Student Activists on the Brink at Brown

It has finally happened. You are adrift.

A raft of badly lashed-together memories and a few fairly buoyant facts: That watercraft is you. But thanks to an article in The Brown Daily Herald, the Ivy League university's student paper, you are listing badly. You are at sea.

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"Schoolwork, Advocacy Place Strain," says the headline, "On Student Activists." You have to admit: It's a good one. It catches your eye. An undergraduate named David is quoted, though David's name "has been changed to preserve anonymity." Must be dangerous work, you think. Top secret stuff. You read on.

This is what the-student-who-isn't-really-David has to say: "There are people breaking down, dropping out of classes and failing classes because of the activism work they are taking on." You've always admired students who get involved. You do not want them to drop out. You do not want them to break down.

But isn't Brown a place where, thanks to its no-longer-new New Curriculum, courses can be taken pass/fail? You will have to look this up. Could those who are active try to work on budgeting their time? You cannot say.

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According to Herald reporter Mei Novak, "David spent numerous hours organizing demonstrations with fellow activists. Meanwhile, he struggled to balance his classes, job and social life with the activism to which he feels so dedicated. Stressors and triggers flooded his life constantly, he said."

Stressors. Triggers. Flooding. You sympathize with this busy undergraduate who is code-named David. But you've got worries of your own. Your raft of middle-age, of everything you've learned, is leaking. It is tipping over.

Aren't students at a university de facto grown-ups, you think, trying to bail some water. If not, then what about those their age who are already parents? What about those hauling around state-of-the art weaponry in the U.S. Marines? Or those in charge of massive, earth-moving machinery on a hard-hat job?

You are just asking. You flip the page...

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"My grades dropped dramatically," David continues. "My health completely changed. I lost weight. I'm on antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills right now." According to the Herald, "David... reached out to deans for notes that extended his deadlines for assignments. These were helpful, he said, but acted only as 'bandages' for the underlying causes of stress."

Stress. Anxiety. You are feeling some right now.

Your raft of middle age has reached a crisis of its own. It requires counseling. It is desperate for an extended deadline. Just one.

It is in need of David's bandages--and it needs them now. While there's time, you drop the newspaper in a bin that's solar-powered for compacting.

There is no doubt now.

You are going down.

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Peter Mandel is the author of the read-aloud bestseller Jackhammer Sam (Macmillan/Roaring Brook) and other books for kids, including Zoo Ah-Choooo (Holiday House) and Bun, Onion, Burger (Simon & Schuster).