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University News

Schoolwork, advocacy place strain on student activists

Students struggle with mental health, academic pressures as they act on social justice responsibilities

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 18, 2016

Students for Justice in Palestine protested the Jewish Journeys event featuring Michael Douglas and Natan Sharansky earlier this month. Many involved with campus activism encounter mental, emotional and physical stress while trying to balance their academic and activist responsibilities.

Two weeks ago, the University released the final version of its diversity and inclusion action plan, which could not have been compiled without the exhaustive efforts of students throughout last semester.

“There are people breaking down, dropping out of classes and failing classes because of the activism work they are taking on,” said David, an undergraduate whose name has been changed to preserve anonymity. Throughout the year, he has worked to confront issues of racism and diversity on campus.

His role as a student activist has taken a toll on his mental, physical and emotional health. “My grades dropped dramatically. My health completely changed. I lost weight. I’m on antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills right now. (Counseling and Psychological Services) counselors called me. I had deans calling me to make sure I was okay,” he said.

As students rallied to protest two racist columns published by The Herald and the alleged assault of a Latinx student from Dartmouth by a Department of Public Safety officer, David  spent numerous hours organizing demonstrations with fellow activists. Meanwhile, he struggled to balance his classes, job and social life with the activism to which he feels so dedicated. Stressors and triggers flooded his life constantly, he said.

David turned to CAPS and reached out to deans for notes that extended his deadlines for assignments. These were helpful, he said, but acted only as “bandages” for the underlying causes of stress.

Justice Gaines ’16, who uses the pronouns xe, xem and xyr, said student activism efforts on campus are necessary. “I don’t feel okay with seeing students go through hardships without helping and organizing to make things better.”

In the wake of The Herald’s opinion pieces, Gaines felt overwhelmed by emotions flooding across campus. Students were called out of class into organizing meetings, and xe felt pressure to help xyr peers cope with what was going on, xe said. Gaines “had a panic attack and couldn’t go to class for several days.”

Deans’ notes helped Gaines to complete academic work while staying involved in student activism.

In writing such notes, deans acknowledge the difficulties faced by a student on campus and demonstrate their support for the student’s requests, said Ashley Ferranti, assistant dean of student support services.

Though it is ultimately up to a faculty member to accept a dean’s note, Ferranti estimated that notes are accepted over 90 percent of the time. Students who take issue with the rejection of a note can discuss the incident with a dean, Ferranti added.

While notes are helpful, they should be “more accessible” and “more serious, so that professors will be more inclined to follow them,” Gaines said.

Some students very active in organizing and protesting end up in academic trouble, Ferranti said.

When faced with the decision of completing activist work or studying for an exam, students sometimes feel obligated to choose the former, said Liliana Sampedro ’18. This choice, often made by students advocating for increased diversity on campus, “has systemic effects on students of color,” she added.

Sampedro worked alongside the group that presented the demands for the diversity and inclusion action plan’s revision. It was a Thursday, she recalled, and she had a research presentation that needed to be completed that week. “I remember emailing the professor and begging her to put things off another week,” she said. The professor denied her request.

“I hadn’t eaten. I hadn’t slept. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally,” she said. After hours of work to compile and present the demands, she forced herself to stay up to complete the project anyway.

Other students have also seen their academic work impacted by their efforts to advance social justice causes. This past semester, David spent class time on his activist work in order to address a time-sensitive issue. As a result, one of David’s professors lowered his grade because he was distracted in class, he said.

Sampedro was also on the committee that planned workshops for the Latinx Ivy League Conference, including Paxson’s presentation to students following the assault by a DPS officer on a student earlier that weekend. “I remember seeing all the tears in the room — that was traumatizing — and then not being able to focus on my homework,” she said. “Homework was the least of my worries.”

Despite the hardships that students take on in their activism, the University does not want to discourage them from contributing to change on campus.

This work is an “important part of the academic learning experience,” Ferranti said. She was present at the Brown/RISD Hillel-sponsored lecture that was protested by Students for Justice in Palestine earlier this semester, offering academic and emotional support for the protestors.

