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The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Hoyas Connected, Mental Health Groups Offer Reprieve From Rigorous Academic, Extracurricular Environment

Every week, students gather in a Georgetown University classroom — not to discuss international politics or to complete a biology lab, but instead to talk about themselves and their relationships with others on campus.

The students are members of Hoyas Connected, also referred to as The Connection Project, a new one-credit class that started this spring and is dedicated to fostering connections among new students and creating space for conversations about mental health, communication styles and relationships in college. Multiple sections of Hoyas Connected meet each week, each led by a different team of trained student facilitators. Now in March, each group is about halfway through the curriculum and those involved say that they have seen significant progress in terms of newly formed relationships and a progression towards deeper, more meaningful conversations.

Now midway through the course, Marcus Trawick (CAS ’26), who is currently enrolled in Hoyas Connected, said one of his advisors in the Georgetown Scholars Program (GSP), which supports first-generation and low-income students throughout their time at Georgetown, encouraged him to take the class as a way to think about his relationship with the university. 

Trawick said he has appreciated the student-led discussions because the facilitators share his stressors. 

“I know that professors have our best interests in mind, but having discussions led by students who are probably going through the same things as us, it makes it so much deeper,” Trawick told The Hoya. “I had midterms two weeks ago; my facilitators just had midterms and projects and stuff that they’re worried about, too. We’re all struggling together. We’re not alone.”

Addison Basile (CAS ’26), a current participant in Hoyas Connection, said the course’s exercises — from trust exercises and speed friending to discussion prompts about identity — have helped her realize how much she has in common with other participants and have helped her form new connections. Basile, who plays club hockey, said that one particular conversation led her to realize that both the hockey and softball teams are frequently short on players. Through Hoyas Connected, she was able to connect with a member of the softball team.

“Now half the hockey team is playing softball, and we probably would not have ever made that connection if we didn’t have the class,” Basile told The Hoya.

Andrea Bonior, a professor of psychology who directs the Hoyas Connected program and trains student facilitators, said the project hopes to form connections between new students and provide them with tools to combat the loneliness and anxiety that may come with the transition to college.

“Especially at a high-achieving place like Georgetown, we see a lot of folks who are really struggling with the expectations that society has for them. There’s just a lot of uncertainty,” Bonior told The Hoya. “There’s a lot of pressure, and we’re seeing nationwide that folks are more anxious and lonely. We’re definitely seeing that in young adults most of all, and Georgetown’s no exception to that.” 

All first year, second year and transfer students were eligible to enroll in the program as of the Spring 2024 semester. Each group meets once a week, and the course is pass-fail.

The Connection Project

Hoyas Connected initially began at the University of Virginia (UVA) five years ago.

Student facilitators, who took a version of the course last semester alongside Bonior as training, lead these discussion sections.

Bonior said the program has allowed facilitators to learn how to build trust and foster connections among participants.

“We talked about trust; we talked about identity; we talked about what barriers get in the way of connection at Georgetown, how to just feel more engaged with the community and campus and how to think about yourself and your relationships,” Bonior said.

Facilitator Addison Horowicz (CAS ’26) said she has noticed a constant pressure to have a full Google Calendar (G-Cal) throughout her time at Georgetown, which motivated her to get involved with the program and take a leadership role. 

“Having a full G-Cal is pretty much prioritized over most things,” Horowicz told The Hoya. “For me, that made me feel a little bit more isolated during my freshman year, because I didn’t have a full G-Cal. There’s kind of this illusion that no one ever has alone time, and that no one can ever take a break.”

Georgetown’s club culture is notoriously intense, which has caused the administration to step in in recent years. Pre-professional organizations often require long, written applications and have applicants undergo multiple rounds of interviews. Many of these groups have acceptance rates as low as 6%.

Halfway through her experience facilitating the program, Heather Doherty (CAS ’24), another facilitator, said her group has still been focusing on getting to know each other and becoming more comfortable around each other, but that as the semester continues to progress the activities will move from more surface-level conversations to topics that are significantly deeper. She said that the group has begun reading stories of past participants from UVA, which will act as starting points for new conversations. 

“People are starting to dive into how their identities reflect the identities and stories that we heard, or their experiences or things about their families or upbringings, and how those impact them right now,” Doherty told The Hoya. “We’re starting to get into those more vulnerable conversations, and people have been, for the most part, super willing to share stuff about themselves and respond to other people, which I think can be the more difficult part.” 

Doherty said leading her group this semester has pushed her to apply the skills she learned last semester — including supporting people through challenging discussions and reacting on the spot — and become more comfortable taking risks.

“You can prepare for it all you want, but you don’t really know how it’s going to go until you’re actually doing it,” Doherty told The Hoya. “Last semester was great for preparation and for knowing the skills and experiencing the class yourself as a participant, but I’ve definitely learned a lot this semester, too.” 

“There’ve been some creative liberties we’ve been able to take from the original lesson plan, which has been a little bit risky but definitely paid off,” Doherty added. “It’s very empowering when a decision you make actually plays out and it works.” 

