantic, I felt compelled to pen a response. The article suggests that ‘liberal’ views about use of language, ‘trigger warnings’, microaggressions, and avoiding offensive language are damaging to university students’ academic progression and their emotional wellbeing. The discussion here will be in several parts, the first part considers the article’s origins and underlying assumptions.

The article is a worthwhile read after taking into consideration the initial response it elicits. There are references to evidenced based therapies such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), and many examples were given to support their points. Here is an excerpt:

Two terms have risen quickly from obscurity into common campus parlance. Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless. For example, by some campus guidelines, it is a microaggression to ask an Asian American or Latino American “Where were you born?,” because this implies that he or she is not a real American. Trigger warnings are alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response. For example, some students have called for warnings that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart describes racial violence and that F. Scott Fitzgerald’sThe Great Gatsby portrays misogyny and physical abuse, so that students who have been previously victimized by racism or domestic violence can choose to avoid these works, which they believe might “trigger” a recurrence of past trauma.

The people who wrote this article are rich, white-skinned and well-established men, who work at the moment in business-type jobs. Jonathan Haidt has an incredible list of credentials, including top American universities, a Fulbright scholarship, and a long string of psychological research initiatives – ending in an evolutionary-based model of morality, which suggests that political conservatives have a wider moral base than political liberals. One foundation of Haidt’s theory of morality includes ‘respect for traditions’ and ‘deference to legitimate authority’. A simple reading doesn’t make clear whose authority should be counted as legitimate.

Greg Lukianoff is a “First Amendment lawyer” who spends his time purporting the right to free speech. He describes himself as politically liberal and has written books about unlearning liberty and how to have free speech on university campuses. In 2008, he received the Playboy Freedom of Expression Award ($25,000 for advocates of the First Amendment) and has written for a whole host of well-known media outlets.

The text itself begins with an anecdote about anecdotes. In other words, Haidt and Lukianoff reference an article about teaching rape law, which provides examples of college students being ‘oversensitive’. This includes students who ‘complained’ there should have been a warning before showing a video of a sex abuse investigation in class, and a student who asked, for personal reasons, that rape not be included on exam material. Following this, they provide a list of names of people who apparently agree with them. This includes an article by a ‘liberal professor’ who states he is scared of oversensitive students, which was actually later contested by a ‘liberal professor’ via the same media source, and even later contested by second professor, again via the same media source.

This tactic arguably places the authors in an apparently popular and reasonable position as stated by this professor. It’s presenting them as people who say what needs to be said in a dark era of closing down reasonable discussion due to ‘offence’. They include teachers, liberals, a woman, a black comedian and a white comedian. It fits well with current Western political rhetoric, especially in Britain and America. After all, ‘political correctness’ is no longer considered a synonym for ‘respect’ but for unnecessary censorship. And they use broad anecdotes to support this.

Another broad brush the authors use is the term ‘microaggressions’.  Dr. Derald Wing Sue in his book, Microaggressions in Everyday Life, gives a great overview of what they are, and how they affect different demographics. In essence, microaggressions reveal our unconscious biases and assumptions – if you’re interested, you can find out about some of your unconscious prejudices here. Because Western society frowns upon, and legislates against, actively hateful discrimination and incentives to violence, people tend to avoid overt demonstrations of prejudice. Prejudice is expressed more subtly, i.e. with microaggressions.

There is plenty of literature about how microaggressions are insidious and inherently damaging to wellbeing – the idea was conceived by Chester Pierce in the 1970’s and it was further developed in the 1990’s. This is not a term that has suddenly started to be bandied about on college campuses. It’s been present in literature for a while, and finally this literature is filtering to the public. One of the implicit messages present in Haidt and Lukianoff’s argument is that microaggressions are a newfangled pop-culture concept with little inherent value – “risen quickly from obscurity into common campus parlance (read: where it does not belong)”.

Coupled with this, they obscure the meaning of ‘microaggression’. The crux of Haidt and Lukianoff’s argument is that they appear to consider each microaggression as an individual event. And, of course, when you take something so small as an individual event, and totally out of context, it looks silly. But empirically, that is not how microaggressions are meant to be considered – it’s the aggregate of thousands of microaggressions throughout a person’s lifetime that makes them damaging. Actions deemed as microaggressions have no power by themselves. Think about a bee. A single bee sting does just that – it stings, it hurts. But overall there’s not much damage. The entire hive going after you at once, however, can kill. There’s a special word for this – synecdoche, where a small part of something symbolises the whole.

