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College Life

Clearing up the Confusion Behind the Phrase “Be Yourself”

Ayusha Mahajan

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Two college students having a blast balancing books on their heads and reading at a table, laughing and smiling

Most college students battle with identity, acceptance, and self-perception. Several variables contribute to the idea of what it means to “be yourself,” some of which are not immediately obvious.

The journey as a college student typically begins with the advice to “be yourself,” among other such vague statements. Hundreds of articles explain its importance.

The belief that happiness and satisfaction will automatically present themselves when we remain true to ourselves is ingrained in cultures that value individuality. But what does it mean to “be yourself,” and how valid is this statement? Additionally, do variables like social norms and mental illnesses further complicate individuality?

What does “being yourself” really mean?

According to Katrina P. Jongman-Sereno and Mark Leary, this commonly-used phrase can refer to one of three ideas: the expression of true “physiological states, emotions, and beliefs”; acting according to one’s values and morals; or displaying consistency in the Big Five traits.

If faced with extreme external pressure, one may lose their composure or sense of diplomacy and express their true emotions. They may also feel a sense of cognitive dissonance or guilt upon acting in a way that goes against their morals or religious beliefs.

Finally, they may display a combination of complementary traits such as introversion and discipline, extraversion and agreeableness, etc. These three interpretations of what it means to “be yourself” provide some clarity to the phrase.

Being true to oneself is perhaps valued because of the sense of fulfillment it provides regarding the meaning of life. We surround identity with an overarching narrative that is symbiotic to it. However, it is important to note that identities are fluid, and we cannot stick to one identity our whole life.

We combine accumulated highlights from our past with our view of the future to create an identity in the present. It can be suggested, then, that a sense of identity is usually not an end goal, but rather a prompt when navigating life circumstances.

One Reddit user contributed the following to a discussion on what it means to “be yourself”:

“My interpretation of it is finding out who you are outside of your previous surroundings/company. You get to really find out what you like/dislike when you’re away from people that know you. You can have new experiences without judgement.”

Society and how it fits within the narrative

There’s a layer of complexity to the concept of what it means to “be yourself.” Identities do not exist in isolation – we are shaped by the biological, social, cultural, and economic spheres within which our lives take place.

As a result, it goes without saying that social norms play a notable role in how we identify and express ourselves. Groups and their conventions can have extreme effects on identity – suppressing it on one end, or resulting in conformation on the other.

Man in a black shirt and glasses looking at himself in the mirror
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One Redditor commented:

“I’ve noticed that I’ve picked up a lot of the personality traits of my friends at college and the same has happened to my friends from high school. It’s all about who you surround yourself with. You’ll end up talking and acting just like the people you surround yourself with.”

A study done by Amanda Koontz Anthony and Janice McCabe explored how engagement with friend groups can construct our sense of identity. They coined the abstract term “friendship talk,” referring to the act of building an identity based on conversation.

By engaging in “friendship talk” and making friends (a key component of identity construction), one is more likely to draw out their personality traits simply by looking at the differences between them and their friends.

While this may be a subconscious exercise, forming a personality solely in relation to others can be harmful to your personality’s accuracy. Anthony and McCabe further discuss the likeliness of this occurrence with college students as they move away from home.

Since humans are creatures with complex traits that are accumulated over the courses of their lives, a group cannot be completely homogeneous. As a result, every group assigns “roles” to each member. Groups may have the “smart friend,” the “hard worker,” the “class clown,” etc.

It’s plausible that such designations occur early on and are made concrete in high school. Most high schools in the U.S. have yearbook practices, where students are given predicted roles such as “most likely to succeed.”

Carrying these roles with you into your college life might result in conflict between your younger self and your more developed identity as the two fight for relevance in your present life.

Mental health and how it complicates the narrative

As of April 2016, one in four college students is likely to have a diagnosable mental illness. Nearly 42% of college students felt that they were unable to function due to their depression in 2018. Two-thirds of the student population with a mental disorder don’t seek treatment.

Some of the most common mental disorders in American colleges are depression, anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, sleeping issues/disorders, and self-injury.

It would be worth, therefore, exploring the significance of mental illness in identity development in college. According to a 2015 study done by Jessica Samuolis et al., being diagnosed with a mental illness strongly predicts “very severe distress related to the identity domains of friendships and long-term goals.”