The University sends deans to activism events not only to monitor students but also to offer support for those involved. “For example, if a student is at a sexual assault event, and the student is a victim him or herself, that student might talk to me about it,” Ferranti said.

Students “might be impacted, something might be triggered or they might suddenly remember more at that event they were protesting,” she added.

Ferranti said she is “proud to work in a place where students come together over important social issues.” As administrators, “we are not just looking at protocols, we’re also thinking about what this means to the students who are there,” she added.

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  1. Dear Brown,
    Why don’t you go a little bit easy on the activism. If you fail your classes and increase the divisiveness and hostility on campus, then we’re going to sink to the bottom of the Ivy League. The articles by the Jared Diamond fan were somewhat offensive, but you got a 160 million payout to stop harassing the president, so why not be happy for now. That’s like 80 million per article.

    Also, the SJP and Students for Israel crowd are starting to get tiresome. Give the rest of us folks a rest and start hitting the books. BDS resolutions may come close to passing as our left wing faculty and students consolidate their gains. However, if that happens Alumni will start pulling their money out in droves to the point that nobody will be able to pay for the heat and hot water. So will anybody really be better off in the end?

    In the immortal words of Rodney King: Can’t we all just get along? Peace سلام שלום

  2. “Activist responsibilities”? That caption says it all. Students’ responsibilities are academic, period. If one cannot handle the balance between schoolwork and activism, then one should go elsewhere and give his or her spot to one of the thousands of other deserving applicants who want to come to Brown to learn.

  3. This article is embarrassing. Can’t wait to tell my attending and my patients tomorrow that I can’t come in because I’m still recuperating from all the protesting I’ve been doing on my day off. I’m sure the surgeries can wait.

  4. Be gone troll. I’ve seen you post at other college websites for your BDS agenda. Also, stop appropriating other peoples’ cultures for your own propaganda. Which person are you in your avatar? How about none.

    • ShadrachSmith says:

      Denying other people’s right to speak is both morally wrong, and illegal. That’s what SJWs do.

  5. ShadrachSmith says:

    The Mongol principle of politics: Now that we are here to tell everybody what to do, existing law and culture is irrelevant.

    Marxists piggyback on that same principle by claiming to be the Vanguard representing imaginary oppressed proletariats. Of which there aren’t any at Brown, or even in America.

    Can you see that demanding total and overdue submission is annoying, and illegal, under the American constitutional system?

  6. ShadrachSmith says:

    You want to trade snappy one liners?
    I’m your huckleberry 🙂

    Note to moderator: I got this 🙂

  7. This is why B' grads are poor says:

    Activism is no different, and should be treated no differently, than any other extra-curricular activity. None of my professors gave a damn if my theater rehearsals interfered with my classwork. Their job is not to make sure that I have time and energy to do things outside of the classroom. Their job is to educate me.

    The only reason for an academic accommodation is a medical or psychological issue, or a pressing familial problem at home. Being tired because you chanted slogans and waved signs at an anti-Semetic racist protest doesn’t qualify.

    Once again Brown shows us that it’s racing to he bottom, and couldn’t be happier about it.

  8. Legacies? What does that have to do with anything? If you mean me, I am not a legacy.

    And the brochure does not state it is ok to miss classes and perform below your academic potential to go hold up placards and shout slogans. As for the mental anguish associated with people having opinions different than your own – those students need to grow up and recognize that is the way the world works.

  9. Shouldn’t the title of this article be “Student activism place strain on schoolwork”?

    • Where are your priorities?
      Schoolwork, obviously puts a strain on my ability to whine incessantly….just like work cramps my ability to have fun, and consciousness really puts a strain on my sleeping. Damn it! Why can’t life be fair!!??

  10. Fantastic piece of literature from Brown Psychological Services. Apparently, Brown is such a racist place that there is an epidemic of race-related stress. Counselors advise students with depression and anxiety issues that the only cure is collective activism against Brown which leads to more race-related stress. How do we break the cycle?

