Finding community on campus

Will and his four parents

As much as we were looking forward to converting Will’s bedroom into a home office, it was bittersweet when we made the drive south to UC San Diego and helped him move into his dorm room. We took our time walking back to the car, Tim and I tossing parenting advice over our shoulders to Will and Lauren, who walked far enough behind to not be associated with “those kind of parents.” –Be sure to wash your bed sheets! Go to bed on time! Make lots of friends! Be kind! Speak up in class! (but not too often). All fine things to say but if I’m honest, there was only one piece of advice I was hoping he’d take seriously…Find a community! I get it, there’s something alluring about a large university–so much opportunity to learn, explore and discover; but I am also aware that many college students experience periods of deep aloneness, confusion and sadness. I couldn’t overcome that nagging sense that my little boy was going to get swallowed up in the machine and come out of the experience feeling very alone. Numerous articles point to the need for a safety net for those at risk of depression and suicidal thoughts. (this piece from NPR is a good one to review) I was pleased to learn that the UC system has been proactive in mental health awareness and care…but I am convinced that one positive healthy step is to find a caring community that helps students build a bridge from home life to living on their own.

Two weeks after classes began, I asked Will if he’d connected with any groups on campus. He was really eager to tell me about his experience with Christians at UCSD, a gathering of students and mentors who meet for worship on campus and small group gatherings in the larger neighborhood. This group quickly became a place for Will to engage in faith conversations with other students and be in an inclusive environment for anyone exploring faith and other deep topics.

Throughout the year, Will has met weekly with other students on Friday night at the home of Paul and Tina. This awesome couple has opened their home every week to 15+ students where they make a meal together, break bread and have good conversation. And occasionally, students get to take leftovers home. Can you imagine being a place of peace for hungry college students who just need a loving touch at the end of the week? I can’t tell you how much this has meant to me…knowing that Will is loved and cared for by other adults who want to see him flourish. When I told Tina how much I appreciated everything they’ve done for the students, she said, “It’s our privilege and our salvation.” What a beautiful sentiment.

As much as I enjoy giving advice and telling my kids what to do “if I were in your shoes…” I think it’s healthy to trust that the foundation we laid from birth to 18 yrs is a good one to build upon. My son needs to navigate “big boy” challenges through conversations with professors, TAs, roommates and yes, even with his other–way more cool and hip—parents. To experience disappointment and loss and even the big joys with a new community willing to listen and love him.

Thank you to our Paul and Tina, and to the countless adults out there who are dedicated to being generous, big-hearted people making a difference in the lives of students.