“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Such begins “Mending Wall,” a widely known and often analyzed poem by 20th-century writer Robert Frost. Focusing on two New England farmers who separate their properties — and subsequently their personal lives — by building a stone wall, Frost’s poem questions whether good fences really do make “good neighbors.” And, for many curious readers, the poem calls something equally important — especially to this column — into question as well: What is the “something” that doesn’t love a wall?
My answer, however plain it may seem, can be summed up in just one word: love.
As I’ve come to understand them, humans have a destructive habit of protecting themselves, of building walls in places where bridges should be formed. These walls exist all around us: as in “Mending Wall,” sometimes they exist between people. Particularly relevant to the realm of mental health and to “Mindful Mondays” as a whole, sometimes they exist within ourselves. And while these seemingly impenetrable boundaries appear to block out the bad, so too do they block out the good.
At USC, it’s no secret that the University really does love walls. An observation fairly obvious to any student who calls the campus home, the University’s extensive network of security checkpoints — physical walls, in a sense — has shut out the very community with which it claims to identify. Perhaps more relevant to this discussion, however, are the metaphorical walls that shut out the very Trojan Family it claims to welcome.
In this case, as I attempt to frame an understanding of USC’s relationship with its students, an overused yet all-too-relevant cliché comes to mind: “Money can’t buy love.” In other words, no matter how many Villages or Starbucks it builds, the University cannot create a thriving student body unless it loves its students; money can buy a fancy house but not necessarily a home.
I touched upon this topic last April in one of my articles, which detailed my experience as I tried, and failed, to find counseling in the Engemann Student Health Center. After it received numerous complaints similar to mine, the Provost’s office promised to improve the efficiency of its floundering system.
But based on its track record, I’m not entirely sure that the health center will. Over the years, USC has done a commendable job creating a school that ostensibly prioritizes wellness only to look the other way when students try to reach out for help — and I have no reason to believe the University won’t do the same this time around. That’s why, to some extent, students must learn how to count on themselves.
And that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. After all, the first step toward wellness must be taken by the individual; circling back to the central theme of love, confronting one’s personal issues requires at least some degree of self-love — a concept that, more and more recently, has unfortunately been watered down to staying hydrated and applying face masks. So, as they transition into a time of independence, students need to realize that recognizing one’s mental health concerns, making lifestyle changes and reaching out for help (albeit outside of USC services) are actually the mature, responsible things to do.
Students also need to realize, however, that they must extend that love to their peers. That means actually discussing mental health problems instead of using them as the punchline for jokes; of course, being transparent about one’s personal issues becomes much easier when the listening party is welcoming and receptive. It also means taking the extra step to check on friends during times of need — a simple text or phone call can truly go a long way for someone who feels their cries for help consistently fall on deaf ears.
In a sense, “Mindful Mondays” is my own show of support — of love — for students who feel trapped within the confines of walls built by fear and insecurity. Moving into the new semester, I hope the University will learn to love its students, but more importantly, I hope students will learn to love themselves. And if I’ve made only a chip in those walls by the end of this, then I’ve done my job.
Ryan Fawwaz is a sophomore majoring in journalism. His column, “Mindful Mondays,” runs every other Monday.