Career paths and social relationships are significantly affected when one is contemplating their identity under the burden of a distorted self-perception prompted by their respective mental illness(es).

A concept called “negative affect” also plays a role in influencing identity. Brian Massumi defines affect as distinct from emotion — it transcends conscious emotional awareness. Negative affectivity, in extension, is the association of feelings such as shame, guilt, disgust, or fear with one’s personality. Samuolis et al. explain that there are ties between mental illness in adolescents and such visceral negative associations.

Illnesses pertaining to social interaction such as social anxiety disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, etc. may then play a harmful role in self-perceptions. One may fall into a spiral of inaccurate thoughts about oneself that may drive them to isolate themselves.

This isolation may encourage them to keep a negative and wrongly-concluded idea of who they are. The question of what it means to “be yourself” need not be purely philosophical; it can also be approached in a practical way. As Alan Watts famously said, “A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts. So, he loses touch with reality and lives in a world of illusions.”

What can we do to be more authentic?

We’ve established so far that identity is a fluid construct with varying levels of authenticity that can be influenced by external societal norms. How can we strive to achieve our current most authentic selves, in that case?

In his book Client-Centered Therapy, Carl Rogers tackles the role of authenticity in everyday functioning. He concludes that patients who responded truthfully and authentically to questions, disregarding the blanket of norms thrown on society, are more likely to progress in therapy. Being in groups that allow one to express their interests and opinions is essential to uncovering one’s identity.

While it is important to be challenged by varying perspectives, groups that make you fine-tune fundamental aspects of your identity to fit in may not be worth engaging with. Join groups that bring out the best in your personality and morals, while at the same time allowing you to develop as an individual.

Being part of multiple groups can also be healthy in cultivating an identity. Club culture is an intrinsic part of college. By engaging with communities that compliment your identity – be it social reform, media, or technology, engagement with activities that adhere to your interests further shapes your identity. It is important to only involve yourself in groups that are accepting of your ideals, morals, interests, and orientations.

There are a lot of meanings behind what it means to “be yourself”. But whether those variables line up with who we are now, or would like to be in the future is an important consideration to make.

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College Life

4 Ideas for Celebrating Thanksgiving at College

Nicholas Cordes

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Large dining room table beautifully set with a full thanksgiving dinner spread

As COVID-19 cases surge in the United States and travel becomes more difficult,  many college students are making the decision to remain at their university for Thanksgiving break. With many families making the safe decision to cancel any gatherings, many students will celebrate the holiday in an unusual fashion this year. However, there are still a number of ways to get festive this year, even with an abnormal climate surrounding the holiday season.

1) Zoom Thanksgiving Feast

By now, Zoom and other video apps have become a go-to solution for friends and family looking to connect amid the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. With its easy accessibility, large capacity for meetings, and simple design, Zoom has quickly become the staple home for meetings and classes. Family gatherings don’t have to be an exception.

With everyone able to join a video call, Thanksgiving meals can be shared over the phone. While it might be difficult for college students to cook the more elaborate dishes of a traditional Thanksgiving meal, students can hopefully make do with what they can find at the local grocery store. Additionally, there are countless ways to get creative with a dormitory microwave, especially with simple potato recipes and the now-iconic mug desserts that can be easily manipulated into the resemblance of a classic Thanksgiving pie.

An old recipe for rolls, on a stained lined paper, a recipe that has been in the family for years and modified over time.
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Because of the pandemic, the distance between college students and their loved ones is highly impacted, making, gathering for Thanksgiving dinner complicated and, for many, unsafe. However, by making use of today’s video technology, students can still share the upcoming holiday with their loved ones, no matter where they are in the world.

2) Pass on Traditional Recipes

One of the classic traditions associated with Thanksgiving is the food. No other holiday sets such a precedent for its meals, and Thanksgiving has established some of its dishes as once-a-year meals. With the distance between individuals at this time of year, it can be difficult for everyone to share their favorite recipes, but perhaps it’s a sign to pass on these traditional recipes to the next generation, who can create their own versions. 

The aforementioned dormitories can make this trickier for students, but there are still plenty of ways to get creative. While a whole turkey is difficult for anyone to perfect, some of the smaller recipes can be easily recreated with a little time and thought. Of course, guidance from parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles would be appreciated, and it would create an innovative tradition for these unusual times.  

