With the many changes incoming freshmen experience as they make the transition into college come new challenges and sources of stress. At Walla Walla University, staff in the Counseling and Testing Center seek to make that transition easier by providing mental health and counseling service to students through programs like the TalkCampus app.
Matthew Vaughan, the clinical director of counseling in the Walla Walla University Clinic, noted the new challenges freshmen face in a post-COVID environment. “We have a good 12 years before we have college students that will not have had missed instruction and structure and it’s going to be a while before we have the research to know exactly what the effects of that are.”  He referenced a study published in the journal Brain Behavior and Immunity, where “people that didn’t even get covid necessarily were showing inflammation in their brain… it was impeding people’s ability to focus.” 
This experience with persistent brain fog and disappointment over lost opportunities is all too familiar for many students of the pandemic. Vaughan explained, “There is this gap of time where you were doing your homework on the same device you played Minecraft on, and I had a lot of students that would use Quizlet to pass all those tests back then […] and then they came to college and that rug got pulled out from under them.” 
Because of these challenges, Vaughan emphasized the importance of students seeking mental health services sooner rather than later and gave an overview of the opportunities available to students. “For counseling, we offer ten free counseling sessions to students a year. It’s not necessarily a hard ten.” 
The counseling center also refers students who need further assistance to trusted professionals in the community. Vaughan stated, “We also offer walk-in consultations from 12:00 to 1:00, Monday through Thursday.”  Other resources include the Office of Student Success, run by Corren Current, which facilitates mentorship for freshmen and students facing academic probation, among other things. 
Vaughan also clarified the scope of the counseling and testing center, noting that the testing services offered are not psychological testing, but proctored exams for both standardized testing and disability support for those struggling with test anxiety and focus.
Test proctoring, Vaughan emphasized, has created “major turnarounds where people actually thought they were unintelligent, because they couldn't test well. Then they get in the right environment, and all of the sudden, they're straight A students.” 
Disability support services exist for a broader spectrum of people than many think. “There's more and more recognition that it's not just physical disabilities that come into play. You know, a lot of people that have dyslexia don't even realize they have it, because no one's seen it,” said Vaughan. 
All of the provided resources offer individualized options for students, but Vaughan brought up the importance of community as a broader tool for facilitating mental health on campus. “If you’re here long enough, you definitely hear the loneliness buzzword… and post-COVID, it’s been bad.” 
Vaughan does not view this loneliness as an unsolvable problem, however. “Darren Wilkins, the new VP of Student Life, has this idea of a culture of invitation.”  He goes on to describe the ongoing effort on campus to build an atmosphere of inclusion and community where every student can feel seen.
Vaughan highlighted another resource, TalkCampus, that has seen growth following covid. TalkCampus is a community chat app used on campuses across the globe providing connection and support among students. The app is moderated to protect users, but Vaughan pointed out that chats are not shown to faculty and staff to protect students’ privacy. 
As a final piece of advice for the incoming freshmen, Vaughan encouraged students to be kind to themselves through this transition. “Don’t absolve yourself of agency, but give yourself the grace to adjust.” 
Interview with Matthew Vaughan, 9/21/2023.
Brusaferri, L. et al. (2022). The pandemic brain: Neuroinflammation in non-infected individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 102, 89–97. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2022.02.018
Interview with Matthew Vaughan, 9/21/2023.
We want you to succeed at WWU. Mentors | Walla Walla University. (n.d.). https://www.wallawalla.edu/resources/student-support-services/mentors
Interview with Matthew Vaughan, 9/21/2
talk_QR. TalkCampus is a great resource for facilitating mental health discussions and affirmations among college students. Photo from talkcampus.io/walla-walla-university.
counseling. Students can find the counseling center in the clinic and bookstore building on campus. Photo by Caidyn Boyd.