Psychology professor cites University inclusion as a coping mechanism

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By: Kevin McGuire, Contributing Writer

Honors College psychology professor Jonathan Mattanah recognizes that many college students struggle with psychological problems, but, he says, inclusion in the University and greater control over important life decisions may help them cope.

“They are all not doing well, and they are all not having a very good time of it,” Mattanah said. “We know they are struggling. And they are struggling in a variety of ways.”

Mattanah argued during his Feb. 21 lecture that financial stresses and the increasing number of students with neurological disabilities are causing this strain. Students also report feeling unstable and insecure in college, in what developmental psychologists are calling “emerging adulthood.”

This recent developmental phenomenon theorizes that students ages 18-29 are struggling with not yet being adults and no longer being adolescents.

“They are sort of floating between adolescence and adulthood,” Mattanah said.  “And by nature there’s a kind of instability associated with emerging adults.”

Lilian Odera, assistant director of outreach and media at the Counseling Center, said it’s important for students to pay attention to current events and relationships affecting the transition into college life.

“A lot of times they wait until things spill over, and many of the students lack the coping skills to deal with the stress,” Odera said. “This presentation brings to light many things we need to be attentive to.”

Mattanah argued that involvement with the university is key to battling this stressful transition.

“The students need to feel a part of the university,” he said.

Separating from parents is also key in the transition from high school to college. Mattanah stressed that the role of the parent needs to shift from overseer to a sort of “sounding board.”

“Control is no longer the primary task when parenting college students, but rather parents need to believe their children are able to make competent decisions,” he said. “In order for a college student to feel close to their parent, the student needs to feel that their parent will respect and listen to them, without solving the problem for them.”

Mattanah also noted that involvement with faculty can give a great sense of inclusion between the student and the university, and he argued that faculty need to create be approachable so that students will feel comfortable connecting with them outside of the classroom.

“There’s a lot of evidence that students really value connecting with faculty, but research suggests that it doesn’t happen very often,” he said.

Mattanah suggested that in-class impressions, such as teaching style, can affect the likelihood of students approaching faculty outside of the classroom.

“Research suggests that faculty who give more multiple choice exams and less essay exams are seen as less accessible,” he said. “The idea that the faculty member is valuing what the student has to say is going to make it more likely that the student feels this faculty member has an interest in them.”

Junior and Tower C Resident Assistant Alexis McCoy felt confident that she could use the information from Mattanah’s talk to help the students in her building.

“You want to be on top of the trends among the students,” McCoy said. “Right now my floor is all freshman, so now is the perfect time to start empowering them and letting them know about the research.”

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