The Ivy League seems like an unattainable, glorious dream; having unimaginable resources that would allow you to explore interests and passions, engaging in riveting conversation with bright peers, learning useful skills for a fulfilling career. These institutions have a lot of money (just look at their combined endowment), therefore it would be expected that they will churn out high-achieving and successful alumni. While there are multiple famous alumni that come from these schools, a lot of the mental strain that comes with the Ivy is swept under the rug since it is a given when attending these top schools.
According to the “Ruderman White Paper on Mental Health in the Ivy League,” when looking at the policies of leaves of absence for mentally ill students, all of the schools have no better than a D+ grading (the “best” school that deals with mental health is UPenn, and the second best is Brown with a D marking). As a Brown undergrad, I often wonder how other students (especially Dartmouth and Yale who received an F rating) are holding up because I know for a fact that the stress I and many of my peers have experienced at Brown has been immense.
I think it’s always important to start off with the bigger picture, and that is that life at Brown and every other Ivy League is bound to be a huge culture shock especially to UFli students. According to one report, 70 percent of the student body comes from the top 20 percent. This simple fact can be seen within the culture at school in a variety of ways. There is bound to be subtle and even bold demonstrations of classism with such a huge socioeconomic disparity, and that begins to crumble at a person’s self-worth and self-confidence.
The next part is that the work is hard, extremely hard, and you put a lot of pressure on yourself to always be 100% to “make it” in this capitalistic society. There are several jokes about grade inflation and how easy it is to get an A at Brown because of the unlimited ability to pass/fail all classes, but I believe these beliefs serves to invalidate the often chaotic mess that comes with classes. Plus, if you want to go to graduate school (which is now becoming an imperative for a lot of professions), you cannot take all of your classes pass or fail. But the added stress of having to manage the academics while also maintaining extracurriculars and most likely a job can be overwhelming, not to mention that homesickness is a very real problem for most students. The amount of times I have seen someone cry in a library is a cause for concern (I even started crying in a study lounge when I was studying for my finals).
The amount of times I have seen people seriously question their capability with sadness in their eyes is troubling. But the intensity of the work goes back to the socioeconomic framework as well since many times you can feel the product of educational inequality from classroom discussions. While educational inequality in the United States is an important issue, I would like to reassure the reader that intelligence does not stem from how many AP classes you took or if you went to a private school, it comes from a spark within yourself to take action in whatever form.
Another important aspect that plays on a student’s mental health is prior mental illness and neurodivergency, and the fact that these institutions drastically fail to comprehend and accommodate these students. As a person who has suffered from PTSD, depression, and anxiety, it often feels like societal systems would rather we “get over it” to become productive members for the economy, but they often do not want to take into consideration the complexities of mental health. Furthermore, these institutions are built with the frame of mind that everyone can be set off in the same path. Sure, you can pick your major/concentration and in Brown you have the open curriculum, but it’s the pressure to graduate in 4 years, have a job or go to graduate school afterwards, have a set in stone plan. There is rarely comfort in not knowing.
Yet I would like to commend the various clubs and organizations within my college, and I assume in the other universities as well, that center their belief system in being a safe space for students. Because students often run these clubs/organizations with faculty they trust, it becomes an undemanding haven to spill out worries and difficulties while simultaneously uplifting each other (during my first reading period, a week where we prepare for finals, so many of these clubs/organizations hosted study sessions with donuts, hot chocolate, etc.).
Although students and some faculty are creating spaces where mental health is a priority, it does not exonerate the institutions from revising their policies towards mental health issues. It should not be an expectation that once you enter the Ivy League, your mental health has to go down the drain because that’s what rigor will do to students. It should be an expectation that you learn to be mentally healthy in order to accomplish and learn whatever it is that made you apply to the college in the first place.