While the original curriculum outlines a specific progression of exercises, Doherty and Bonior both said that they have been able to make changes to that order to better suit specific groups’ needs. This has included spending more time on specific exercises that fostered meaningful conversations and adding more get-to-know-you activities.

Bonior does not participate in the sessions, but said she meets with the facilitators frequently to discuss the program’s progress and any changes that may need to be made.

“My facilitators have been working really hard, and they’re really enjoying it too,” Bonior said. “They seem to be getting a lot out of it because they’re learning how to troubleshoot different things.”

“Certain groups might need something different from others due to the personalities of the people in the group, and my facilitators have been really building their skills and adjusting as necessary to whatever their group needs,” she added.

Student Organizations Pushing for Positive Mental Health Campus Climate

While the university facilitates and funds Hoyas Connected, several student-run organizations allow students to get involved with promoting a positive mental health culture on campus.

Active Minds is a group dedicated to encouraging open and honest conversations about mental health through regular meetings, activities and speaker events. The group hopes to help destigmatize mental illness among Georgetown students.

Preeti Kota (CAS ’24), the former president of Active Minds, said her experience with mental health on campus motivated her involvement with Active Minds. 

Kota said students have gradually become more willing to participate in open discussions of the stigma that sometimes surrounds mental health conversations. 

“I don’t know if it’s specific to our campus, but I do think it’s become more of an open dialogue,” Kota told The Hoya. “I think people aren’t hesitant to say they’re interested in mental health.” 

During her time as president, Kota said she put effort into expanding the group’s reach and making their mission more well-known through tabling and more frequent meetings and events.

Kota said she feels students do not focus on their mental health as much as they should, making Active Minds’ work especially important.

“I think there’s a lot to be done on Georgetown’s campus,” Kota said. “It’s a very competitive, occasionally toxic, culture with high stress. I feel like students don’t always admit that they’re going through something, or they think that others are perfect. It’s just not the best culture.” 

“Georgetown is more pre-professional, and that’s the main focus, which is reasonable,” she added. “People need to focus on that as well. But I don’t think mental health is prioritized enough.”

The new class Hoyas Connected and student groups on campus work to connect students and provide them with support amidst the stresses of campus life.

Recently, Active Minds has been focusing on introducing collaborations with other on-campus organizations, including The Corp and the Disability Cultural Initiative, Georgetown’s team dedicated to celebrating disabled identities and promoting accessibility on campus. 

Kota said these collaborations help increase Active Minds’ visibility and added that she has wanted to partner with additional organizations such as the Pre-Med Society and the South Asian Society, saying that South Asian cultures face stigmatization of mental illness.

While Active Minds focuses explicitly on the stigma surrounding mental health, Georgetown Individuals Vocal and Energetic for Service (GIVES) takes another approach: random acts of kindness. In the past, the club has given out free food in Red Square, distributed small handwritten notes, hung Christmas lights for festive cheer and operated food drives.

Abbey Swartzwelder, the former president of GIVES, said the group aims to make students feel more welcome around campus and provide brief reprieves from the stress of academics.

“At its core, GIVES’ goal is to foster a kind, loving environment, especially when Georgetown is kind of known to have a lot of pre-professional clubs that are very hard to get into,” Swartzwelder told The Hoya. 

Swartzwelder said GIVES is working to expand after shrinking during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even so, Swartzwelder said she believes the group still creates a positive campus culture.

“I think people know that when they see food being given out, and our big banner, but also when they see the big Christmas lights that say Hoyas on them and things like that, they know that we were there and that we were trying to spread kindness,” Swartzwelder said. 

Mental Health Groups Provide a Welcome Reprieve

Kathryn Castle, Georgetown’s assistant vice president for student health, said avenues to engage in peer support are helpful in combating undergraduates’ loneliness.

“Across the country many colleges are utilizing students as peer supports and mentors for other students,” Castle wrote to The Hoya. “For some students, knowing that they are not alone is always helpful and encouraging. Peer supporters can engage more students throughout their health and well-being journey while sharing a similar lived campus experience and providing them with information about on campus resources.”

The Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS), which Castle helps oversee, is the main center on Georgetown’s campus for mental health support. It provides students seeking therapy and other forms of support with consultations and referrals and has individual and group counseling options.

As mental health awareness continues to grow in the United States, especially among students, leaders on the Hilltop like Horowicz said they are committed to fostering positive, welcoming environments that provide students with space to navigate their feelings about the transition to college and help make them feel more connected to the Georgetown community.

“Honestly, freshman year was really rough,” Horowicz said. “I had a lot of feelings and I had a lot of people around me that I was friends with, but I don’t know if I felt fully connected. I felt pretty isolated and a little bit adrift, and I kind of got it into my head that I was the only one experiencing that feeling of not having it figured out.”

“Realizing that, actually, everyone else experiences the same thing was a big motivator for why I’ve kept going,” Horowicz added.

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