Every student at Drew came to campus following some period of extended isolation from the rest of the world. Some students were unable to finish high school in the presence of their peers while others struggled through the loss of upperclassmen mentors and friends as COVID-19 deemed it impossible to resume activities in shared spaces, at full capacity and in some instances altogether. I am deeply interested in how this phenomenon of structural collapse has affected the current student body and our habit of taking up too much in order to serve our communities. In turn, this article will be dedicated to exploring what I have observed in my fellow student leaders who are grappling with the social landscape we have been handed.
Our community’s student leaders are largely being asked to start from scratch when it comes to revitalizing groups across campus. Upperclassmen who held important institutional memory of how these organizations functioned graduated while the university was partaking in virtual learning. This means that student leaders are not only tasked with running successful events but also with trying to reestablish their groups’ board structures, reinvent traditions that were halted due to social distancing and engage members of their community. Many of these brave souls were first- and second-years, attempting to fill a role for which they had no successful predecessor to use as an example. The difficult task of running an organization has transformed into navigating a myriad of tough tasks without any sort of guidance. Even years after the initial shutdown, the effects of the abrupt halt to daily life continue to linger.
Student leaders, already reestablishing their organizations’ roots, have also been asked to juggle multiple positions at once. For some students, the opportunity to find community after isolation, add a new experience to their resume and fill up a previously empty schedule was too good to pass up. For others craving any sort of community involvement, the opportunity to be a respected and responsible part of the community is exciting. Regardless of the reason, many student leaders have taken on more roles than they can feasibly handle. This can be attributed to a fear of saying “no,” something many students have expressed possessing. It is not unreasonable to assume that subconsciously, some students are trying to make up for lost time and experience.
This overindulgence in responsibility can also be attributed to a lack of developmental experience that comes with the upperclassmen years of high school. Successfully handling extracurricular leadership roles is a skill that is practiced in the last years of high school, an experience that many Drew students who hold leadership positions today missed out on. An important component of this skill is learning to understand personal limits and strengths. Unfortunately, a lack of practice in this field has led to student leaders taking on too many responsibilities while also trying to keep up with their coursework and mental health. Eventually, something snaps. For many student leaders, burnout, guilt and anxiety have accompanied their overindulgence.
Yet, mentors on campus have praised students for taking on so much as the Drew community struggles to find its footing as students return to in-person learning. Many of these mentors were unable to see the true effect that packed schedules have on the best and the brightest. Student leaders compare Google Calendars, struggle to find decent hours to meet with their executive boards and deal with the highs of success and lows of failure. As student leaders take on more than they can handle, the quality of their personal lives and the quality of their community contributions diminish. Some of these leaders have struggled to support their clubs and organizations and have had to grapple with the guilt of letting others down. I think it’s important to treat all leaders with grace, especially as they struggle to keep up with the various responsibilities that have been piled atop them. The trait students were once praised for has now become a noticeable downfall.
As a word of parting wisdom from a student leader who is actively attempting to step away from taking on too much, I want to remind you that it’s okay to step away and that no one will hate you for putting your mental and physical health, school work and personal happiness first. We are students, and people, first and foremost. Communicating your needs, delegating responsibilities and setting boundaries can help facilitate a better community of healthy leaders who can help lead Drew to a better future of community involvement. We are here to learn, and learning not to take on too much is a lesson. We may be learning late, but we’re learning it all the same.
Jocelyn Freeman is a junior majoring in history, English and Chinese.