Seeking Support at Oberlin
April 29, 2023
Aishwarya Krishnaswamy ’23
This past week, I have been thinking a lot about sources of support, resilience, and the tendency to isolate during difficult times. Two events this past week sparked this thought in me. First, we welcomed Jayland Walker as a guest dancer in my somatic resilience class. Jayland is the founder of inCOPnegro Official, which explores the lines between law enforcement and African Americans through creative expressions (dance, music, podcasts). Second, the trauma-informed workshop led by OC alum Jesse Kohler '16 , "How to Engage Healing and Creating a Community of Support."
In my somatics class, we moved around the room, embodying the resilience in our own bodies. First, we walked around the room, focusing on our own rhythm, speed, alignment, and thoughts. After this, we slowly started opening up to the people around us, our community. A question that kept coming up in class is, why do we isolate ourselves when we hit a valley and only emerge into the community when we hit a peak? Why is there such a strong pull to hide, isolate and withdraw from the community until we are on level 10, bad, or only when things get better? I have experienced this as well! Isn't supporting each other through joyous and painful moments the essence of a healthy community? Why do we push away the very support we crave and instead prioritize our ego and pride?
Through movement, expression, and listening to Jayland's podcast, all of us in class were left questioning our understanding of resilience. Is asking for help and leaning into support of our community, this Oberlin community, mutually exclusive from resilience? Now I'm getting ahead of myself. What does resilience in our body even look like? Some of the answers from our class included "finding the light in my body" and "recognizing I have something to go back to."
Previously, Dev Bry held a workshop where I learned the power behind regulating my nervous system. Bry voiced that one nervous system is enough to regulate multiple dysregulated systems. In simple terms, self-regulation transcends beyond yourself and helps people around you (including yourself) find a place to ground. Similarly, dysregulation also transcends just like "cell signaling" through which plants and ecosystems communicate with each other to restore a sense of equilibrium. While space, distance, and going in on ourselves might be essential and even necessary for some people, beyond the cocooning phase, healing takes place in the community with the support of all of our nervous systems seeking equilibrium which is peace, joy, and pleasure.
With this in mind, I left class chewing on how to build a community that fosters safety where Obies like myself can go when we are down, when it's too hard to show our face to the world and be vulnerable, although that is exactly what we need, a space to be held, seen, and supported. Coincidently, right after class, I attended Jesse Kohler's Trauma Healing and community building workshop. Jesse shared his experience at Oberlin and the inspiration behind his interest in cultivating communities of healing. During this workshop, a group of support staff and students brainstormed some places of support and resources that students access to seek support at Oberlin. Here is the list we came up with:
Most of us agreed that commiserating with friends who share/ have shared the same experience (disability, family situation, financial need, etc.) can be very healing. We further added that having different pools of friends can be beneficial. For example, keeping in touch with our friends from home can help us step out of all the circulating anxiety from the Ochem exam and step into a different zone and talk about things outside of Oberlin. Moreover, it is worth investing in our acquaintances to avoid solely relying on our two to three core friends. I have found it very easy to coop myself into little bubbles. While cultivating a tight-knit relationship is rewarding, isolating ourselves from other friendships is ultimately detrimental. Relying on more than one or two people to meet all my needs is an important lesson I have had to learn here.
However, it is important to recognize that forming friendships at Oberlin can be challenging to begin with, especially when you are a first-year student. In this case, seeking support from the elders in the community might be a more accessible first step.
2. Trauma-informed professors & supervisors
Molly (name changed) expressed that she was a first-year during the pandemic and found it extra challenging to lean into friends for support. Her professors were her primary source of support when shit hit the roof. Many professors at Oberlin are known to go over and above when it comes to caring for their students, which I am very grateful for. Unfortunately, not every professor at Oberlin takes a trauma-informed approach. Furthermore, the power dynamics and the fear of being judged academically tend to deter students from approaching their professors for support beyond the course content. Most often, the emotional things, aka life, get in the way of academic performance, not the content itself. Having our Oberlin professors take a trauma-informed approach would benefit students, their friends, and the entire community.
3. Support Staff
Wellness coaches, success coaches, Office of Spirituality and Dialogue, no matter what they are called ten years from now. Oberlin definitely has some gems dressed as student support staff who are committed to improving the student experience on campus. Monique, Kim, Debra, and Anna have been some solid pillars of support I have leaned on during some of my toughest times at Oberlin. Last year, spring of 2022, I did an independent study with Monique on Boundaries which helped me tremendously both in my academic and personal life. Independent studies are a great avenue to take your academics into your own hands and learn about something that is most pertinent and interesting to you.
4. Counselling Center
Undoubtedly, the counseling center is a great source of support during crises and hardships. One of the reasons this is not higher on the list is that the counseling center can be oversaturated at times (especially at times of high need). We have phenomenal psychologists here but only so many therapists for an entire campus. There have been times when I have had to wait for over two weeks to get an appointment, and two weeks is a long time when you are desperately seeking support. There are crisis hours in the counseling center, which is beneficial for quick de-escalation if you can make it during those specific times.
Most co-opers would agree that we support each other in both sickness and in health. I am currently dining at the Third World Coop. Eating a meal with fellow co-opers gives me instant support. Moreover, when life is hard, and I don't want to show my face, I still need to go to the co-op to eat. Before joining the co-op, dining was a very isolating experience for me. I would end up working while eating or taking my food back to my room. Sharing a yummy hot meal with other people is healing in itself.
Thanks for reading!! Spread love, peace, and regulated nervous systems ;)
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