If I May: Experiencing ‘The Amherst Effect’
Issue   |   Tue, 10/24/2017 - 23:48

From the time I arrived at Amherst two years ago until now, I have changed a great deal as a person. Many of these changes, I perceive to be positive. I feel that I’ve become more independent and more mature and that I have connected further with my passions by pursuing music, writing and other activities on campus. I have made many great friends, people that I expect to stay close with long after graduation. Finally, I’ve had the opportunity to engage with an incredible academic community.

However, I’ve also felt that Amherst has taken its toll on me. I’ve begun to feel lonely at times. I’ve slacked off on my academics more than I used to. I’ve overextended myself in my extracurricular activities. Sometimes, things that used to bring me a great deal of joy now bring me a great deal of stress. These are things that never happened to me in high school, but have come about while being here at Amherst.

Now, I don’t intend to make this into a pity party. Many of these downturns were my own fault. No one at Amherst forced me to be heavily involved in too many clubs. Amherst provided plenty of avenues for me to receive academic support, avenues which I didn’t (and still haven’t) pursued. However, I also know that I’m not alone in feeling these types of things. Many people I know here at Amherst have gone through various struggles with mental health or with motivation. Some people, of course, have always struggled with these sorts of things. But others, like me, felt them come on while here at Amherst. As the title of this article suggests, I’ve taken to calling this “the Amherst effect.” Of course, I don’t know that this is actually a real phenomenon. All of this comes from personal experiences here at Amherst. Still, I worry about this sort of beleaguering effect the college has some of its students.

I’ve been trying to pinpoint why I think this may happen, but it is obviously very difficult. I have no way of knowing about others’ experience at Amherst, only my own. I do think that I have nailed down at least partially why I’ve begun to feel these things. I hesitated to write this article because I thought that it may seem too self-indulgent, but upon further reflection I decided to go through with it because perhaps any other struggling students reading this can know that they are not alone.

Anyway, I think that the driving force behind my struggles here at Amherst is the idea of “keeping it together.” This basically means powering through and making everything work out in the end. Maybe things seem — or are — stressful, but through it all, if you’re able to “keep it together,” you don’t let the stress faze you. I’ve always been someone who has been able to “keep it together.” Even in high school, when my college application process wasn’t going as planned, or when my math grades were continuing to slip because I suck at math, I was able to “keep it together.” Even at the beginning of my first year here, when I was worried about finding a group of friends, when I was seriously struggling academically for the first time with my Intro to Econ course (because, again, I suck at math), I was able to “keep it together.” But this year, for one reason or another, I haven’t quite been able to “keep it together” as well as I have been able to in the past. Maybe it’s because I took on one too many responsibilities. Maybe it’s because I’m living without a roommate for the first time. But for some reason, the stress is taking more of a toll than it has in the past.

The unfortunate truth for me, though, is that not “keeping it together” only makes me more inclined to fail to do so. Since I’ve always been able to “keep it together,” the fact that I’m suddenly not able to is terrifying to me. “What’s going on?” I think. “I’ve always been the guy who can keep it together, why can’t I now?”

What I’m trying to tell myself, though, is that sometimes it’s okay that I can’t “keep it together.” College is hard. We’re expected to have all these great experiences, meet new people, get involved in clubs and campus activities and go to parties. At the same time, we’re also expected to handle a great deal of serious responsibilities: four tough classes, figuring out our major, figuring out our summer plans, figuring out what we want to do with our lives — basically, a lot of figuring out. This is such a difficult thing to navigate, so of course students are going to struggle. I don’t think I have any authority to make suggestions on how to get out of such a funk, so I will not. But I hope that any other students (or faculty!) that are going through something similar know that they are not alone.