Can We Talk? Employing Conversation to Ameliorate Undergraduate Distress at Catholic Colleges and Universities

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Susannah J.P. Petro

Abstract

This article addresses students’ need for robust relationships to counteract the epidemic of loneliness, anxiety, and depression pervading contemporary undergraduate life, and proposes that Catholic colleges and universities can find in Catholic theological anthropology a warrant for recognizing relationship-building as central to their mission. The article (1) identifies three socio-cultural forces (individualism, hyperconnectivity, and confrontational styles of communication) that impinge upon student well-being and predispose them to attenuated relationship and disconnection, (2) highlights the unique pressures of undergraduate education that increase student stress and anxiety, and (3) examines the Catholic theological conviction that the human person, made in the Divine image, is made whole through authentic relationship. The article identifies conversation as foundational to relationship and offers a theoretical model for teaching and implementing a praxis of intentional conversation across the academic, residential, and co-curricular divisions of Catholic undergraduate institutions to foster students’ ability to enter and sustain relationships.

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