I loved Grinnell. I couldn’t have asked for a better first year of college. Not only did I find a group of friends that I knew I’d have forever, I found a place where I felt comfortable. At the end of every break, I’d joke with my mom and say, “Okay, I’m going home now,” referring to Grinnell. She’d flash me a disgruntled glare and say, “No! You are going to school,” in the thick Brooklyn accent I’ve only recently come to love. I’d laugh, but I always felt some truth to calling Grinnell my home. But after a series of non-stop blows to heart, mind and soul, I can no longer find it in myself to see anything more than just a school in Grinnell.
I love my job as a Student Advisor but I have to say it has exposed me to some of the darker sides of Grinnell. I can’t blame the institution for a lot of the difficulties many students face on campus, but I do acknowledge it has become the rock pinning us between our already hard places. I arrived at the Des Moines airport this past August euphoric to be returning to Grinnell, living in a single on the South side of campus by my friends and in a community where I could help a doe-eyed group of first-years fall for Grinnell as I did the year before. But the difference between what I envisioned my second year to be and what it has ended up being is something I will never understand.
Even though I was never explicitly told to put on a happy face, I felt like it was my job to. As a tour guide and member of student staff, I felt obligated to act as my old cheerful and happy-go-lucky self that fell in love with Grinnell over and over again each day. I didn’t think it would be a challenging role to play, but after experiencing some of Grinnell’s biggest flaws, both first- and second-hand, the role grew harder. I’m not saying I hate Grinnell, I’m just saying the magic of my first year has long since faded and all the harsh realities of my second have cemented. I don’t have a perfect solution to fix Grinnell and I won’t pretend that I do. However, recognizing that we are doing something wrong is the first step.
Although mental health is something Grinnell talks a lot about, it’s not something it really handles. “GrinWell” shouldn’t have been introduced to students as a “challenge” but more of the standard way to live. Wellness is not something that should be so hard to obtain, yet somehow it is at Grinnell. Mental health here isn’t taken seriously until someone is already tapped out. It shouldn’t take a breakdown for the school to see someone is suffering. Mental health isn’t as black and white as Grinnell makes it seem, and it’s the in-between areas that are being forgotten.
After being attacked by another student, I got lost in my own head. I let it consume me. The one person I felt I could trust seemed further and further away each time I stepped outside of my mind to see where I had drifted. Far enough that they were completely out of sight, just not out of mind. It was in that earth-shattering moment when I realized what I had done. Just as my wellness was non-consensually taken from me, I was in the midst of apprehending someone else’s. It was the gut-wrenching jab I needed to get myself moving in the right direction.
I don’t think I’m a strong person and would never label myself as one. I haven’t faced half as many adversities as some of the students on campus, yet sometimes I struggle with the everyday motions of life. I can’t help but feel utterly helpless as I witness residents, friends and even myself fall victim to an unhealthy state of mind. Students at Grinnell tend to be more sympathetic than most. I find this to be a blessing and a curse. It’s only natural to turn to a friend for help through a rough time, but they shouldn’t be the only ones. We need professionals because we can’t carry around everyone else’s loads when we are struggling to hold our own.
Grinnell holds many firsts for me: my first love, first heartbreak, first rabbit and first realization that we could be doing something more than we are. I started this off by saying “I loved Grinnell” and I hold true to that statement. But if there is one thing a dear Grinnellian has taught me, it is that love is situational, and I know I can one day reclaim my love for the first home I had that wasn’t my parents’.
—Helena Alacha ’18