Join a presentation from the MCHHS diversity, equity and inclusion council on Zoom at 3:30 p.m. March 26.
The panel will discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionally affected women and communities of color. They will also provide resources to combat these disparities.
Zoom Meeting ID: 948 4263 9049
- Dr. Chris Craig, deputy provost
- Dola Flake, diversity transition and support coordinator, Bears L.E.A.D.
- Denise Lofton, interim assistant director, human resources-benefits
- Dr. Shurita Thomas-Tate, assistant professor, communication sciences and disorders
- Dr. Eunice Gititu, physician medical staff, Magers Health and Wellness Center
During COVID-19 lockdowns in March 2020, Missouri State University offered a “virtual friend” program for international students who were unable to travel back to their home countries.
The program piqued the interest of Deborah Cron, clinical professor of speech-language pathology in the communication sciences and disorders department. She volunteered and formed a friendship with an international student from China.
Then she had an idea.
Many international students arrive at Missouri State wanting to improve their English speaking. This was no different for Cron’s virtual friend.
In summer 2020, Cron and Jinzi Fan, China programs specialist, developed a program for SLP graduate students to meet virtually with international students to practice pronunciation techniques.
“When COVID hit, the Chinese students I work with were suddenly isolated,” Fan said. “But they were still eager to learn. This program is an opportunity for them to improve their English beyond their classes.”
The virtual program continued via zoom after campus reopened in fall 2020 and is now a flourishing partnership between SLP and International Programs.
Staying connected through culture
For SLP graduate students Monica Ballay, Hanah Braden, Ashton Doza and Brendyn Petty, the program gave them a different perspective of culture.
“We learn a lot about the international students’ cultures working with them,” Braden said. “But we also learn about our own culture, as we explain the context of certain terms and their pronunciations.”
Yidan Ge, an international student from China who participates in the program, echoes that sentiment. Ge appreciated learning important aspects of American culture, while also making progress with her English.
“I’ve only been in the States for a year,” Ge said. “So, it’s been really nice to stay connected with this group and be able to practice during the weirdness of COVID.”
The goal of the pronunciation sessions is to help them produce speech sounds that non-native English speakers use in their mother language. The students also learn context, vocal inflection and sentence structure.
“We never want to erase someone’s native accent,” Cron said. “The goal is to make their English understandable.”
Ge says English slang, vowel sounds and plural pronunciations are what she struggles with most.
“Take ‘clothes,’ for example,” she said. “I used to pronounce it like ‘clothe-is.’ But this group has helped me work on those plural pronunciations.”
How to participate
Students, faculty, staff, alumni, even community members coming from any language background can sign up for upcoming sessions by sending an email to Deborah Cron.
Include “English Pronunciation Groups” in the email subject line.
It’s not a surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many existing mental health problems. The world is still experiencing a collective trauma, and many people aren’t getting help.
“We are facing a national mental health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come,” reads the 2020 “Stress in America” Survey, published yearly by the American Psychological Association.
For college students, the stress of the pandemic has added additional weight to an already heavy problem.
The college student mental health crisis
Prior to 2020, college students were already high on the mental health priority list.
In 2018, 62% of college students reported feeling overwhelming anxiety in the last 12 months. In the same survey, 41% reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function.
By fall 2020, 89% of college students reported actively experiencing stress or anxiety because of COVID-19. One in four students said their existing depression significantly increased.
Dr. Danae Hudson, a clinical psychologist and clinical psychology graduate program coordinator at Missouri State University, cites a lack of access to treatment as one of the factors in the severity of the crisis.
“Access has been a problem for a long time,” she said. “It’s complicated by COVID because there is an increase in the prevalence of people who are struggling, and it is difficult to see someone in an office setting with social distancing measures.”
The combination of decreased access to treatment, isolation, the loss of traditional campus life and regular academic stress makes the college student situation more complex than it has been in the past.
“Usually, the top stressors for college students are related to finances, academics, relationships, job outlook and identity, in that order,” Hudson said.
In the era of COVID, stress about health and safety has taken the top spot, pushing out a focus on identity.
“This makes sense from a psychological standpoint,” she said. “People need to make sure they’re safe and that they are going to live before they start thinking about what they want their futures to look like.”
This heightened sense of survival has taken its toll on everyone, including college students. Nearing the anniversary of the March 2020 shutdowns, many have reported burnout and exhaustion.
Hudson believes these feelings of fatigue stem from a heightened, prolonged stress response. With the onset of stress, your body goes into alarm mode, then builds up resistance, which is eventually followed by a period of exhaustion. This is known in psychology as general adaptation syndrome.
“I think we’ve entered that exhaustion phase,” she said. “When we mobilized in spring 2020, we had no idea how long this was going to last. We started sprinting for a 5k, when it’s really a marathon.”
Supporting students through the crisis
Hudson believes the best way for people in the college sphere to support students during the heightened COVID-19 stress is to be flexible.
“We have to have grace for each other,” she said. “People are struggling in different ways, but we are all struggling to some extent.”
As a professor, Hudson’s priority is that her students are okay. Her expectations for late work, exams and class attendance have had to change in the wake of students’ significant COVID-19 and mental health struggles.
“We’re not living in the ‘real world’ right now,” she said. “Our expectations have to be different. I want my students to feel supported more than anything else.”
She also recommends that students extend the same grace to themselves that they would to a friend. It’s an idea she calls radical acceptance.
“You have to learn to tell yourself, ‘Maybe I’m not going to be at my best, and that’s okay. I just need to get through this,’” she said.
Missouri State resources
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, contact the Missouri State Counseling Center.