    “Document acts of racism or intolerance. Don’t ignore or minimize your experiences, and think broadly about what could be an act of racism. It doesn’t have to be an overt act (e.g., professor consistently not calling on you or minimizing your contributions, curriculum racially biased, etc). Talk to someone you trust and report it.”

    So aren’t professors themselves contributing to a hostile environment on campus by insisting that activists do their assignments? I report, you decide.

  11. TheRationale says:

    The entitlement never ceases to amaze me. Ivy League students are failing their classes because they’re too busy protesting the establishment from whom they’re taking every dean’s note, medical service, and other university resource for granted.

  12. Earlier posters have pointed out legitimate criticisms about the nature of the stresses featured in this article. I suspect that other Brown students – those working as EMTs or those volunteering as Big Brothers/Big Sisters or those involved with child or spousal abuse survivors in Providence – also must successfully manage their studies and the emotional tolls of their extra-curricular activities.

    A story about how those students navigate their well-being and academic responsibilities would be interesting to read and might be instructive.

    It seems to me, that an open discussion on campus about Brown’s institutional role in creating this climate of personal stress is missing.

    For example, before receiving any other instruction or orientation guidance from the University, minority first years are exposed to the ‘core curriculum’ of TWTP.

    According to the program booklet, (which is published online for anyone in the Brown community to read), the 2015 pre-orientation included three days of the following workshops: Racism / Sexism & Cissexism / Classism / Heterosexism / Ableism / Imperialism / A History of Activism & Resistance. These workshops were not concurrent offerings, but presented in succession, back-to-back-to-back.

    The program also includes on-call counseling through Psych Services for participants.

    In the case of the TWTP example, it might be wise for Brown to honestly examine what the consequences are of a pre-orientation program that requires ‘a self-care room’, and what effect this first experience of the University has on students as their studies progress toward graduation.

  13. I hope this article doesn’t make it outside of Brown. We will be laughed off the national higher ed scene.

    • Brown is already a laughing stock because of what the Admissions Department, Faculty and liberal coward Administration have done with the place since the early 70’s.

  14. And those kids here for those reasons get poor grades for poor performance (akin to every other college and also the real world). So these “activist responsibilities” which kids prioritize over their schoolwork are no different.

  15. Normal Brunonian says:

    Seriously? Activism is not a responsibility on the same level as doing your school work. In the past, activism and social movements have protested real discrimination and oppression. Discrimination still exists today but Brown activists spend their time shouting anti-Semitic slogans at events about Jewish identity like the Douglass event. Most Brown students find these activists to be divisive and not living in reality. I’m a liberal but Brown social justice warriors are self-indulgent and don’t realize that their views are not universal truths.

  16. Troll – you are only commenting on this article because it has an SJP photo.

  17. Part of what you need to learn at college is how to live your life, and that includes how to apportion your time. Sometimes you need to learn the hard way, and getting that experience isn’t all bad. Things get even tougher out in the real world than figuring out whether to go protest college admissions policies or sit in on a yoga class….

  18. They’re not protesting Jim Crowe. They’re protesting micro-aggressions that are wholly subjective and patriarchy that doesn’t exist. They’re narcissist martyrs.

  19. You mean to tell me it’s impossible to juggle a busy activism calendar with an incredibly difficult gender or racial studies major, even with Brown’s rigorous pass/fail curriculum? Poor $65k/year students…
    This whole situation makes me an embarrassed Brown alum.
    What kind of lightweights are we admitting these days?

  20. Why can’t these whiners and weaklings just declare an independent major in activism?

  21. “Alums”, not “legacies”, is what you probably meant, genius.
    And attacking *who* makes the point is a dumb way of trying to discredit another’s post. Engage the argument, dummy, don’t just try to bully and denigrate the writer.

  22. Ferranti’s comments make me so worried for Brown’s future — talk about trained politically correct garbage. Brown is so corrupted by a lack of backbone.

