The Hilltop Monitor recently sat down with Dr. Elizabeth MacLeod Walls, president of William Jewell College, to discuss the recent introduction of Billy J Day as a way to help alleviate stress for Jewell students.
Billy J Day, scheduled for Wednesday, April 29, will be a day free of academics and student activities. While the mechanics of Billy J Day is not fully worked out yet, according to MacLeod Walls, it will surround the themes of “Rest, Eat, Play” and will give students a day with fun, relaxation and reduced stress
MacLeod Walls spoke about the recurring subjects of stress and anxiety during conversations with students at “Coffee with the Prez” and Student Senate meetings and her desire to address the problem.
“One of the things I picked up on last year a lot was stress – the stress level of our students is really high – and of course I hear about this from student life as well,” MacLeod Walls said. “One day we just brainstormed about what we could do to relieve some stress or find a way for people to give themselves permission to have fun because that also seems to be an issue sometimes.”
MacLeod Walls explained that her alma mater, Hiram College, had “Campus Day” – a surprise day of canceled class and an opportunity to have fun – and she brought up the idea for doing something similar for Jewell. MacLeod Walls discussed the idea with the Student Senate and passed along the ideas to the faculty and the coaches to see if it was possible.
“Everyone was really enthusiastic about it,” MacLeod Walls said.
Originally there had been the idea of having lectures in the Union and having philanthropy service activities at Billy J Day, but MacLeod Walls explained that they all decided against it.
“People kind of said, ‘Actually, no, let’s just have fun,’ and I sort of loved that idea,” MacLeod Walls said. “So Billy J Day was born and it is going to be really fun.”
MacLeod Walls discussed the reality of mental health issues faced by current college students.
“There are some commonalities in terms of what this current generation experiences in terms of stress,” she said. “Those are mental health issues and are very often depression and anxiety. There is also something to do with coming from a time period – to a large extent my generation is to blame for this – where there is a high expectation for success. We [parents of current college students] are the helicopter parent generation, and we watch our student’s success really carefully, and we intervene with teachers. Whereas when I was growing up, and my parents were boomers, it was very much ‘Hey go do your best,’ and they didn’t get involved.”
MacLeod Walls commented on the pervasive presence of technology and its effect on this generation’s mental health.
“And so there’s really no escape for students,” MacLeod Walls said. “There is no place where students can just be anonymous and a chance to reflect and not worry about people monitoring their actions. So I think that causes stress across the board no matter what school you’re at.”
MacLeod Walls emphasized that, like college students everywhere, the Jewell student body faces difficulties with stress and anxiety. She also reflected on potential causes of stress for students at Jewell.
“This is just my opinion, and we don’t really have data to back this up necessarily, but this is a really rigorous place, and the curriculum is tough,” MacLeod Walls said. “I think there is an expectation that if you come to Jewell, you’re going to be an achiever. This is a campus of achievement.”
Dr. MacLeod Walls also mentioned the competitive nature of college students, and hopes Billy J day might be able to alleviate some of that burden.
“I think sometimes our students take that mantle on and they really feel that pressure of ‘I’ve got to succeed.’ And I suspect –– again, I don’t know for sure –– there is a certain level of competition among our students in regard to that success level and we don’t give ourselves permission to fail.”
Should Billy J Day receive approval from the students and faculty, MacLeod Walls hopes that the day will become a tradition.
“I think it gives us something to look forward to,” MacLeod Walls said. “It gives the generation of students that are here right now, 20 years from now when they come back for homecoming, they can say ‘You know what, I was here when they started Billy J Day.’ And that’s a really neat thing.”
Billy J Day was created as a result of candid conversation between students and the president, and MacLeod Walls encourages students to continue to come to ‘Coffee with the Prez’ for the opportunity to have an exchange and discuss concerns.