So, Haidt and Lukianoff ignore the context of why microaggressions are so dangerous: 1) Because they are present everywhere, all the time, and they steadily wear people down, 2) Each individual instance is so small it can be dismissed, which 3) Makes the less privileged person seem over-reactive to small misdemeanours, and therefore 4) Means nobody has to do anything about it.

Crucially, they pretend ‘microaggression’ is a monolithic term. They ignore the range of different ways microaggressions can present themselves – including using an identity as an insult (“don’t act like a girl”, “that’s so gay”), and assuming white male straightness is default (after all, gay marriage is just marriage, women’s football is just football). They ignore a huge power of microaggressions – that of erasure.

There is literally ‘nothing’ to complain about when mixed gender groups are called ‘guys’ not ‘girls’, when bisexuals are absent from discussions on the ‘gay agenda’, people are surprised when the boss is black, and when Asian women basically don’t speak in modern Western media. Indeed, it’s considered rude to reject well-meaning attempts to assimilate a person into the norm (“You don’t act gay” as a compliment, “I’m colourblind”, or “We’re all the same, gender doesn’t matter to me”).

Ironically, Haidt and Lukianoff don’t mention erasure as a microaggression at all in their discussion. They instead appear to condense all possible infractions against a minority/oppressed group as ‘offence’ at something. Even though they explicitly mention the phrase ‘I’m colourblind’ as part of an anecdote they don’t seem to pick up on what it means. And it’s on this reductionist basis they build much of the rest of the article. Whilst every point they make will not be looked at, it is worth thinking of an example they provide: “It is a microaggression to ask an Asian American or Latino American “Where were you born?”.

Of course asking an Asian-American where they were born isn’t an inherent microaggression. Haidt and Lukianoff don’t provide a reference to ‘some campus guidelines’ which have stated this. If people are talking about having been born in a different place to where they now live, then it’s not unheard of to ask about birthplace. That said, usually one would ask where people are from, not where they were ‘born’.

Either way, it’s not always microaggressive – it’s about context. If a person has only just met someone, or doesn’t know them too well, birthplace is generally not top of conversation topics. Haidt and Lukianoff’s assumption is that it’s not the university’s blanket and over-simplified definition of microaggression that’s the problem; they assume that the acknowledgement of microaggressions is in of itself is problematic.

They follow up with some additional isolated examples of microaggressions-gone-wild, coupled with the term “some recent campus actions”. Then they state: “This new climate is slowly being institutionalized, and is affecting what can be said in the classroom, even as a basis for discussion”. Perhaps this assumes that students aren’t already institutionalised and that the system as it was should be preserved. From this, it seems one of their  assumptions is that the system was better before students started speaking out about these issues i.e. the authors want to “restor[e] universities to their historic mission”.

There also seems to be an undercurrent of “we are rational and logical” versus “the oppressed (read: offended by microaggressions) are emotional” – the nuances of this will be addressed later as part of a discussion about ‘psychological harm’, ‘emotional wellbeing’ and ‘safe spaces’. It seems interesting that whilst the authors place themselves in this rational and non-emotional position, they deliberately coin the strongly-worded term vindictive protectiveness, which means ‘punishing people’ who interfere with the (admittedly atrocious) aim of ‘protecting students from psychological harm’. This is possibly a touch.. catastrophising, as CBT therapists might say.

Additional catastrophising themes include punishment and charges towards innocent victims (people who get called up on microaggressions). This is in spite of their earlier assertion that students should get themselves used to “words and ideas that they will inevitably encounter”, such as, for example, the idea that microaggressions exist and are damaging. Linguistically, microaggressions have now been reduced to words and ideas rather than oppressive actions, and also put on a par with common intellectual debate and discussion, which allows Haidt and Lukianoff to treat them as though they are the same thing.

This is something to bear in mind, as future posts will consider the content of their article, beyond some of its basic assumptions. To finish this particular analysis, readers will be left with one very telling quote about what the problem with microaggressions appears to be: “It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.”

So, to be clear, they are concerned about having to think before they speak.

As in, having to consider other people’s reaction to their words.

Otherwise one might get.. criticised.

But Haidt and Lukianoff aren’t being oversensitive, of course.

