A Conversation with David Myers about Students Returning to College this Fall Semester

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When we decided to kick off the Learning Stories Blog, the first person who came to mind was Macmillan Learning author David Myers. With this new blog, we plan to share perspectives about topics we’re passionate about, such as what's going on in the industry, what drives us, how we do what we do, and why we do what we do. David MyersDavid Myers

With his nearly 35 years of work with psychology students, and his advice to them throughout the pandemic via the TalkPsych blog, @david_myers perspective about how to manage the upcoming semester is timely. We spoke with him about what students should expect this Fall as they decide whether or not to begin their college career or go back to campus, and at what capacity.

Marisa Bluestone: What advice would you give students who are afraid to go back on campus this Fall?
David Myers: While advising against panic, I’d definitely advise conscientiously following all the distancing and masking that colleges are mandating. First, such protects the students from sickness and possible nonlethal consequences. But more importantly, when students protect themselves, especially in higher-risk indoor contexts including meals and parties, they also protect their communities. By protecting against virus transmission to family and campus members who are at much greater risk, they express intergenerational altruism. Moreover, it’s what’s needed to keep their campus and their local community healthy and functioning.

Better yet, students who understand that this is about “we,” not just “me,” can model and help enforce campus norms that will minimize virus outbreaks.

Marisa: You talked in a recent blog post about humans’ tendency to fear the wrong things. Are there any right or wrong things students should expect to feel this Fall?
David: Lots of research shows that people often fear the wrong things, often by fretting about vividly publicized but highly improbable catastrophes. Thus many folks fear commercial flying more than driving, though in the last decade we’ve been 501 times safer, mile per mile, on commercial flights. Likewise parents who don’t bother to strap their child into a car seat may fear infinitesimally rare school shootings or child abductions. 

And surely some college students now are too personally afraid of Covid-19. Consider: In the half year between February 1 and July 25, Covid took the lives of 246 Americans under age 25. For them and each of their families, this was a tragedy. But every half year motor vehicle accidents claim 3800 under-25 Americans—15 times as many. So, are today’s students 15 times more fearful of vehicle accidents, and taking corresponding precautions?Copy of Copy of Bedford New Scholars.png

Marisa: You mentioned in your video that we are social animals. College students seem to be the embodiment of this. What tips do you have for students attending classes remotely who want to feel more connected to their peers and instructors? 
David: Colleges, including my own, are terribly concerned about sustaining engagement and community. Colleges are, as we all know, using Zoom and Google Meet to connect students with their instructors and with each other—including easy-to-convene breakout discussions that may become even more commonplace than in classrooms.  

Even so, nature has designed us for face to face communication. And this seems especially true for teens and young adults who, in repeated surveys during Covid have reported very high rates of feeling lonely or depressed. In one national survey, 70 percent of 18- to 29—year olds reported experiencing “moderate or severe distress”—triple the 22 percent in a prior survey.

FYI, one way my editor and I are working to create a more personal author-reader connection is with online “Topic Teaser” videos in which, in about 60 seconds, I introduce each major upcoming topic . . . all in an effort to support instructors and help draw students in.

Marisa: What role will unrealistic optimism play in college this Fall?
David: Good question. While some will fear too much, others—thanks to our being natural positive thinkers—will be too blasé. In surveys over the years, college students have seen themselves as much less vulnerable than their peers to getting cancer, losing a job, getting divorced, or just about any bad thing. Hence the pool parties and bar scenes amid Covid.

Marisa: What are the greatest lessons that students can learn from this challenging time?
David: Another great question. Perhaps this year can help us refocus on our life priorities—on the importance of our close relationships, caring for our health, finding a spiritual purpose. Even so, we all long to have the learning period end!

David Myers is the co-author of Psychology in Everyday Life as well as Psychology, Psychology in Modules, Exploring Psychology, and Exploring Psychology in Modules, all published by Macmillan Learning. He has been recognized for his work as an instructor at Hope College, and has been sharing insights on his TalkPsych blog with the psychology community. Most recently, he was recognized by the International Honor Society in Psychology (Psy Chi) for his strong support of the organization and assistance to students during the pandemic.