Portrait of President Lyle Roelofs

In many ways, the Berea College student experience of today is the same as it was in the past. Learning in the classroom, through the Labor Program and from each other are hallmarks of the present experience
and of the experience of generations of Bereans. But today’s students come to campus with experiences that require a sharper focus on their mental health and well-being.

It is true that every generation of Berea students has overcome challenges and learned resilience through them, and some may think that opportunities for learning, labor and service were sufficient to overcoming obstacles. Alumni accomplishments over time might confirm that, but it is important to recognize that many Bereans in the past did not finish their degree. Today, a focus on mental health improves success and graduation rates.

In many ways, the environment of the current Berea College student has changed. The reasons for the changes are much debated, but a partial list would include changes to the nature of rural poverty from subsistence to dependency; degradation of family support structures and increased substance abuse; an increasing wealth gap that presents greater challenges to the impoverished than it did in earlier decades; and resulting greater pressure to succeed in four short years. Additionally, the rise of social media has been shown to be quite toxic to the mental health of young people.

Berea students in 2020, ever as deserving of education and opportunity as past generations, are still learning so much in the classroom, at their jobs and from one another. But for some, more support is needed. The challenge is not unique to Berea. I do not know of a single college, regardless of the populations served, that isn’t finding it necessary to offer more mental-health support for its students.

Fortunately, at Berea, we have accepted the challenge of figuring out how to meet that need in our students. A number of dedicated, expert Bereans are working hard in this area and are having a great deal of impact. A prime
indicator of our success is that graduation rates are rising steadily, even as the challenges students must overcome have also been increasing.

This issue of Berea College Magazine offers a close-up, real-life view of the current student experience, focusing on student mental health and the support the College offers. The theme is especially significant for these times of COVID-19 and the related challenges students have faced and overcome. You will meet several wonderful faculty and staff members whose work with our amazing students is making such an important difference.

Our discerning friends and alumni will understand that all of our efforts require College resources. We are grateful, as always, for your support as we continue to offer the best education money can’t buy—and I do mean the best!

Lyle D. Roelofs

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