The Social Work Internship Debate

The debate of social work internships is a hot topic right now, and I hear a complaint about field placements come up daily. People have been constantly arguing about what works and what should be implemented. It does not seem like there is a clear consensus on the issue, and who knows if there will ever be one. I thought of sharing my perspective, especially with the Summit on Field Education coming up in October.

unpaid internship
Photo Credit: Beatriz Albuquerque, 2005, Chicago, Work For Free Project. Beatriz Albuquerque www.beatrizalbuquerque.com

Before I begin, I will share some information on my background. I am currently a dual-degree master’s student in social work and public administration, and get the chance to be exposed in two different programs. I have a clear focus of what I want to do, but still open to new opportunities. I am 23 years old and will be beginning my TENTH internship at the end of this month.

Yes, I have completed ten internships ALL in the public sector, and I value each of their experiences. In addition to my internship experiences, I worked at the career center at my undergraduate school for over three years and currently work at the career services office at my current school for almost a year. I would say, that I have had my fair share experiences with internships and have observed and learned what works and what does not. That being said, I want to share my thoughts on this internship debate and offer my thoughts.

First of all, I believe there should be an internship requirement for social work programs. Internships are valuable experiences and complement the information learned in the classroom. The more internships a student completes, the more opportunities they get to develop their career goals as well as expand their network. I completely agree with the required mandate for all concentrations, but I certainly do not agree with mandates that are currently in place and some of the suggestions I have heard.

Here are some of my thoughts:

Strict Requirements do not work and making them stricter will not work make them better: The strict requirements that are currently in place for social work internships are harming the current generation of students. Anyone advocating for even stricter requirements is ignorant of what is like to be a student now. We want options, and we want to individualize. Students entering colleges now have grown up believing we are unique, and we constantly brag about it. We each have our own interests and skills, and we want to find experiences that compliment them. A universal approach does not work for every client, and it certainly does not work for every social work student. Enforcing strict requirements is harming social work programs and ultimately the field.

Internships are for Exploration: As I noted before, internships are a chance for students to explore opportunities in their desired field. Since social work is such a vast field, it is important for students to have the opportunity to explore the many options. Students should be able to explore things they like before they enter into a career. I am not positive, but I certainly believe that many students drop out of social work program, because they are forced to perform work they do not want to do. If students had the option to explore areas of interest to them, then maybe they would value their experience more in the program.

Disciplining Does Not Help: This should be an easy topic to conceptualize, but schools across the country are punishing their students for wanting something different. Students are kicked out of programs for horrible field placements at the fault of the school for placing them there. Students are deemed UNFIT social workers for pointing out flaws at their agencies. The director of field education at my school has told numerous students to DROP OUT of the program simply if they do not like the rules. Isn’t that ridiculous? Since when is punishment the way to address issues in social work? Shouldn’t we supporting students through their beginning stages of being a social worker instead of setting them up for failure?

Mandatory Social Work Credentials for Supervisors Limit Options: I understand the reason for requiring a supervisor to have a social work background, but this limits so many opportunities for social workers to get great experiences. If you think about it, there are social workers that understand the values of social work WITHOUT a social work degree. If someone without a social work degree is doing the exact same work job at a similar agency than someone with a social work degree, why can’t they supervise a social work student? If colleges are in need of more placements for students, this should be a rule that seriously needs to be reconsidered. Having a social work degree, does not qualify you to be the best social work supervisor.

Concurrent Course Requirements: I am not sure if all schools require this, but my school definitely does. They require students to be taking course at the same time as their placement, primarily meaning they can’t complete their internship hours at all over the summer. This rule is ignorant of the needs and schedules of current students. I do believe an internship should begin after the student begins coursework, but this rule just makes things harder for students. Taking a full course load and completing an internship that is most likely unpaid is already a lot, and add on top of that working somewhere to pay the bills. If schools were more flexible with this rule, then maybe students will be able to complete the program with less stress and more enjoyment.

Now that I’ve discussed addressed some of the issues I see. Here are some suggestions I have for improvement:

  • Students should be required to have an internship since social work programs are professional programs, but students should have flexibility and should be individualized to their interests, skills and needs.
  • Students should have option in the internships they obtain and should practice applying and obtaining these internships in preparation for job applying process. Students can obviously receive help and support from the school during this process.
  • Students should not be punished for bad internship experiences. They are learning experiences and should be taken treated as such.
  • Supervisors should be approved by the school, but should not have to have a social work degree. Mental Health counseling, advanced psychology, public administration, public policy, business administration, and other applicable degrees can be effective supervisors and provide the student a great perspective in their internship.
  • Students should be able to be flexible with their internships, as long as they are meeting the requirements.
  • Minimum hours requirements could be implemented to ensure students perform an adequate amount of applicable field experience.
  • Internships must be approved by the field office as applicable placements, and the student and supervisor should set a learning plan to ensure all the social work objectives are met in the internships.
  • Students should not have to be placed in internships outside of their career interests unless they desire.