    • That line was very revealing too. It seems that the last few months were a very well orchestrated power grab led by left leaning faculty and administrators. With the events going on around campuses nationwide, they really seized the moment to ram their agenda down the throats of any opposition in the university. The student activists were their foot soldiers who they called to arms and then supported with various manifestos and action plans. The prize was the 160 million that they can now spend as they like to transform the university to fit their radical vision: an Ivy league school that is also the training ground for social justice warriors. It reads like the beginning of a dystopic novel.

      • It’s a terrible thing you point out — and your observations are chilling. Brown doesn’t realize that they are harming the brand forever with this stuff. Or, worse, they don’t care because they are tenured.

      • Students have ALWAYS been navel-gazing idiots. What Brown has proven lately is that there are no responsible adults in charge

  23. Students are on to something. There are more jobs available in “activism” (read: Federal, State, local government, unions, PAC’s, etc) than in Computer Science.

  24. Thanks for agreeing with me about your being a troll. Admit it: no Israel oriented photo or reference in article, no post from you.

  25. It’s increasingly difficult to create effective satire, because reality is clearly more absurd than any fiction imaginable.

  26. Baffles me that these students smart enough to be accepted at Brown, can be so irresponsible by allowing their activism to impact their primary goal of completing their coursework. You’re in a taxi with the meter running at $70k per year. Your parents would be better off paying you $15k a year to stay home and be a community organizer rather than shelling out all that tuition and you getting poor grades due to the time and stress your outside activities are causing.

  27. HA HA HA HA HA HA. #StepfordStudents

    Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of young men and women serve honorably in the military.

    99% of the rank and file will never get the opportunity of attending Brown

  28. I truly understand the hours and mental health issue resulting from putting out the statements like “White supremacy broadcasts the economic success of a narrow subset of Asian Americans in the United States to justify the oppression of Native and Black communities.” I am shocked, shocked, that the students of Brown could go about their daily lives with such deep thoughts percolating in their heads. Who would have the time for tests when there are Asian Americans around taking the place of “deserving” Black and Native Americans. History, Literature, Economics and Mathematics will just have to wait.

  29. Uh, wow. Good luck with that.

  30. NPChe Guevara says:

    Everyone wants to be a community organizer when they grow up! Yeah, well, we see how holding a clipboard and handing out fliers on a Southside Chicago street corner prepares one for a career in victimhood.

  31. So what’s so special about you? All that anger just because people brought up affirmative action, black on black crime, gangs, 70% of children born in black communities are out of wedlock, lack of fathers in children lives, babies having babies, black dropout rates, percentage of teachers in urban neighborhoods being minorities, etc. Sorry, but colleges like Brown will be the last place when you can blame your failures in life on anyone other than you yourself.

  32. I’m a professor. (Not at Brown). You want to know the most insidious unstated factoid here? I — and my colleagues — have a great deal of power to “solve” these problems.

    And often, we do. We simply make activist field trip programs into “classes.” Books? Ha! Difficult thinking? Pish Posh!

    Who needs that when we’ve got protesting to do? Quiz next week on the hastily written .pdf files of my protest diary that I sent you all! Extra credit for those who can claim an absence of privilege.

  33. Parents should note that they can spend $65,380 a year to turn their kid into one of the emotional cripples portrayed in this article.

  34. ghostofhallelujah says:

    Totalitarianism is rough yo’.

  35. ghostofhallelujah says:

    The next SJW I encounter who is interested in “diversity of opinion” will be the first.

  36. ghostofhallelujah says:

    and people wonder why the value of a university degree ain’t nowhere near what it used to be.

  37. Sorry but are we supposed to feel sorry for radical left “activists” who are “tired” because instead of focusing on school they run around harassing Jews and shilling for third-world Islamist societies that hang gays from trees and treat women like property?

  38. TheFutureofAmericaisDead says:

    My grandfather was one of the first to start a company in the computer industry. For decades he would fast track the applications of all Ivy League grads because they were supposedly the best.

    My father runs the business now and the first change he said he made was to shred all the apps from schools like this.

  39. This article reads like something from The Onion.

    Seriously, edit a few words and it’s a great Onion feature.

    In the old days, leftist activists promoted equality between whites/blacks, promoted equality for gay people and straight people, etc. Noble causes.

