It is not easy to be a college student today. Couple all of the stresses you may remember from your college days — relationships, exams — with what’s happening on social media and in the outside world, and it takes a toll on a lot of people. Jewish students are no exception.
“We’re just seeing, in general, a huge rise in anxiety levels and issues related to being on a college campus,” said Amee Sherer, Greenstein Executive Director with Hillel at the University of Washington.
The data appears to bear out that story. More than 25 percent of students reported that anxiety had an effect on their academic performance — more than any other issue aside from the more general “stress,” according to a study by the American College Health Association released in the fall of 2018.
That’s what makes the long-standing partnership between Hillel and Jewish Family Service so important. JFS provides clinical oversight and support for the counseling position at Hillel. That support can be consultation on a case or even therapy to help the Hillel counselor through their own response to difficult cases.
“Hillel can’t have this position here without JFS because there would be no ability to give a clinical therapist supervision that any clinician needs to provide the best support for their patients,” Amee said.
Together, JFS and Hillel are helping address the needs of Jewish college students.
COUNSELING AT HILLEL
Clinical therapist Stefanie Robbins spends about 20 hours each week with undergrad and graduate students to help them work through concerns and obstacles.
As the executive director of Hillel, Amee knows there is value in providing services that are culturally appropriate. “Some of the issues that come up are really specific to Jewish students on college campuses, especially our community,” she said. Those issues can include the dynamic of being the grandchild of a Holocaust survivor, how to tell parents about interfaith relationships or the Jewish lens on coming out as gay or transgender.
When helping meet the needs of the Jewish community, JFS knows the importance of meeting people where they are. Director of Counseling and Project DVORA Liz Coleclough sees the value of supporting a counselor onsite at Hillel. For a therapist like Stefanie, who sees firsthand the many complex issues college students face, she needs that lifeline to the larger system.
“Having access to that clinical support is critical,” Liz said.
Going to college comes with a whole new set of life experiences, which come with new needs and different types of support.
“For a lot of undergrads, they’re young, sometimes 18 or very early 20s, living on their own, going through a lot of transition from living with family and having a lot of their natural supports around to going to a new environment,” Stefanie said. “A lot of the coping skills that they may have had before may not fit for their life now.”
Stefanie helps the students strengthen those coping skills or will occasionally guide them through anxiety and depression.
On top of the new transitions into college, life is different today for young adults than it was a generation ago.
“Applications to college are competitive, it’s a different feeling of what you need to do and what kinds of things are being asked of people,” Amee said.
The University of Washington is among many colleges where admission is not an easy feat, and students who easily achieved top grades in high school suddenly end up in the middle of the pack. It can be a shock.
“They’re coming to a college campus and everybody’s smart. They’re struggling,” Amee said. “What happens to a student who has earned A’s their entire life and is now getting a C in a class? We are seeing more students question who they are and what’s their identity.”
Current events and changes in the country, including the rise in hate crimes, are also having an impact on young adults.
Stefanie saw an uptick in students in late 2016 and following the shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in October 2018. The Pittsburgh shooting also brought in current clients who were “just wanting to make space to talk about fear and anti-Semitism,” Stefanie said.
The #MeToo movement has sparked a rise in students seeking therapy as well, which is no surprise to Liz.
“Young adults are particularly susceptible to that experience, and a lot of people who experience domestic violence or sexual assault, their first encounter is as a teen,” she said.
Liz also noted that students can feel economic anxiety about huge student loans and the growing unattainability of the so-called American Dream. “That dialogue, that narrative just doesn’t play out anymore,” Liz said.
A PARTNERSHIP OF SUPPORT
While Hillel’s counseling program focuses on one-on-one sessions, they also provide quarterly wellness programs and had a program during Yom Kippur about “What it Means to Say I’m Sorry,” which attracted new students.
“What was meaningful for them was having those conversations or to have a way to talk about what does forgiveness really mean,” Amee said.
While she laments the anxiety she sees among students today, Amee is grateful to have a JFS and counseling presence at Hillel to help them through stressful times.
“I feel very grateful for that relationship, and that partnership, and know that we can always go to JFS for a need.”
If you’re a Jewish college student feeling the need to talk to a professional, set up an appointment with Hillel Counseling Services at firstname.lastname@example.org or learn more about Hillel counseling services on their website.
You can learn more about JFS counseling services on our website.
By Joel Magalnick, Principal and Founder of The Refined Story