I hope this article is a start for discussion, not an argument. I do not mean to cause problems or trouble, but merely offer a different perspective that could be helpful in this internship debate. Please share these thoughts, and I’d like to hear other opinions.

8 Reasons Social Work Students Should Volunteer More Often

I have mentioned in previous articles that volunteering is important especially for students. Volunteering is usually thought of as an act of kindness benefiting the community, and it makes you feel good about yourself. Although this is true, volunteering can also provide opportunities which may far exceed your original expectations of simply giving away free time. It surprises me when social work students do not want to volunteer or decline opportunities given to them.

The social work mission is focused on ameliorating the community, and social workers should be at the forefront of improving as much as we can. Students especially should volunteering because the competitive job market, as well as the many doors that can be opened. Here are some of the benefits volunteering gives students:

  1. VolunteerExpands your network. I cannot stress enough to fellow social work students that your network is vital to your success. Being community leaders, the more people we build relationships, the stronger the impact we can have. Volunteering connects you with other volunteers, agency staff, and other community members.
  2. Career exploration. Many students do not have a sense of what they want to do when they enter a social work program. They sometimes struggle with their career goals, especially when they are placed at internship sites they do not enjoy. If every once in a while they get the opportunity to volunteer doing a new job, they can personally explore for themselves the career path they wish to take.
  3. Develop or learn new skills. Social work is a diverse field and requires us to have many different talents, but sometimes our internships and jobs only focus on a few of those areas. Volunteering allows you to test new skills that you may have not be using in your internship. Clinical interns can be learning how to fundraise, build networks, lobby, communications skills and other macro skills. On the other side, macro students can be working directly with individuals or providing counseling they may not be doing in their day-to-day responsibilities.
  4. Start building rapport with your new staff. Currently in my program, the first year students end their first year placements around May, and then begin their new ones at the end of August. We have a whole summer in between these where we have no required internship commitments. This is a great time to maybe volunteer or get involved with the agency you plan to be working. I just spent hours volunteering for special events organized by my next year’s placement, and I definitely plan to volunteer more before the end of the year. I made the time to get to know my staff before I start my internship which will make the beginning easier.
  5. Free Food/Giveaways. Do I need to elaborate? Financially strained college students not wanting free food and sometimes free giveaways, now that’s a problem.
  6. Personal Time. We all need personal time and we all need to relax. Social workers have a greater risk of burning out because of the exhausting work they do. Volunteering can be a great way to relax, feel like you are still contributing to the community and escape the hardships of their jobs or academics.
  7. It’s fun! I have the best time volunteering and I know many others do. Get some friends together and go have a good time!
  8. Feeling of Enjoyment. We all know that volunteering gives individuals a sense of enjoyment and accomplishment. We know it feels good and it is important. Volunteering feels even better if I know that I am assisting the staff with their jobs, making an impact on the community, as well as developing my professional skills. It’s a win-win-win!

Volunteering may not be easy with the amount of commitments social work students have, but if we remember that volunteering now only helps the agency and community, but helps yourself at the same time. With the amount of benefits that come from volunteering, I highly recommend students to do help out as much as they can handle.

Ten Tips for Wrapping Up Your Internship!

Many college students are finally ending their academic years and semesters. Classes always seems so long, but at the same time, time flies! Since the semester is ending, internships are coming to a close as well. It can be a sad situation, as many students love their internships. On the other hand, it may be a nice relief for the students who did not care for their position. Regardless of interest, it is important for all students to make sure they end the internship in good standing. An internship can provide references and connections for students in their later career endeavors. A good student always makes sure that they have wrap up everything at their internship and maintain a great relationship.

career-opportunitiesHere are ten tips to help you interns finish your experiences:

1.Finish any projects/assignments. This is self-explanatory, but make sure you complete everything you were assigned. The completion of your hours is not an excuse for incomplete work. Your contribution to the agency may be really important, and you do want to be the intern who leaves incomplete work for the agency.

2.Set a final date with your supervisor. Another self-explanatory tip, but it is important. Some schools have hours requirements for credit, and some students think they can just peace out once their hours are completed. This is not true. Sit down with your supervisor and figure out an exact date that works for both of you, before you plan to leave.

