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Letter Box


A letter from alumni about mental health on campus

February 11, 2003

I am quite disappointed and surprised by the letter written by David Dennison ’42 suggesting that the Princeton admission office require some minimum level of emotional stability in addition to other admission criteria. This absurd recommendation is not only politically incorrect, it is insensitive and lacks insight into the changing and growing needs of a student body — must we all be reminded about the terrible incident with the young M.I.T. student who burned herself to death because she was unable to get an appointment with university clinicians?

The Princeton community should be encouraged that students are pursuing help in productive outlets (i.e., engaging in discourse with trained psychotherapists) instead of other maladaptive ways of dealing with adversity. By accommodating this student need and increasing counseling center staff, Princeton recognizes that the unique pressures of being at an elite institution and learning to cope with adversity are important skills to possess and can, at worst, have life or death consequences.

The ability to cope is always a needed talent in our changing world, and Princeton's way of coping is not to self-select emotionally superior 18-year-olds (besides the difficulties in judging such criteria, this would have serious ramifications upon admission standards), but to provide a healthy environment with resources for students to use so that they develop life-long habits to confront problems effectively.

Dana Satir, '01
New York, N.Y.

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February 10, 200

I read with great interest the letter in which David Dennison '42 suggested a minimum level of emotional stability as an admission criterion. Perhaps applicants should be screened as well for family history of epilepsy, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke, lest these future leaders find that these medical conditions, too, might impair their ability to cope in our changing world.

Or perhaps instead we should laud our current undergraduates, whose pressure for A.P. courses, grades, and near-full-time extracurricular activities dwarfs the standards to which we were held many decades ago. I have no doubt that Princeton admits more than its share of internally motivated, self-critical overachievers who have a penchant for the conditions broadly labeled as "depression." Perhaps we should be glad that neuroscientific research is demystifying the brain's chemistry, and in doing so, is destigmatizing "mental illness." Perhaps we should admire these new Princetonians' willingness to confront these issues through counseling and medication. And perhaps we should be grateful for the university's response and support.

Indeed, the students who have the guts and the initiative to address these conditions in their undergraduate days are, in fact, improving their ability to cope in the "real" world.

David W. Budd '79
Yardley, Pennsylvania

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December 18, 2002

I was dismayed in reading the December 4 issue of PAW to find that 45.6 percent of the students reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function at least once during the school year. The situation is so bad that Marvin Geller has had to hire a staff of 10 to conduct the psychological and counseling services required.

At the risk of being politically incorrect, I would suggest that the admissions office require some minimum level of emotional stability in addition to the other admission criteria. The ability to cope with the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” will always be a needed talent in our changing world.

David Dennison ’42
Carefree, Ariz.

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December 7, 2002

The counseling I received during my senior year has paid continuing dividends for thirty years. It's the best investment of time I made at Princeton.

Bill Goodman '73
San Antonio, Tex.

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December 2, 2002

I read with interest the increased demand for mental health services, not only at Princeton but at other elite universities as well. I wonder if there is a correlation between this growing demand and your admissions policy.

There is no question but that those who are admitted to Princeton are "brilliant" and leaders in their own fields. But are they mentally prepared? Perhaps, in the future, all those admitted should undergo psychological testing as well as the numerous academic tests they have to endure. Turning out a lot of gifted students with mental problems doesn't seem to be a very intelligent approach to life.

John F. Bryan ’52
New York City, N.Y.

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