Everyone at Fordham has a role to play in helping students when the pressures of life threaten to overwhelm them.
That was the message of “Students in Crisis,” a panel discussion for faculty and staff members held on March 29 at the Rose Hill campus. The discussion offered practical ways to help students who are struggling with personal problems.
Anne Mannion, Ph.D., associate professor of history and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, noted that faculty and staff should be alert to signs of students experiencing a broad range of academic and personal issues.
David Marcotte, S.J., clinical assistant professor of psychology, detailed three recent case studies. One student was obnoxious and messy while the other two were seemingly self-assured and organized. But their outward appearances had little to do with the personal turmoil each experienced—alcohol addiction, infidelity and a parent with depression.
“Apparently well-adjusted, functioning students can have considerable emotional and mental struggles. They can be going on right in front of us and we may not even know,” Father Marcotte said.
“Symptoms are ways in which pain is expressed, so don’t jump to blame their character. It may not be that they’re lazy and don’t care about school. It may be that they’re overwhelmed and doing the best they can.”
Mary Procidano, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, said she could boil down her advice to one phrase—notice a change. Examples she gave include:
• a punctual student repeatedly arriving late to class.
• a neat student not looking as put together as he or she once did.
• an academically strong student showing a dip in performance.
Starting a conversation, Procidano said, is the best way to help link stressors that a student may reveal to different people.
“It’s OK to say, ‘How are you doing? You look a little tired,’” she said. “Tired is a pretty generic, unthreatening kind of word. They will appreciate that, and it can go a long way.”
Christopher Rodgers, dean of students at Rose Hill, agreed that connecting the dots can be difficult because the traditional campus structure separates departments and offices. Ideally, everyone—from cafeteria and student workers to receptionists—should be gatekeepers who are willing to let his office know if something is amiss, so that no student flies under the radar.
“Caring effectively is very different than simply caring,” he said. “That distinction is sometimes hard to incorporate into our daily work, as we run into students who have sometimes extremely subtle problems and issues that are coming to our attention.”
Jennifer Neuhof, director of counseling and psychological services at Fordham, noted that contrary to some beliefs, it is legal for a professor to contact her office if he or she has concerns about a student.
“There is clear evidence that students are struggling more today with problems of depression and anxiety than in years past,” she said. “In fact, anxiety is a major physiological predictor of failing grades.”
Neuhof also acknowledged that the current economic climate has led to increased pressure on students to succeed. More often, faculty members encounter gray areas where they’re not sure what to say to a student without seeming to invade their privacy. That, too, is something with which the counseling center staff could provide assistance, she noted.
Faculty members who are unsure should make an effort, she said, because it only takes one person to encourage a student to get the help they need.
“We rely on you to be our eyes and our ears, to notice things, and to refer students of concern. You do not have to handle the situation alone,” she said. “We really need to work together as a community to address these issues.”
Panelists provided a link to a brochure designed to assist faculty in finding assistance in cases of mental health emergencies. It can be downloaded at: www.fordham.edu/mental
The event was sponsored by the Center for Teaching Excellence, Faculty Senate and Office of Student Affairs. It came on the heels of a similar event held on March 25 at the Lincoln Center campus.