    Now, leftist activists seem to be more insane than the far-right in many ways.

  40. The BDS movement is 100% anti-semitic:

    It accepts Muslim states, Arab states and a Palestinian state, yet rejects a Jewish state.

    It accepts Muslim nationalism, Arab nationalism and Palestinian nationalism, yet rejects Jewish nationalism.

    It accepts that Muslim-majority states identify as Muslim, that Arab-majority states identity as Arab, yet it DEMONIZES the world’s one tiny Jewish-majority state for identifying as Jewish.

    The BDS movement rejects the Jewish right to self-determination, while promoting Arab self-determination, Muslim self-determination, Palestinian non-Jewish self-determination, etc.

    The BDS movement singles the Jewish people out using standards they intentionally do not apply to any other groups.

    All of this is the very definition of anti-semitism.

  41. There is nothing “liberal” or “progressive” about supporting Palestinian Islamists in their quest to erase/destroy Israel.

    The people Israel is fighting against don’t want peace/equality with Jews/Israel. They want Jews dead and removed from the region and they want Israel exterminated or erased as a state.

  42. The Russians are openly dropping cluster bombs in civilian neighborhoods in Aleppo, in support of Assad’s brutal regime.

    I’m sure these Brown “activists” will immediately organize a BDS movement against Russia, because they are even-handed in their protests, and are not simply motivated by irrational hatred of Israel and Jews.

  43. When you compare the problems these whiny “activists” complain about to the experiences of Natan Sharansky, a tremendously brave man who spent nine years imprisoned in the Soviet Gulag under terrible conditions, one can only conclude that these special snowflakes aren’t fit to shine Sharansky’s shoes, let alone protest him.

  44. A College Degree is worthless, example #11,429

  45. Or maybe neurotics become social justice warriors in a bid to distract themselves from their own neuroses. But of course, wherever you go, there you are.

  46. These students are in for a rude awakening once they leave the academic bubble and have to survive in the real world.

    • They’ll get sinecures with the government or with a left-wing non-profit.

      You don’t think they intend to get jobs in the icky private sector, do you?

      • Of course not- heaven forbid they have to fend for themselves in the private sector!

        “Cradle-to-grave government,” indeed.

  47. Student activists in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00’s seemed to manage the academic/activism balance alright. There’s plenty of time for studying, socializing and protesting in a school day/week/semester.

  48. Howard Henick says:

    I’d love to send all these idiots to Marine boot camp for 6 weeks and let’s see how they do? Entitled “victims”. Sickening!

  49. TheLincolnian says:

    This issue was addressed very thoughtfully by a student at McGill last year.

  50. Time to change the school mascot from a bear to a jellyfish.

  51. charliecrown says:

    This is beyond 1st world problems.This is 1% dilettante problems of the most obnoxious kind.These students need a METAPHORICAL butt whoppin’.

    We’re creating neurotic people,seemingly on purpose.

  52. Wah, cry me a river. I weep for the future of this nation, with the weak people we’re training.

  53. says:

    What the hell is wrong with students these days? By all means, protest, use your free speech (so long as you don’t harass other students or use violence, like you have been). Here’s the thing, if you have to choose between class/study and protesting, and you chose protesting, then that means your grades are going to go down. That’s what we in the adult world call a “consequence”. You’re all ostensibly adults, so you need to start acting like adults. You talk about “social justice”, but you have no idea what respect and responsibility are. You have no work ethic. You have no tolerance for people who think differently from you, let alone their right to speak. You don’t know how to prioritize, and you expect to be coddled like small children with “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings”. I’ve since earned my MBA, but when I was 17 I enlisted into the Army (2001-2007), and seeing young adults infantilize themselves (with assistance from their p.c. professors) makes me sick. I expect people to be made of sterner stuff than that. I’m technically a millennial (culturally, I’m closer to Gen X), but this nonsense makes me want to avoid any possible connection I could have with these people.

  54. One___And_Done says:

    Skip class, don’t do homework, and only get a lower grade? Back in the day such students ‘graduated’ by Christmas.

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