In this weeks’ roundup: the pressure to be perfect hurts some students’ well-being, a push to expand training on sexual violence to K-12, and a Senate hearing on combating campus sexual assault.
We’ve written about the increase in students’ self-reported mental health problems here and here. This piece from The New York Time examines how the pressure to be perfect can negatively affect students’ mental health and may even be linked to suicide. In the transition to college, high-performing students who faced few setbacks in high school may suddenly find themselves struggling in more advanced classes or lagging behind more accomplished peers.”[C]ultural dynamics of perfectionism and overindulgence,” explain the article, “have now combined to create adolescents who are ultra-focused on success but don’t know how to fail.” As one counselor explained to the Times, “What you and I would call disappointments in life, to them feel like big failures.” For some students, this sense of failure leads to mental health issues or even suicide. Despite their struggles, however, many students try to maintain a facade of happiness and easy success, exacerbating the problem. At some schools, students even have a name for this phenomenon: “Penn Face.” As one student explained to The Times: “Nobody wants to be the one who is struggling while everyone else is doing great…Despite whatever’s going on — if you’re stressed, a bit depressed, if you’re overwhelmed — you want to put up this positive front.” As a result, some schools are looking at ways to alleviate this pressure and to have more open conversations around mental health issues.
Campus Climate surveys are revealing that over a quarter of college women report being the target of rape or attempted rape before ever coming to college and around 20% of college men have committed some kind of sexual assault in the five years leading up to arrive on a college campus. This data is being used to add to the efforts of including sexual assault prevention in high school sex education. The Teach Safe Relationships Act of 2015, which currently sits in the senate, would give high schools grant money for including rape prevention and consent education in their sex ed curriculum. California is currently reviewing legislation to make affirmative consent education mandatory in high school sex ed programs. At this time, only 20 states and the District of Columbia require high school sex education to include information about “avoiding coerced sex.” Moreover, only 35 states even require education around either sex or STIs. “We need to get that education out there early on,” Dr. Heidi Zinzow of Clemson University, said in an interview with Huffington Post. “I think a lot of these men would think, ‘Oh what do I do instead, do I need to ask?’ They just don’t even have the basic skills or know what the scripts could be. They need the social skills to know how to get consent.”
On Wednesday, July 29, 2015, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions held a hearing on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act (HEA), focusing on campus sexual assault. Senators McCaskill, Heller, Ayotte, and Gillibrand testified in support of proposed amendments to the HEA in the pending Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which include required campus climate surveys and confidential advisors for victims reporting sexual violence. Senator Gillibrand also submitted a letter of support from the Louisiana legislature, which recently passed a state version of CASA. Both committee members and witnesses voiced strong support for mandated prevention education for all students and employees. In addition, President of the University of California, Janet Napolitano, recommended that federal legislation be flexible enough to allow large and small institutions to address the different issues facing their campus communities. Responding to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s question about prevention efforts on the UC campuses, Napolitano said that online, in-person, and peer-to-peer prevention education are being used by the UC system to improve campus climates and promote community involvement to prevent sexual violence. Dana Bolger of Know Your IX also responded to Warren’s question stating, “the most important thing about prevention education is that it starts early and it just keeps going.”