Professors Urge A Mental Health Break For Illinois Students | WBEZ
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As Students Prepare For Online College, Professors Urge A Mental Health Break

When 17-year-old Emma Rose Reilly heard her sister Grace would be coming home early from her first year at Loyola University Chicago, she knew she’d be sad. She decided to lighten the mood and create a bit of college life in their home in Saline, Michigan.

“For the back door I made this sign kind of replicating the logo from Loyola, but I switched it from Loyola University Chicago to Loyola University Saline,” Emma Rose said. “I put the mascot on there.”

Resident assistants often decorate dorm room doors so she decorated her sister’s bedroom with emojis with facemasks on them. She also printed photos of her parents

“My mom is RA Karen and my dad is RA Jim and I put some funny pictures on there and put them on my bedroom door,” she said, making a dorm-like hallway at home for her sister.

The Loyola Phoenix was the first to report Emma Rose’s creative welcome home.

Grace was upset to leave her friends and her in-person classes at Loyola. But when she got home and saw the signs, she cracked up. It helped alleviate some of the stress of returning home, which can be a transition for everyone.

“I can’t leave at all with coronavirus,” Grace said. Unlike during winter break when she could go, out “now I just have to stay at home.”

Reilly is fortunate enough to have a supportive family. So far, they’ve spent time watching movies, playing games and taking walks.

As college students adjust to a new reality, schools are reminding them to take care of their emotional and mental health, especially now before online classes begin and many are on spring break. Universities nationally are already dealing with a mental health crisis on campus as more students report issues with anxiety and depression — which is only compounded by a worldwide pandemic.

Universities in the Chicago area have tried to provide advice online, help students find providers and hold consultations over the phone. Loyola senior Monica Contractor says she’s grappling with the fact that her on-campus college career is effectively over.

“In my very last class I just broke down crying because I realized it would be my last physical class in that building,” she said.

She said keeping busy has helped.

“I’m actively seeking joy and finding new hobbies, journaling, blogging, watching TV, reading books and things like that,” Contractor said “I guess I’m choosing to focus on things I can control and seeking thankfulness in everything we've been blessed with.”

Professors are telling students to use the extended spring break as a time to reset and step away from schoolwork as they move back home or into a new living space. Universities are encouraging professors to be flexible with grading for the rest of the year. Northwestern University even directed professors to make winter quarter undergraduate finals optional — though some professors pushed back.

Harold Washington College English professor Kristin Bivens emailed her City Colleges of Chicago students last week telling them to do something nice for themselves.

“I want them to feel valued and respected and challenged and supported,” she said.

During her last in-person class she took them to the colleges’ food pantry so they could stock up on food and had them fill out technology surveys so she could design the online course to fit everyone’s needs.

Professors hope if students are in a better mental space when they sign in to their online classes over the next few weeks, it’ll be easier to navigate upcoming challenges.

Kate McGee covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @McGeeReports.

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