Counseling Groups Respond to Students' War Angst
The Crimson registration poll indicates that 70 percent of respondents fear the war will affect the psychological mood of our generation, and 40 percent say the war affected their performance on final exams.
For Harvard administrators and counselors, these figures should not be surprising. Even before the poll's release, some of Harvard's counseling organizations had anticipated the psychological impact the war would have on students, and were busy helping students cope with war angst.
Room 13, the Bureau of Study Counsel and University Health Services have all responded to widespread fears about the Gulf War.
In fact, Room 13, Harvard's oldest peer counseling organization, was founded in 1970 in response to similar anxieties and fears on the part of students during the Vietnam War. Now, says counselor David R. Goldner '91, the group has returned to its roots.
"Concerns about the war have come up at Room 13 since the war began," Goldner says. "It is absolutely a legitimate concern for people to bring [to us]."
Goldner declined to discuss the details of specific visits, citing confidentiality concerns. But he added that while the war has not caused a huge upswing in the number of calls and visits to Room 13, there was a noticeable increase during exam period.
In preparation for questions about the draft and conscientious objection, Room 13 peer counselors have been busy seeking out information and literature on war, Goldner says.
The Bureau of Study Counsel too has tried to help students along, especially over the exam period, during which the office held several open hours on the Gulf War.
Like Static in the Background
As long as the war continues to loom in the back of people's minds like "static in the background," the usual student concerns about schoolwork and jobs will just become more complicated, says Suzanne Repetto, the associate director of the Bureau and a counselor there.
But still, Repetto says that the Bureau has not seen a very large turnout at its discussions, "possibly because people didn't hear about it, or possibly because of exams and intersession," she says.
Heather E. Herzog, a staff assistant at the Bureau, attributes the low turnouts for the discussion sessions to the war's being "a very, very personal issue."
Some Arab and Israeli students have been receiving one-on-one counseling, Herzog adds.
According to University Health Services Director Dr. David S. Rosenthal '59, mental health professionals had been busy all through the reading and exam periods, with patients concerned about both the war and their exams.
And while Rosenthal says he had no specific knowledge of war-related exam sick-outs, it was often difficult to differentiate between the exam related stress and war related stress, he says. Indeed, at a January 19 anti-war rally in Boston, Heather K. Love '91 said she had "just sicked out of an exam yesterday" because she couldn't "deal with doing anything else."
Referring to his own anxiety about the war, Rosenthal says, "I guess I have been a little bit more on edge and concerned," adding quickly that "everybody is."
"I hope it ends very quickly," he adds. "But it does help, I can tell you, just to talk about it."