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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

February 21, 2020   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

Editorial: Whalen’s culture around mental health must change

On Ithaca College’s campus at night, it is not surprising that most academic buildings are rather quiet. But walk into the basement floor of the James J. Whalen Center for Music at night, and it is full of activity. Students flood the hallways and rehearsal rooms, and there are instruments and voices heard in every corner. 

Some of these students will spend the rest of their nights there until a member of the janitorial staff comes by and asks them to leave. These later hours allow students to squeeze in rehearsal times or put the finishing touches on performances and assignments, while getting very little sleep in the process.

This is the reality of many music majors at the college: the feeling of never being allowed to stop or take a break, even if that means disregarding the needs to sleep and eat. It is a culture that has inhabited the music school for years and is also a mentality that glorifies exhaustion.

Creating spaces where students can express their stress is a great start to addressing cultural issues in the school. The work that is currently being done by the Mental Health Awareness for Musicians Association (MHAMA) is providing an avenue for open dialogue and events for self-care implementation. 

Music students internalize very intense pressures to be perfect and to always meet the highest expectations. These often lead to students isolating themselves from their peers and being forced to face their stress alone, even when their peers are experiencing the same feelings. The work of MHAMA shows students they are not alone in the anxiety they face.

The efforts that are currently taking place in the school are important. They pave the way for future conversations regarding mental health within the school. There need to be continued efforts of opening this conversation, perhaps through additional resources, forums or even the implementation of a freshman seminar that prepares new students for the workload. The School of Music is a competitive school that is internationally renowned for training musicians to be masters at their crafts. Its high standards and rigorous training should not be compromised. However, the culture that makes students feel like they have to face the intense workload alone can and should be changed.