3.Ask about other agency opportunities. If you are about to graduate, it would not hurt to ask about jobs with the agency, full-time, part-time, seasonal. You already have an understanding and connection to the agency, which may make the transition a lot easier. Also, internships can be long interviews! Many interns get hired after their position, so make sure you ask about sticking around to let them know you are interested!

4.Offer to train the new intern(s). For those of you at agencies where interns overlap, offer to help train the next intern. You obviously can give the new intern a great perspective and prepare them for a great internship experience. You have an insight your supervisor does not have, and you can maybe help them avoid any mistakes or ensure they do things a certain way. This always shows your supervisor that you care about the agency, and they may connect you to future opportunities.

5.Thank your supervisor and other colleagues. An internship is a great experience, and it takes work to plan and hire an intern. Make sure you thank your supervisor and anyone else you worked with before you leave. A nice thank you card is good way to show you a thankful for the opportunity they gave you.

6.Be sure to leave your contact information. You probably won’t be keeping the email address they made for you, so make sure you leave an updated email address they can contact you. Make sure it is professional obviously. Also, seniors and graduates, ensure that your email address is not your school one, because you may lose it once you graduate.

7.Connect with them on LinkedIn. If you haven’t already, add people in the agency on LinkedIn, while they remember you! You don’t want to wait a few months or years, and have them try to remember you. If you add them right away, then they can endorse your for some skills or write a recommendation for you while your performance is still fresh in their head.

8.Update your resume/LinkedIn. Before you leave, update your resume and professional profiles with everything you completed. Have your supervisor look at it, and help with the wording. You want to make sure you encompass your whole experience before you forget and move on to the next opportunity.

9.Sign up on the volunteer list. This applies mainly to my nonprofit folks. If you agency uses volunteers in any capacity, sign up to be one. Staying connected to the agency can only help you later on in life. I interned at an agency in the fall, stayed connected through the spring via volunteering, and was offered a job once I graduated. Do extra things to stay noticed and they will remember you.

10.Stay in touch. Again, staying in touch can only help you. Before you leave, ask if it is alright for you to stay in touch with them, and then ask what is the best way to contact them. This will prove that you plan to stay in touch. Remember connections could lead to many things!

Internships are the most important experiences for students to figure out their career development goals. Make sure you optimize your experience, and take advantage of the future opportunities that could come. Just because you end an internship, does not mean it cannot benefit you later down the road. Social work students should especially be doing this, since many of us spend a whole year as an intern. We receive quality experience, and our supervisors did a lot for us. Make sure you do as much for them, and put yourself in a situation for them to believe you are going to be a great social worker. Be a superstar intern, and make them remember you!

Dangers Of Alcohol Use In College

Many young people in college give themselves to partying and drinking alcohol, and it is very common for most college students to drink heavily on weekends. It has become part of the college culture, but what are the dangers of partying this way? What if you are one who has decided that you want to stay away from alcohol altogether? How do you do it?

The Dangers

shotsSome of the dangers of drinking heavily and partying while in college is the potential for your grades to slump. If you are focusing all your energy on partying and drinking on the weekends then are you spending adequate time studying and doing homework? Also, many students party on Sunday nights despite the fact that they have to be at school on Monday. Showing up to class with a hangover is not fun nor is it helpful.

Since there is so much drinking going on in colleges, due to new found freedom and the ample resource, there is also a lot of pregnancies that happen as well as the transmission of STD’s. When you are under the influence of alcohol your inhibitions are lowered and you do things that you wouldn’t normally do. Many college students practice unsafe sex simply because they are under the influence of alcohol and they don’t think straight enough to use protection or not have sex altogether. Students and people in general become careless when intoxication happens.

Learn more stats about college drinking here at www.niaaa.nih.gov

How to Stay Away

If you are one of the rare ones who would like to stay away from alcohol altogether while at college, then you will have a battle ahead of you to fight. Though it is not the easiest to stay away from alcohol while in college, it is possible.

First, you should let your friends know where you stand. A true friend won’t try and tempt you into doing something you don’t want to do. Instead of going to bars or parties where you know there will be drinking, go to coffee shops or places where there is “dry” entertainment. Check out theatre productions, museums, or movies. Get creative. There are a ton of other options

Find people who share the same desire as you do to stay sober and away from alcohol. Together you can have parties and things together while still staying in your right mind. You can have fun apart from using a substance.

