One of the main reasons I chose to attend Georgetown was that our lack of sororities and fraternities means campus social life revolves around student groups. In theory, this means that everyone makes friends with people they share interests with and no one is excluded if they choose not to participate in one thing or the other.
As I’ve been at Georgetown, I’ve learned this has a significant drawback.
Because of the way college social life is structured, most clubs’ meetings outside of official functions are parties. Therefore, people who don’t go to parties are less well known in their student groups, which has implications for elected positions. If you’re running for a position and nobody knows who you are, you’re out of luck. What’s a large group of people who don’t go to parties?
There are a lot of students who are simply too busy or just uninterested, but one group stands out to me: students living with a mental illness.
Mental illnesses can impede party-going in many ways. Many parties, especially on college campuses, involve consumption of alcohol in large amounts, in which many with mental illnesses cannot partake safely.
Additionally, many mentally-ill students often feel too anxious to attend a large party and will turn to substances to serve as a social lubricant. This thought process makes them more likely to overindulge; alcohol abuse is linked to mental health disorders, and excessive drinking increases the risk of both alcohol poisoning in the short term and addiction and chronic health problems further down the road. Further, recovering alcoholics and addicts often cannot so much as be around alcohol safely, so they also are unable to participate in these events.
As a result, a lot of students, often for reasons of mental illness, avoid parties. This means they’re not involved in the social scene of groups they are a part of, so they aren’t as well known and therefore are less likely to be chosen for leadership positions. Their resumés suffer, in no small part due to the effects of their mental illness.
So how can we solve this problem?
I think the university’s response to sororities and fraternities is indicative of a potential change. Significant pressure has been put on these groups to avoid potentially negative behavior: drinking and hazing. From what I understand, there is very little of these activities taking place as a result—my friends in sororities have never experienced alcohol at a sorority-related event, and nothing that could even be considered hazing is ever allowed.
But there are other student groups that have little to no university pressure on them—why is that? Could we put the same pressure on all student groups? Should we?
And if so, how? It starts, like many issues with mental health, with addressing the stigma that surrounds mental illness. The first thing we need to do is collectively acknowledge that this is a problem. The student body must actively place the well-being of their members above their own enjoyment. The problem must be brought to the attention of the university faculty, who must then acknowledge the issue and be willing to be vilified in order to fix it.
There will be backlash, of course. A lot of people enjoy parties and will argue that the amount of students that would suffer is greater than the amount that would benefit. However, if the students and administrators stay strong in their support of mentally ill students, they will be able to make their voices louder and create real, substantive change.
One of Georgetown’s values is cura personalis—care of the whole person—and that means we must care for every aspect of a person, including the mental illness from which they may suffer. It is our responsibility as a student body to stand together and push for these changes to protect each other.
Rebecca is a freshman in the College.