An Open Letter to 2020-2021 College Students

Dear College Students,   

What a year it has been for you all. I want to speak to you directly because I feel that the unique ways you have had to adjust to the myriad changes that have occurred this year are often overlooked. I work with college students in my clinical practice, and I want to reassure you that your grief and disappointment are real and justified. 

I remember watching the news in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and hearing that elderly individuals and college students were most at risk. I was grateful to hear someone acknowledge how difficult this time has been for you all. Not only have you had to pivot to virtual learning and face an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19, but you have been isolated from your friends and social gatherings. With limited access to these social supports, it is expected that you would feel depleted.    

In college, your friends are more like family. You live with them, you go to class and study with them, and you share your life with them in ways that were not always possible with your childhood friends. These friendships engender a level of relational intimacy that is seldom replicated during other times in your life. Moreover, you are in a stage of human development wherein you are forming your identity in the context of your relationships with others. This is precisely why it has felt like such an insurmountable task to quarantine apart from your peers and refrain from connecting with them regularly. 

You have probably heard many people tell you that college will be “the best four years of your life.” College is certainly a fun and exciting time, but it is not devoid of hardship and adversity. When you feel sad, scared, or lonely, you start to think you are doing something wrong because you are not having the time of your life. The pandemic has added another emotional reaction to this lofty expectation for your college years: anger. 

I have heard so many of my clients express how frustrated and devastated they are that they are not having the college experience they always imagined. Please understand that it is normal to feel this way. We are all grieving the loss of our pre-COVID realities, and your “new normal” has been anything but normal. Your old assumptions no longer fit your current circumstances, and accepting this is no small task. 

I know how easy it can be to compare your struggles to those of others. People in our community and around the world are suffering. This pandemic has taken loved ones, jobs, and our sense of safety and security. However, you are not immune to the damage it has caused, and your distress is worthy of care and attention. 

To quote Brené Brown, “empathy is not finite, and compassion is not a pizza with eight slices. When you practice empathy and compassion with someone, there is not less of these qualities to go around. There is more. Love is the last thing we need to ration in this world. Hurt is hurt, and every time we honor our own struggle and the struggles of others by responding with empathy and compassion, the healing that results affects all of us.”

I want to remind you of how resilient you are. You forged your own path by going to college and building a life apart from your family. This requires courage, and doing so amidst a global pandemic has tested you in ways you never thought possible. I challenge you to practice self-compassion by treating yourself how you would treat someone you love. You are weathering this pandemic the best you can, and your best is always enough.  

For Reference: 

“Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” by Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW

“Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself” by Kristin Neff, Ph.D.

Written By: Claire Taylor, LPC- Associate Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S 

– Austin Family Counseling