Arden Wise ’19 has been a fan of Syracuse University sports for as long as she can remember. But when it came time to choose a college, she was determined to find a school outside of New York State, where she and her twin brother were raised. Her college counselor recommended that she visit the Syracuse campus anyway, because she thought Wise’s interests in writing, journalism and communications would be well served here. “Within five minutes of arriving on campus, I knew I was in the right spot,” Wise recalls. “I actually left my campus tour early because I was already so sure I wanted to come to Syracuse.” She applied early decision and was accepted a few months later.
“The atmosphere at Syracuse University was enough to convince me,” she says. “I could just tell that everybody really wanted to be here, and that was what I wanted to find in the faculty and student body.”
Then she arrived on campus, and everything seemed to fall apart.
“I had a really difficult adjustment,” Wise recalls. “I had trouble navigating on my own, with decisions to make and responsibilities to take care of. Although I lived at boarding school for three years of high school, we didn’t have the freedom you have when you come to college. I even struggled with academics, and I think it was due to the anxiety and depression I felt. For a little while, I considered dropping out.”
Finding help in different places
Her parents, who live two hours southeast of Syracuse, were understanding and supportive. “They constantly reminded me that everything was my choice; they would love and support me whether I stayed at Syracuse, transferred or just took some time off,” she recalls. “I think having their support took the pressure off and helped me work through my problems at Syracuse instead of running away and facing the same things elsewhere.”
Wise decided to seek help through the campus resources that are available to all students. “The first thing I did was go to the Counseling Center,” she says. “The group counseling sessions did so much to help my mental health, and made me a more open person in general,” she notes. “The Counseling Center also directed me to additional resources that have been immensely helpful.“
Steps toward wellness
As Wise sought the connection she needed to feel a sense of belonging and stability, one of her classes made all the difference. It was Communication, Mindfulness and Social Justice, taught by Diane Grimes, Ph.D., associate professor in the College of Visual and Performing Arts’ (VPA) Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies. “Taking Dr. Grimes’s class was the very best thing that happened to me at Syracuse,” Wise says. “Not only did the class give me a passion for social justice, this incredible professor introduced me the concept of mindfulness practice that flipped my life upside down in the best way. It helped me become the happiest, most productive, and most creative version of myself, and I started being more forgiving with myself when things didn’t go exactly as planned.”
Wise also made the decision to pledge a sorority. “I come from a family of hippies, so Greek life is by no means what I was expecting from a college experience,” she laughs. “But I decided to go through recruitment to really push my boundaries. I was struggling to make Syracuse feel like a real community, and it was exactly what I needed to put myself out there and meet strong, supportive and genuine women.”
Once her perspective brightened, Wise was able to focus on improving her academic status. “I’ve raised my GPA every semester since freshman year, made the dean’s list six times, and I’m zeroing in on cum laude status upon graduation on May 12. I’ve attended numerous events and panels within my communication and rhetorical studies major, and was recently invited to sit down with Dean Tick from VPA to discuss my experience at Syracuse,” she says. One of her best memories is a semester she spent in a sketch comedy group through Newhouse’s Orange TV network. “It really pushed me outside my comfort zone and introduced me to some of the funniest, smartest and most creative people I have ever met,” she says.
Wise knows that what she went through is not unusual. Recent studies reflect a marked increase in the number of students who experience mental health issues during their college years, and Syracuse University offers a wide range of free resources to help students who are struggling with depression, anxiety, academic issues, gender or sexual identity, relationship problems, personal growth and overall well-being. “It can be helpful to remember that some measure of adjustment-related distress is common in the transition to college,” says Mariah Pfeiffer, LCSW-R, staff therapist at the University’s Counseling Center. “In addition to maintaining realistic expectations, self-care can build and support resilience.”
Memories for life
As her senior year winds down and she looks back over her four years at Syracuse, Wise knows she will take wonderful memories with her into the next stage of her life. “I’m positive I’ll remain in close contact with the friends and professors I’ve met here, because they are the type of people I never want to lose,” she asserts. “I realize I have come into my own at Syracuse University, and it really has become my home.”