There is no doubt that alcohol can be used safely and responsibly, but it is also true that a lot of alcohol abuse happens on college campuses. There are a lot of dangers that come with binge drinking in college so be smart and drink responsibly if you decide that you do want to drink. If you are not interested in drinking then you have to be proactive in finding friends who share the same desire and you have to figure out what hobbies you will take part in. Just because you don’t drink alcohol in college doesn’t mean that your social life has to be over. It is what you make of it.

Thanksgiving: All Grown Up and Nowhere To Go

Dorm room

Once a young person turns 18 and leaves the foster care system, they should be ready to do what other young adults do–go to college or get a job, right? The Chafee Foster Care Independence Program assists youth by providing assistance in achieving self-sufficiency after leaving foster care. Through supports such as the Educational and Training Vouchers Program (ETV), former foster youth can receive financial assistance with college expenses.

Research has shown that the foster care population generally has poor outcomes as they transition to adulthood. The Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth found that former foster youth experienced significant challenges including high rates of homelessness, incarceration, and unemployment. As recently as a decade ago, college was not an option for most young adults leaving the foster care program. Fortunately, there are now supports and assistance available so that more former foster youth are able to attend college, providing them the education they need to be competitive in today’s workforce.

No doubt, many former foster youth now have something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. They have opportunities that few of their predecessors had just 10 to 15 years ago. The reality is, new challenges have emerged.

Many former foster youth must live in dormitories and other college-sponsored housing. Often they do not have the resources required for off-campus housing such as a security deposit to rent an apartment, furniture, and other household items. Most of us had parents or guardians that could help with these items. Former foster youth rarely have this luxury. Living in dormitories may provide an excellent transition for vulnerable young adults. However, there is often a ‘catch’ to this….most colleges and universities close down their housing (and food service) during extended breaks such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This leaves former foster youth with the challenge of finding housing and meals during the holidays.  Options such as spending the holidays with family may not be possible for young adults who were separated from their families as children due to abuse or neglect. Generally, options such as staying at a hotel and dining out are beyond the financial means of former foster youth. If they are lucky, a young person may have friends with whom they can spend holidays. However, this may not always be possible, especially if the young person has a part-time job.

In case you were thinking there is little you can do to address this problem, the following are some suggestions for getting involved.

1) Offer to host a former foster youth in your community for the holidays. Maybe your son or daughter has a former classmate who was in foster care. Or maybe you know of a young person through your community/social circles. Just because they haven’t asked for help, doesn’t mean they couldn’t use some help.

2) Suggest that members of your church or other civic organization work together to develop a network of supports/resources for youth who have aged out of foster care. In addition to helping tackle the housing issue, this might include a drive to collect household items such as sheets, blankets, towels or school supplies for college-bound foster youth.

3) Donate gift cards to places like Boston Market, Applebee’s, or Perkins so that college students can enjoy a meal (something other than fries and a burger…) over the holidays. You can contact your local child welfare agency or non-profit foster care agencies to assist with making the connection to young people in need of support. Or if you know of a young person who could use a helping hand, you can give it to them directly (or anonymously by mail).

4) Talk with local colleges/universities about setting up a faculty ‘host a student’ program. Through such a program, faculty can host a former foster youth for the holidays. The advantage is that the faculty member may already know the young person and they likely live in the same community as the college/university. This may also provide an excellent mentoring opportunity that can have a positive, long-term effect for the student.

5) Talk with the local high school about setting up a ‘host family’ program. Former teachers or coaches could host students during holiday breaks.

6) Talk with your local colleges/universities about setting up a holiday housing program in dormitories for former foster youth. Often there are also foreign students who also need housing. (Many larger universities offer some sort of accommodations.)

7) Check with your local YMCA, YWCA, or similar programs to see if they have temporary housing available. If so, offer to ‘pay it forward’ for a young person in need of housing over the holidays by providing rent (if there is a charge).

8) If you don’t have the space in your home to host a young person (or if you opted to assist as suggested in #7), invite students to participate in your holiday meal.

9) Support local foster parents who provide assistance to the young adults previously in their care. Offer to assist with buying school or work clothes. Donate grocery gift cards to offset the cost of food.

10) Provide transportation to college students who may have the opportunity to spend the holidays with former foster parents, friends, or family who do not live in the same community. This may be in the form of a bus or train ticket, airfare, or driving the student to their destination. This may also apply when a young person attends a college/university in a community other than the one they lived in prior to age 18. What may seem like a short distance to travel can present insurmountable obstacles for a young person setting off for college with no car and limited resources.

These are just a few suggestions, please feel free to add your ideas to the list!

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