3) Express Your Thanks

For some, this might be an obvious idea. Still, it can never hurt to express your gratitude a little more. This past year has drained everyone, so we must be especially aware and appreciative of how much we still have left. We’ve learned how much we take for granted, so now is the time to show love and gratitude, ether for one’s health, friends, family, home, or even work. On the days leading up to and following Thanksgiving Day, we should be sure to share our appreciation for the people closest to us and thank those who help make our lives a little easier.

A person in a blue shirt, standing and holding the fortune from a fortune cookie towards the camera, with the caption "You have so much to be thankful for."
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Many families go around the dinner table at home and share what they are most thankful for. For those celebrating together this year, that tradition can continue as planned. However, for those practicing social distancing or staving off the long trip home this week, there are several ways to show your recognition for the things that make your life better.

Again, Zoom and phone calls can play an important role here, but there are still plenty of opportunities to branch out for a long text, giving yourself a moment to think about what you want to say to precisely describe your love and appreciation for your friends and family. A mailed letter can be just as effective and even more personal. Even modern Facebook and Instagram posts can be shared with everyone. Regardless, it is all too important to show your love for those closest to you, especially at this time of year.

4) Delivery Meals

With social distancing being an important part of limiting the spread of COVID-19, many families will limit their gatherings or even forego them entirely this year. Traditionally, the week and day of Thanksgiving would involve all sorts of sharing of food. To maintain safety measures, our ability to do that has decreased substantially. However, it’s still possible to share the feast with our friends and family without gathering together in one place.

With just a few plastic Tupperware containers, you can easily package up Thanksgiving dishes for at-home delivery. Simply let the recipient know to expect it (or don’t, for a surprise!), drop it off at their door, and share the home-cooked food that is a custom of this holiday. This can especially be a treat for other college students living nearby, as many don’t have access to cooking their own meals in the dorms.

Regardless of how you celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday this year, it’s important to maintain safe practices and social distancing when possible. College students are acutely aware of the danger that comes from scattering nationwide for a week. With these few ideas, you can help to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while still celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday.

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College Life

The State of College Football in 2020

Ian Wentzlaff

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Football player carrying the ball and running towards the end zone as the other team hustles to catch up to him

This college football season feels different than any that have come before. Perhaps it is the fact that teams in various conferences experienced a staggered start to the season. Another explanation is that the typically packed stadiums are half-empty, with fans being socially distanced inside. Certainly, the black cloud of COVID-19 looms over college football.

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out earlier this year, fans and players begrudgingly relinquished their sports seasons. Several professional leagues, including the NBA and NHL, successfully crowned a champion, finishing their seasons off in a fashion that satisfied even the most die-hard fans.

However, doubt still lingered as to whether football season would kick off as normal. Other sports were able to successfully finish their seasons, but football would attempt to start and finish a season without batting an eye. Another wrench in the works: college teams would still need to travel in order to play against each other. The NBA, NHL, and MLB were able to significantly mitigate the risk to players and coaches by moving all teams to one or two “bubble” locations where they could isolate from the virus.

The decision to hold a 2020 college football season was met with mixed reviews inside and around the NCAA, the governing agency of college athletics. Certain conferences opted to sit out the entire season, citing that the revenue simply did not justify the health risk to everyone involved. However, after several weeks of sitting out, some of those conferences decided to take part in the season anyway.

A football laid down so the grips are facing up, a white stripe on both ends of the ball
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This indecisiveness caused many schools to play an odd number of games. Currently, the NCAA is 5 weeks into the season. Certain teams, such as the Alabama Crimson Tide, have played in all 5 weeks. Others have only played one game so far, and others still are determined to place the health and safety of their universities over the opportunity to make money. 

An argument has been made that the risk the virus poses to young people is minuscule, and the economic opportunities provided by NCAA football is sorely needed now. However, consider the fact that young people can still die from this virus. In fact, unlike the NBA, which did not record a single positive test throughout the bubble, college football players have already lost their lives to the virus.

Adding to the concern, universities across the country are reporting new COVID-19 cases every day. Many of the nation’s top football programs have cases numbering in the thousands on their home campuses. Still, the NCAA is willing to gamble on the lives of young people.

