A thousand colleges are moving their fall coursework online and, with that, sending millions of students home. What will be the impact? To answer that question, you have to understand what college really means to the students that are being sent online. What will change? What will they be missing? Who will they be missing?
The world has become increasingly aware of the mental health crisis and the unfathomable number of unacknowledged students who are battling with it: “75 percent of mental illnesses first occur before age 24; the average age of onset is 18 to 24, when young people are often attending college” (source). The pandemic has thrust the global population into intense levels of uncertainty, further jeopardizing global mental health. The recent announcements about colleges moving their classes online and leaving students at home have almost entirely been centered around the logistical challenges of teaching the next generation of the world’s producers. What they have almost entirely ignored is the fact that moving college students online is not just a logistical challenge, it may very well precipitate one of the biggest mental health crises the world has ever seen. Never before have this many young people been so rapidly ripped from their social support networks and placed in complete isolation, especially in the midst of such historic uncertainty.
The U Experience has made it our mission to show that a safe community can exist for those students who are being forced to confront this disruption to their mental health. We believe that by giving our limited number of students an opportunity to connect with other students and feel the support of a network, they will realize just how much their mental health revolves around it. In doing so, we also hope to showcase just how fundamental the experience is to personal growth and well-being.
If we succeed, we encourage others to join the fight, and create similar types of experiences. We are a start-up, with all of our own personal capital on the line, and only have the resources to provide a limited number of accessible spaces for students facing the mental health challenges that learning at home will present to them this fall. But through our success, we will demonstrate how important unbundled college experiences can be in the lives of young people. While we will only be selecting a single hotel for our inaugural semester, we have received hundreds of bids from hotels who would be eager to host similar ventures. We welcome imitators, especially those that have the resources to offer our model to a much broader audience.
We understand that taking up this endeavor in the middle of a public health crisis is completely unprecedented, but so is the situation to which we offer a solution. We will take up the first shield in defense of the mental health of the country’s young people against this new threat, and we are proud to champion it.