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‘Happiest’ ranking isolates unhappy students


Alex Bergin-Newman is a Wiess College junior

By Alex Bergin-Newman     9/7/16 8:59am

An exercise in one of my classes illustrated what having the happiest students means. We anonymously ranked how satisfied we were with certain aspects of our lives and viewed the overall data. While the scores skewed slightly higher than average for our age group, few felt “extremely satisfied” and many felt either “extremely dissatisfied” or “somewhat dissatisfied.”

This is what the Princeton Review’s ranking really reflects: Rice’s students are the happiest on average. However, advertising it as the “happiest students” misleads you to think every Rice student is happier than any student at another school.

The misadvertisement of this statistic played a large part in my decision to come here two years ago, and it made my initial transition far more difficult and isolating than it should have been.

I grew up in Mississippi feeling out of place and unaccepted by the majority of people around me. When applying to college, I knew two things: I wanted out, and to be happy. At Rice, I realized I still wasn’t happy but thought everyone around me was, making freshman year especially difficult. Yes, I was happier at Rice than I had been at home, but I hardly felt like one of the happiest students in the country. Rice losing the happiest students ranking signaled that not everyone at Rice was constantly happy. For the first time, I felt like I wasn’t alone. I worry about the pressure this ranking puts on students who, like me, struggle with their mental health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in four college students have a mental illness, 80 percent feel overwhelmed and 50 percent have been so anxious they’ve struggled in school.

Putting too much weight on this ranking has consequences for students. The administration’s perception of having the happiest students in the country has led to a counseling center ill-equipped to handle chronic and serious mental health issues that tries to force students out when it doesn’t know what to do with them, even if doing so would cause more harm than good. I was nearly forced to take the last two weeks of my freshman year off, though I was eventually allowed to stay. When I explained why returning home would do more harm than good, the counselors insisted that I was mistaken and that this was the best option. For students, the ranking creates an environment where mental health isn’t discussed, leaving students isolated and alone. We can’t take a happiest students ranking as an excuse to ignore mental health.

The SA’s new Wellbeing Committee will fortunately emphasize mental wellbeing, but we can’t rely solely on the SA. We must destigmatize mental health ourselves. To students who feel isolated and alone, like I once did and still do feel on occasion: you aren’t alone. Seek help when you need it. Though the counseling center wasn’t a fit for me, it exists to provide support. If your mental health interferes with your classes, let your professors know. Finally, don’t be afraid to drop extracurriculars or classes in favor of mental health. It is not a sign of weakness but an act of strength to put your mental health first in an environment that often doesn’t encourage it.

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