This is certainly not a new development for the NCAA, which uses an unpaid labor force of student athletes to generate massive revenue every year. Additionally, some programs made it clear that if their players opted out of this season, they were off the team. Subsequently, many players decided to return to the field, more afraid of losing their scholarship and education than of contracting the virus.

Now, as the 2020 college football season approaches its halfway point, many still wonder if it will reach its intended conclusion. The impact of the virus has of course been felt on the playing field. Teams have been forced to resort to backups more often as their starters have fallen ill; one game even had to be cancelled when Vanderbilt could not field a healthy team of the 53 players required by conference regulations. 

Zoomed out, aerial shot of the Rose Bowl Stadium
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Across the programs of the county, dozens of players and coaches have caught the virus. Even the sports’ biggest icons have not been immune. Nick Saban, the head coach and architect of Alabama’s recent dynasty, tested positive just earlier this month. All of these players and coaches missing games has led to one of the most improbable starts to the season, where a major upset seems likely to happen every week.

Still, what will it take for an improbable end to this season of college football? When will the NCAA admit it has made a grave mistake by risking the lives of so many people, especially when most are unpaid, poor college kids? The long road to winning a championship is paved with the hardships that have been overcome along the way, but perhaps now is the time to stop and rest, to recover before any more lives are unnecessarily lost for the sake of sports.

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College Life

Five Easy Ways to Reap the Benefits of Virtual College Tours

Abrar Shah

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Man in a suit giving a virtual college tour

Even with a ranging pandemic dictating the American way of life, little can stop the desires of up-and-coming college students to know more about their schools. This opens up one of the few possible alternatives: virtual college tours. Whether you are on a budget, don’t have the means to travel extensive distances, or simply do not want to travel in this climate, virtual tours may be the gateway to help you determine how to push through your higher education. 

  1. Snatch the opportunity to see what classroom and building interiors are like

Unlike middle school and high school tours, college tours do not offer visitors the liberty of seeing a class in action or even allow them to see a classroom at all. Virtual tours, however, allow you to see the inside of nearly any building you may be using on-campus, depending on how much coverage the particular school decided to allow for their virtual tours. For some people, this alone is a game-changer, so make sure you exercise this opportunity to the fullest.

  1. With classes now almost exclusively online at many schools, see if you can sit in on on

This is something you should check in on with school representatives if possible. Many campuses across the country are now using Zoom or other distance-learning methods, and it is very likely that you may be allowed to join one as a silent observer. Of course, this can only be discovered when you enquire about it, but many schools will be happy to allow prospective students a front-line look into their academics. I recall quite well that in the various incarnations of grade school, there would be prospective parents sitting in the classroom for some classes.

Since actual campus tours wouldn’t allow that, it should be much easier to do it virtually. 

  1. See if you can simulate a day at school

You will often understand a concept better through practice, so take advantage of simulating a day on campus and determine whether you can truly see yourself existing on the campus for however many years you intend to be there. Timing is everything and this can be a useful way to determine how much you will have to move around on any given day. 

  1. You can always decide to visit later if you feel that it’s worth it

Arguably the best advantage of virtual college tours is that you can do it within the comfort of your own home, while also being able to avoid the potentially lackluster in-person experience. Virtual tours will allow you to decide whether it’s worth the time and money to visit a certain school of your interest in-person to get the full authentic feel you may need to complete your decision. Additionally, virtual tours will also allow you to determine whether you will \need to keep a school in mind for the future; take advantage of the process of elimination whenever possible, especially if you are the kind of person that applies to many schools.

  1. Discover what matters to you (and ask all the questions)

The ability to see more means that you now have a reason to ask more questions than you would if you were actually on campus, since you would most likely be in a group and tours have strict timing and schedules. Do you need space to throw your javelins or do you derive satisfaction from simply watching basketball games?

You can approach your virtual tour as you see fit and you’ll very likely think of things you probably never would have ended up asking in person. When it comes to the college process, your genuine interest in a school does make a difference. However, you need to be very careful to not make your interest appear artificial, as people who spend their days handling college admissions will be quick to figure this out.

At the end of the day, you’re in charge of what you believe is best for you, and being prepared for what may lay ahead is only beneficial. Do not let something take more time than it needs to and swipe away opportunities now that you may not be able to get again later.

Perhaps it is the virtual tour that can justify your dream school or turn one that never was into one. Exercise your options effectively and you will reward yourself with the place you’re meant to be in going forward.

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