Students Miss Having a Safe Space to Heal from Pandemic Aftermath
By: S. Rodriguez
Jeanie Owens was completing their last year in high school when COVID-19 shut down the state. Nearly two years later, they are a sophomore at CSI adapting to a fully remote semester, tackling mental health with help from the LGBTQ resource center.
“When you’re moved out of your house for your own safety it leaves a deep hole in you,” said Owens. “You’re always supposed to be safe in your own home.”
The LGBTQ Resource Center, run by Jeremiah Jurkiewicz has helped students who don’t receive support at home and feel isolated. Owens is not the only student who feels isolated. According to The Trevor Project, a hotline for LGBTQ youth experiencing suicidal thoughts reported that 80% of LGBTQ youth stated that COVID-19 made their living situation more stressful.
According to Jurkiewicz, before the pandemic, the resource center would have 5 to 8 students in attendance every week. Since the pandemic started, he’s lucky to get 1 to 4 students. He said this decrease may be the result of being at home and not having a private space to speak about LGBTQ+ issues or experiences.
“So much of their support and growth came from being together daily,” said Jurkiewicz. “This can be harder to do virtually.”
The Pandemic increased the number of people who struggle with specific types of anxiety. According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Specific phobias are the most commonly occurring anxiety disorder, affecting more than 19 million adults in the U.S.”
Since the pandemic, Owens was diagnosed with agoraphobia. This is defined as the fear of places and situations that might cause panic, helplessness, or embarrassment. Owens has since then recovered. Support groups being one of the most influential resources that helped their progress.
According to The Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders, “Agoraphobia affects approximately 2% of adolescents and 2% of adults in the general population. Agoraphobia typically develops in late adolescence or early adulthood, although it can occur at any age.”
When Owens first reached out to the resource center, they decided against telling their peers why they weren’t attending on-campus classes. Four months after meeting their peers online, Owens got support from those around them to help overcome agoraphobia.
Owens found it hard to define their home situation. They live at home with their mother, who shows inconsistency in supporting the LGBTQ community. Owens explained that their mothers’ support and care often depended on convenience. There are days where Owens gets dead-named and called the wrong pronouns.
“It really depends on when it’s convenient for my mom to support the community,” said Owens. “Like businesses…they put rainbows on everything during pride month, but on the first of July, everything is back to normal.”
Jurkiewicz identified three reoccurring problems when encountering LGBTQ+ students at CSI. Students are communicating the feeling of isolation and are having trouble connecting to others. Some students live with families that are not accepting of their identities. And prior to the pandemic students would be able to spend more time on campus and have an escape.
Jurkiewicz continues to implement outreach tactics to help get the word out about support groups. He started a WhatsApp group, which has about 55 students now. He also includes support groups in weekly Student Life emails, which get sent to the entire campus. The resource center gave Owens a safe place to explore their gender identity and make new friends, as it’s done for countless others.
“Support group has given me a safe space to show my emotions without judgment,” said Owens. “I couldn’t be more thankful for the people I’ve met.”