The Chamberlain Student Center’s room 221 provided testimonials of hope, pain and perseverance as staff and students opened up about their COVID-19 experiences during Rowan University’s third annual Student Mental Health Conference: Pandemic Stories.
Rowan’s Healthy Campus Initiatives (HCI) welcomed 16 speakers during Wednesday’s first virtual Student Mental Health Conference. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., students took part in sharing their personal experiences and internal struggles in navigating the unprecedented realm of life during a pandemic. With 15 minutes to speak, either in-person or through WebEx, staff and students alike embraced the vulnerability of sharing their stories, in an effort to provide others with a sense of connection and commonality through shared experiences.
Jack Trabucco, a junior civil and environmental engineering student, shared his presentation, “The Illusion of Madness,” in which he described the overturning of student life as he knew it. Priding himself on his value of education, his work ethic and his hard-to-shake nature, Trabucco, like many others, fell victim to feelings of sadness, anger and even betrayal while coming to terms with the new normal of campus life during COVID-19.
Trabucco, however, was not to be defeated by the mundaneness of his new virtual learning routine and the campus-wide shutdown, describing his healing realization, conjured through vital moments of introspection.
“I want people to realize that you don’t find happiness outside yourself — you find it within yourself by nourishing the things that matter to you and the things that you can control,” Trabucco said. “If you learn to love and learn to be happy wherever you are, in whatever you’re doing, then you’re unstoppable because your happiness isn’t contingent on the environment around you. I really want people to know that they do have the power to make themselves happy; it’s inside of you to be able to come out on top.”
Other speakers took the floor, getting candid with listeners about their struggles in coping with various aspects of day-to-day life, such as dealing with the loss of family members, raising children, staying connected to loved ones and finding motivation toward accomplishing their daily responsibilities.
Many speakers emphasized the need to find a moment of good in everyday life, as well as the need to encourage and motivate one another by reaching out and finding safe ways to stay connected and be productive. Other speakers encouraged listeners to allow their emotions to flow out as they may, and to be kind to themselves, understanding their mental health needs and taking advantage of campus resources when needed, such as telehealth and Wellness Center counseling.
Assistant Director of HCI, Allie Pearce, described this year’s conference as apples and oranges in comparison to years past. What would normally consist of roughly nine speakers, with presentations of 45 minutes to an hour each, was now four hours of 16 speakers, broken into 15-minute windows for each. Pearce described her love for the event, serving as an outlet for storytelling and a sense of normalcy for students, through the discovery of their similarities — both in feelings and experiences — to others.
“I love sharing stories and hearing stories because you don’t always know what someone else is going through and what other people will connect with,” Pearce said. “To see people come together and be like ‘Yeah, I experienced that, too’ or ‘I worried about that, too’ — all of those things are really powerful because we often feel we’re the only one.
“It’s hard for everybody, but I think being able to hear from a variety of people helps to normalize some of that and say, OK, we know that everyone is struggling and we’re all going to continue to show grace and do the best that we can.”
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