College Interrupted, the final installment of 417 Magazine's Life Interrupted series presented by Burrell Behavioral Health, featured Missouri State University President Clif Smart and Student Government Association President, Abdillahi (Lahi) Dirie. The conversation focused on the difficult decisions and emotions being faced as a result of a changed college experience due to COVID-19. As with the first three sessions, Burrell’s Dr. Shelly Farnan provided mental health context and support to participants and viewers.
1. The entire college community is being impacted
When Clif Smart and his staff arrived at the difficult decision to cancel in-person classes and events—including commencement—for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester, students, families, faculty and staff all felt the abrupt impact. “It’s been tough,” says Abdillahi (Lahi) Dirie who immigrated from Saudia Arabia with his family for a better education. Now, facing a postponed graduation and an uncertain job market, individuals are having to cope with lowered expectations.
Smart notes that graduation day not only represents the start of new careers, but for some, the change in entire family trajectories. “One third of MSU’s 2,800 spring graduates were the first in their families to receive a degree,” Smart says. This shows how the missed moments due to COVID-19 can impact individuals along with entire families.
2. Taking time to process is crucial
When Dirie expressed that he didn’t know what to do with his time once the semester’s activities were cancelled, Dr. Farnan chimed noted it’s ok to process and rest. “It can be healthy to give yourself time to be sad or unmotivated,” Dr. Farnan says. Farnan goes on to explain that although routine is functional and therapeutic, it can’t be our own strategy. “It’s absolutely necessary that we pause, acknowledge and name what’s going on.”
3. It's important to build resilience
College graduation can be an uncertain time for individuals beginning a new phase of life—and feelings of uncertainty often lead to anxiety. To combat this, Dr. Farnan says we can build resilience by putting energy into self-care strategies. In doing so, we invest in our basic physiological needs like sleep, water and nutrition, which give our brains the best opportunity to effectively navigate the unknown.
4. COVID-19 requires creativity from organizations
As Missouri State University’s processes and policies have changed and flexed to best accommodate students, the university’s faculty has continued to push the envelope—shedding the way things have always been done, and continuing to make decisions that have never been considered. “You have to empower people to make decisions,” Smart says. He goes on to explain that he had to give his staff permission to deviate from procedure when necessary, which sparked creativity.
5. Take action rooted in love
In summary, Dr. Farnan explains that we all need support systems, and to know when and how to access care when needed. She adds that support should be given with inclusion, acknowledging any privileges and welcoming diversity. Her last bit of advice effectively summarizes the underlying theme of each of the Life Interrupted conversations: “All of our feelings are valid, and we must give ourselves and others the permission to feel,” Farnan says. “It’s important to connect in deeper ways, rooted in love, because community and togetherness is what we need.”