Examining ‘High Anxiety, the Race to Success’

The view of the Channel Islands from Westmont's famed rockWhy are student anxiety and performance pressure so prevalent at colleges and high schools? “It’s as if we’re asking students to be achievement machines,” a high school teacher said to Chris Hoeckley, director of the Westmont Gaede Institute for the liberal arts.

The Gaede Institute tackles this worrisome national issue at the 18th annual Conversation on the Liberal Arts, “High Anxiety: Liberal Arts and the Race to Success.” More than 70 scholars and administrators from 20 colleges and universities throughout the country will participate, with some schools sending sizable delegations. The conference runs from Thursday, March 21, to Saturday, March 23, at Westmont. The plenary sessions are free and open to the public. A complete schedule is available at westmont.edu/institute or call (805) 565-­6124.

Hoeckley recently returned from several days visiting high schools and says every time the conversation turned to what students experience when they look past graduation, the conversation exploded with uncertainty, confusion, frenzy, anxiety and stress.

“Anxiety in college is often the product of years of anxiety about college,” he says “This week’s national college admissions bribery scandal reflects the worry about getting the right grades, participating in the right extracurriculars and choosing the right school so students can attach a prestigious institution to their name and resume. Performance pressures are at an all-time high, and caring for students demands even more attention. This event couldn’t come at a better time.

“Liberal arts undergraduate education should offer an antidote to these anxieties—a chance (perhaps the chance) to wrestle with the big questions at a time when young adults can benefit from learning for its own sake. But having known academic life as what one critic calls ‘a high-stakes, 12-year sprint,’ students understandably have trouble slowing down to enjoy, and to be formed by, the kind of broad exploration that liberal education offers.”

The conference features Timothy K. Eatman, the inaugural dean of Rutgers University-Newark’s Honors Living-Learning Community; Jaco Hamman, associate professor of religion, psychology, and culture at Vanderbilt University; and Connie Horton, vice president for student affairs at Pepperdine University.

In addition, Westmont hosts “The Rising Tide of Student Anxiety,” a day-long workshop sponsored by the college and the Association for Christians in Student Development (ACSD). A pre-conference session for the Conversation on the Liberal Arts, the workshop has drawn about 60 officials from 14 different institutions. The event takes place Wednesday, March 20, at 9:15 a.m. in the Westmont Global Leadership Center. Tickets to the workshop, which cost $100 and include breakfast and lunch, may be purchased at westmont.edu/gaede-institute/programs/pre-conference-praxis-workshop.

“I’m most looking forward to exploring this critical topic from a variety of perspectives that may help higher education professionals engage more wisely and effectively in response and prevention work with students who experience high levels of anxiety,” says organizer Angela D’Amour, Westmont director of campus life.

Steve Beers, vice president of student life at John Brown University, and Eric Nelson, director of counseling at Westmont, will lead the conversation on these critical matters. Student life professionals, higher education administrators and faculty who are concerned about student well-being are invited to attend.

Afternoon panels include Felicia Song, Westmont associate professor of sociology; Jane Wilson, Westmont professor of education; Timothy Van Haitsma, Westmont associate professor of kinesiology; Lisa Igram, Biola University dean of student wellness; Shino Simons, Azusa Pacific University vice president for student life, Stu Cleek, Westmont dean of students, André Stevens, Biola University vice president for student development; Kim Stave, Multnomah University dean of students; and Edee Schulze, Westmont vice president for student life.