By Grace Beckner
Making friends, building community, being independent, staying healthy, finding an identity: These are just some of the struggles current college freshmen are facing, all in the midst of a global pandemic.
Hannah Kleppinger, a freshman pastoral ministries major, said she is feeling the weight of everything that has happened over the past year.
“Basically the entire normalness of my life is gone,” Kleppinger said.
Sara Hopkins, director of counseling services, reported seeing trends in the mental health research surrounding incoming freshmen. According to Hopkins, freshmen levels of anxiety and stress is higher than it has been in previous years, which likely stems from the extraneous situations influencing the lives of the freshmen.
“Not only is coming to college difficult, but you also have to come to college with a lot of unknowns, and that’s just inherently harder,” Hopkins said. “So I have a lot of empathy for the kids coming onto our campus that have been here for a long time, but especially for the ones that are coming onto our campus for the first time ever.”
The environment at Trevecca has shifted as a result of the pandemic, one that might have resulted from the loss and grief that has been so prominent over the past few months; from a worldwide pandemic, to missed graduation ceremonies and the prominence of racial discrimination, she said.
“I think in general, and I don’t think this is true of just freshmen, that we are all walking around with a lot of grief and a lot of loss,” Hopkins said. “We are grieving what is happening around us.”
Kleppinger has been enjoying the community at Trevecca so far, but she did have some reservations when she was deciding whether to come to campus for in person classes.
“I was really worried about the pandemic, especially because I have an immunodeficiency,” Kleppinger said. “When I was starting to come down here a few weeks ago, it was still really, really bad, so I was like ‘this might be a terrible decision.’”
She decided to come to campus because she felt like she needed a change of scenery, and to learn in a place that would push and challenge her.
“I have been feeling like I’ve outgrown my place there for a while now, and even if this necessarily wasn’t the safest and most anxiety-free option, I felt like I really needed to come here, just so I could actually continue to grow as a person,” Kleppinger said.
For Caleb Jenkinson, a freshman religion major, the decision to come to campus was a little more cut and dry.
“It wasn’t really that much of a process, it was more like, ‘I’m tired of just chilling at my house,’” he said.
Jenkinson’s favorite part about college so far has been the independence, but said it has been hard on him to have to move to a place where he doesn’t know anyone.
“It is completely up to me to decide what I’m going to do and if I’m going do it, but it has been a little rough making friends because I live 13 hours away from here,” Jenkinson said.
Megan McGhee, director of new student programs at Trevecca, oversees the freshman and transfer LINK groups. Her team of mentors and peer mentors have been trying to hone in on relationship building within these small groups, she said.
“[Hospitality] is a word I really drill into our mentors and peer mentors,” McGhee said. “I am just trying to get them to think about what it means to be hospitable and help people feel welcome.”
Two ways McGhee and the LINK mentors show hospitality to their students is by anticipating their needs and preparing a place for them. These strategies never change throughout the years, but McGhee has recognized that in this context, those specific needs might be a little different than in the past.
“Maybe this year, hospitality looks like being vulnerable, sharing with our students that this is hard, and just allowing our students to tell the truth about where they’re at, instead of trying to pretend that everything’s okay,” McGhee said.
More than anything, the past few months have taught Kleppinger not to take things for granted. The week after her high school shut down, she was supposed to perform in a musical and go to a church event, but all of that ended up getting canceled, leaving her with nothing to look forward to.
“This has definitely made me appreciate that there are people here, even if I can’t see the bottom-half of your face and I can’t get close to you, there’s a person in front of me,” Kleppinger said. “I feel like I am actually learning new things and having new experiences, even though they are not exactly what I expected the new experiences to be.”
Jenkinson has also learned the importance of not putting his hope in material things, and has been trying to make the most out of this rough situation by getting involved in ways he wasn’t able to before because of the pandemic.
“Since I can [get involved] as long as I follow the safety precautions, I can still get out there and do stuff to kind of make up for my senior year,” Jenkinson said.
For any freshmen wanting to get plugged in on campus but don’t know where to start, McGhee suggests checking out the SGA instagram page, as well as talking to their RAs and LINK mentors.
“A really great starting point for any new student is to utilize their mentors and peer mentors,” McGhee said.
However, for those who feel like they need some extra support, the counseling center is available and ready to help, with appointment requests on TNU4U under the services tab.
“We know it is hard, and that no one has ever done this before. I don’t have any ways to fix it, but just know that we see it,” said Hopkins.