This past Friday was Valentine’s Day, which means students were inundated with couples’ romantic Instagram posts, people walking around with cute Valentine’s day gifts, and sights of couples being “cutesy” and declaring their undying love for another. However, I found it interesting that I saw these couples together all the time. In fact, they seemed unable to function without each other. And, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that UC San Diego might be encouraging such seemingly codependent and unhealthy relationships. After all, UCSD’s “socially dead” environment, disconnected campus, and underfunded mental health and student support services make it harder for students to build healthy relationships with friends, significant others, and themselves, creating conditions where students are more likely to fall into abusive and codependent relationships.
For one, UCSD’s campus layout and culture makes it difficult for students to meet people, learn about campus happenings and entities, build campus community, and create a support system. According to data from the University of California’s 2010-11 financial report, UCSD’s campus is the largest urban campus among the UC campuses and about five times larger than UCLA’s. Moreover, the university is separated into several colleges and campuses and its student centers seldom hold large-scale events or even have spaces to fit the thousands of students on campus at once. This environment makes it harder for students to run into the same people, see friends without excessive planning, and come together as a campus community. Additionally, UCSD’s research-heavy culture discourages social mingling. As such, it becomes harder for students to prioritize social connections over academic and professional development. Consequently, students struggle to build connections organically, feel like a part of a larger community, build a support system conducive to emotional and mental health, and be in healthy relationships.
Furthermore, UCSD’s isolationist and cut-throat culture makes people feel like they have to look out completely for themselves. This puts students, already struggling in UCSD’s isolationist environment, at increased risk for mental health problems and unhealthy relationships. For example, because UCSD’s academic culture normalizes unhealthy behavior, a UCSD student facing mental health concerns may be less likely to acknowledge their issues. Moreover, UCSD’s anti-social climate worsens students’ mental health. According to a 2020 article published in Psychology Today by Dr. Rob Whitley, loneliness is a risk factor for adverse mental health outcomes and a barrier for mental health recovery. While this is concerning in and of itself, it is especially concerning because people struggling with mental health concerns are more likely to be in codependent relationships. According to an article by psychotherapist April Eldemere, those struggling with mental health concerns are at a higher risk for codependent relationships.
As Eldemere explains, “codependency is an unhealthy relationship pattern that manifests as one partner enabling another person’s poor mental health, addiction, and/or coping strategies.” According to Eldermere, people struggling with mental health issues are likely to use unhealthy habits to cope if they are not receiving necessary treatment, and a codependent relationship can serve as that coping mechanism. Thus, since UCSD students struggle to build support systems and access mental health assistance, they are more likely to rely on significant others to cope. While relying on significant others for support is not inherently unhealthy, that reliance can turn into a codependent or even abusive relationship if it becomes a coping mechanism for more serious mental health concerns.
Similarly, according to the Youth.gov website, a tool created by the U.S. government to disseminate information regarding youth issues and programs, depressed mood, maladaptive or antisocial behaviors, unhealthy coping mechanisms, and low help-seeking proclivities make people more likely to be victims of an abusive relationship. This is important because these are all behaviors UCSD’s culture can worsen. Our anti-social environment can increase depression and our difficult-to-access resources can make people less likely to change unhealthy coping mechanisms and discourage help-seeking. Thus, UCSD’s culture creates conditions that put those most susceptible to abusive relationships at increased risk. Moreover, according to an article in Psychology Today, victims are likely to stay in abusive relationships due to low-self esteem, lack of outside emotional support, financial and logistical dependence, and love for their abusers. This information is important because in both cases, a lack of outside emotional support and reliance could keep students in harmful relationships. Thus, while UCSD does not necessarily create unhealthy relationships, it creates situations where students are encouraged to rely on unhealthy relationships to get the support and help they need, pushing them into toxic and abusive relationships.
Therefore, “UC Socially Dead” and a campus with underfunded student services and resource centers make it harder for its students to have healthy relationships with themselves and others. Combating these challenges requires dealing with UCSD’s lonely culture, resource allocation towards student well-being and mental health resources, and mental health stigma. Still, despite systemic barriers to mental and emotional health and healthy relationships, students have some control over the situation. For example, despite shortcomings, CARE at the Sexual Assault Resource Center works to prevent unhealthy relationships and is a helpful resource for victims. Moreover, we can begin changing campus culture by reevaluating our relationships, our desire for love, and the value-systems through which we validate ourselves and our peers. After all, romance does not determine emotional well-being, internal validation is much more important than good grades and picture-perfect Instagram shots, and love comes in many forms — self-love, romantic love, familial love, and platonic love — but it definitely does not come as dependence or abuse.
Art by Yui Kita of the UCSD Guardian Art Department.