The death of Rongo University student Sharon Otieno, whose body was found in a forest in Homa Bay County on Wednesday, brings to the fore issues that, sadly, we continue to ignore.
We have had too many deaths among university students and there is need for a cultural shift that will turn the tide of tragedy. And that shift must happen way before our young people become statistics.
It is known that times of austerity can push a barren outlook among students and dramatically affect the temperament of those who have invested heavily in their future careers; it behoves society to look at itself anew.
Money and associated cultures have been identified as the hottest new source of anxiety among young people in university. For them, the world is a very big place.
And the experience of being out of their parents’ home, some for the first time in their lives, is even more confusing, especially when you throw in their energy and growing sense of hopelessness.
The new media culture, which is associated with excessive social media use, also fosters a certain competition between one’s real life and one’s virtual life.
There is a tug-of-war between being engrossed in posting experiences on social media, sending texts and taking selfies, and enjoying the moment itself for what it’s worth. Many university students are living dual lives - virtual and real - sometimes the virtual life becomes more important than the real life.
Students are often told that their university time should be the best of their lives.
There’s intense pressure to meet new people every day, forge friendships that will last a lifetime, go out and party while getting top grades and maintaining an immaculate Instagram profile to show your old schoolmates exactly how much fun you’re having.
In these circumstances, even the most prepared students can be exposed to high-risk behaviour and are more likely to participate in it.
It is this unhealthy minority that is somehow so influential on the campus majority. Added to the complexity, class differences among the students and the new media culture, it’s a mess.
Seeing their peers' lives (real or made up) playing out in constant, glittering detail on Instagram and Facebook, movies and television, only makes matters worse.
It is also understandable that given our education system - having been pushed and helicoptered by parents and teachers through secondary school - many students feel under-prepared for their newfound independence in university, with only fledgling friendships for support.
Then, of course, there are the rising costs - students are keenly aware of the need to make their parents (or guardians) pay for tuition and up-keep, and are scared of failing to live up to expectations and also anxious about job prospects.
We all know that in the past, it was taken for granted that children would surpass their parents. Now, that is not so.
Many university students believe they will not be able to accomplish as much as their parents have. There is also a sense of frustration about there being no 'good' jobs out there anymore.
With all this going on, life in university has become very intense for students, and this is before you throw in the need for them to find a balance between 'partying and happiness', and studies.
They become competitive among themselves to see who can go out the most nights, who has done the least class work, who misses the most lectures and who’s having the best time.
Many students are also under pressure from the newfound life where many feel like there is no room for mistakes in today’s society, yet they make a lot of mistakes as young adults.
Indeed, it’s a huge transition and it is overwhelming, especially if there are no good support systems.
Students and parents need to know from the very beginning of the campus-living experience that the physical and mental well-being of students matters.
Parents and all concerned need to work around the clock to maintain this well-being.
Universities need to make their students' health a priority and ensure that the support services provided are sufficient to deal with increased student numbers.
Since the majority of students in university are digital era natives, communicating mostly via their smartphones, all kinds of digital solutions can be found to get them the help they require, whenever and wherever they need it.
Prof Mogambi, a development and social change expert, teaches at the University of Nairobi; hmogambi @ yahoo.co.uk
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