As a tour guide, one of my favorite stories to tell is about my academic adviser, Dr. Jennifer Butler in the psychology department. It was my third day on campus in my first year, and I had my first advising meeting with Dr. Butler. I walked into Dr. Butler’s office sweating bullets, sat down, and the first thing Dr. Butler asked me was “How much sleep did you get last night?” Before I could answer, Dr. Butler asked me another question: “Do you have a winter coat? It gets really cold here; do you need help finding one?” Finally, Dr. Butler asked me, “What have you eaten today? Do you need a snack?” Immediately, I relaxed. I was not expecting that type of support from my professor—support that certainly went above and beyond her role as my academic advisor. Dr. Butler was there to simply help me prepare for the first day of classes, but I left her office feeling like I could take on the world. In this moment, I knew I had selected the right school.
However, I wasn’t always so confident in my choice of schools. I remember when my dad first sent me a text my junior year of high school about this school I had never heard of on the east side of Cleveland with a name that seemed far too long. That school was none other than Case Western Reserve University.
At first, I was less than thrilled with the prospect of living in Cleveland, Ohio, especially considering the locations of the other schools to which I applied: Emory University, University of Miami, Tulane University, to name a few—no, Cleveland was definitely not on my radar. Further, a cursory Google search for “Case Western Reserve University” cemented my apathy for the school as one of the first things to come up was a list of the “ugliest college campuses”—CWRU was towards the top.
No, our campus does not have curated Georgian architecture and matching buildings that scream “you’re on a college campus.” Rather our campus seemingly just screams at you. We jettison cohesion by juxtaposing the deconstructivism of Frank Gehry’s Peter B. Lewis building with the Collegiate Gothic Revival style of the Mather Quad. But, thankfully, I didn’t choose my college for architectural unity—I chose it for the people, and CWRU has some of the best people.
Indeed, the people here are something admissions counselors love to highlight in their information sessions with prospective students; they touch on this idea of “positive peer pressure” that exists on CWRU’s campus. The idea is that, here, your peers are your biggest supporters and you’re only in competition with yourself. It reinforces the concept that CWRU is not a cut-throat college and does not encourage the same competition between students that you would find at other institutions of a similar caliber to CWRU. While it may sound like a gimmick, I have certainly found this to be pervasively characteristic of CWRU’s student body. Never have I felt the need to discuss something as trivial as my SAT scores, or how many AP classes I took in high school, because nobody cares! We all got here the same way, and so there is a collective air of support that exists on CWRU’s campus that I find to be extremely refreshing. The more successful we all are, the better CWRU’s reputation becomes, and the better we look as alumni. More than anything it has been my friends and peers who have helped me grow during my time at CWRU and they continue to inspire me.
Here, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with just one major. In my eyes, what gives CWRU its charm is the fact that the people here are fiercely passionate about something that isn’t their major, and is often completely unrelated to what they study. That aerospace engineer leads a double life, spending her weekdays studying propulsion and her weekends in the ceramics studio. There is a computer science major who can name every vice president as well as their opponent’s vice-presidential candidate. Me? I am a psychology major with a double minor in theater and photography, but I can tell you everything there is to know about the golden age of piracy.
Our mismatched amalgamation of different architectural styles tells the history of our campus, with our university resulting from the joining of four different institutions: Mather Women’s College, Adelbert College, Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University. Furthermore, this diversity of architecture is a reflection of the diversity of interests in each of our students. To me, there is something poetic about how our campus does not have just one style of building, because our students do not have just one interest. Instead, our students have as many different passions as diamonds have facets. Similarly, our campus is a diamond in the rough.
There is something to be said for the evenings I spent in Tinkham Veale University Center watching the sunset as it painted the sky an incandescent pink against the dusty Cleveland skyline. There is something to be said for the days I spent in the Cleveland Museum of Art looking at paintings some people may only ever see in textbooks. And, there is something to be said for the times I went to Presti’s Bakery to get a cannoli, simply because Little Italy is right here.
Finally, seeing as this is an advice column, I would like to leave you with some last-minute advice. My freshman year I was talking to Dr. Amy Przeworski about what happens to a person’s startle response in the presence of comorbid depression and anxiety—when a person has both depression and anxiety together. It is known that depression often presents with a stunted startle response—they are less reactive to unexpected stimuli—while anxiety often presents with a heightened startle response—they are more easily startled. At the time, there was little to no research about what happens in the case of comorbid anxiety and depression, and Dr. Przeworski was encouraging me to do the research myself to answer the question. One of my research advisers, Dr. Arin Connell, had a data set that screened participants for anxiety and depression and, as part of his experiment, used a startle paradigm measurement. However, his research was focused on binge drinking, not startle response. Dr. Przeworski told me I should ask Dr. Connell if I could have access to the data set to answer my research question. I told her I did not want to bother him for fear of being annoying. She said, “If you are afraid of being annoying, you’ll never get anywhere in life.” I took that to mean, be relentless in the pursuit of what is important to you, make opportunities for yourself by being persistent. Don’t let anyone tell you that your ambition is an annoyance. I have carried this advice with me these past four years and will continue to carry it with me far beyond my time as a student here at CWRU. I hope it will resonate with all of you the way it resonated with me. I did eventually find out what happens to one’s startle response, and the research became my Senior Honors Capstone project. By the way, based on my research, it seems that in instances of comorbid anxiety and depression, depression masks anxiety symptoms, meaning individuals present with a dampened startle response—similar to those who only have depression.
Though this column is ending, it does not mean that this is the end of your mental health journey. I implore you to continue to support yourself and others the way I have felt supported by all of you. Thank you for reading, you’ve truly made my time here special.