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Citing mental health woes, Northwestern student leaders eyed forced limit on extracurriculars

Resolution voted down due to several concerns

Northwestern University’s student government recently rejected a proposal seeking a mandatory limit on students’ extracurricular activities in an attempt to force students to take care of their mental health.

Some students had wondered whether a limit on such activities would have the opposite effect, while others questioned the legality of such a proposal, according to the student government meeting minutes.

The resolution, which was ultimately rejected by the student senate on Feb. 7, was proposed by NU Active Minds student Sen. Ben Katz.

“It will make it so it is more difficult for people to get into situations where they are overcommitted,” Katz told the Daily Northwestern student newspaper.

The resolution to “Limit Student Organization Involvement” stated in part “it has become necessary to enforce limits on students’ involvement in student organizations for the sake of campus mental health and quality of on-campus activities.”

The resolution cited decreasing mental health among Northwestern students, attributed largely to burnout and work-based over-commitment.

It called on Northwestern University leaders “to require that all students be registered with a student organization via Wildcat Connections to be considered a full member” and that ”membership be limited to only two (2) student organizations per student (excluding affinity/identity-based groups, where membership only counts towards this limitation for executive members).”

But the meeting minutes point out that many students balked at the proposal, citing privacy concerns and pointing out that “Northwestern is a collection of ambitious students” and it’s unfeasible to tell a student “to be less ambitious.”

Other concerns included the proposal would force students to drop out of some of their enjoyable and competitive activities, which would not benefit mental health.

Asked by The College Fix about the constitutionality of such a proposal, Adam Kissel, a civil liberties expert and former deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs at the U.S. Department of Education, said it would not pass muster.

“Such a policy would be unconstitutional at a public university, and no private university that values freedom of association would limit its students as proposed,” Kissel said via email. “Even worse is the proposed carve-out for certain associations, which would make such a policy even more clearly unconstitutional and arbitrary.”

Katz, the Northwestern Associated Student Government, and the Northwestern Campus Life office, did not respond to The College Fix’s requests for comment.

A recent survey by Wiley researchers confirmed high rates of anxiety and burnout among college students.

“Our survey results suggest students are facing a number of challenges that may be impacting their emotional health, such as balancing school with work and family, paying for tuition and living expenses, and preparing for the future,” said a Wiley spokesperson in an email to The College Fix.

“Based on our results, we recommend institutions find ways to maximize opportunities for peer and instructor support for those students needing help as well as provide flexibility to students so they can better balance school with work and family life.”

Scholars Michael Patrick Rutter and Steven Mintz wrote in Inside Higher Ed in 2019 that more extracurriculars, not fewer ones, would help improve mental health for students, and that perhaps adding more extracurricular and co-curriculars as part of degree programs would be a good idea.

They also suggested substituting on-campus employment for off-campus employment, redesigning course structures to discourage cramming, and incorporating more low-stakes assignments throughout the semester.

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Giovanna Johnson is a student at Gordon College in Massachusetts studying political science. She is a senior editor of the student publication The Gordon Review, and her writing has appeared on Future Female Leaders and her blog Sustained By Grace.