Captain Awkward tackles stress in college

Addressing mental health during her speech at Dittmar Gallery on Tuesday night, Jennifer Peepas — known by her blogger pseudonym

Melody Song/The Daily Northwestern

Addressing mental health during her speech at Dittmar Gallery on Tuesday night, Jennifer Peepas — known by her blogger pseudonym "Captain Awkward" — told students that in college self-care and exploring personal interests is more important than getting perfect grades.

Sarah Tassoni, Reporter

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Joining Northwestern’s ongoing conversation surrounding mental health, the professional blogger Captain Awkward visited campus Tuesday to address coping with stress and isolation in college.

Jennifer Peepas, also known as Captain Awkward, is a Chicago filmmaker, blogger and professor at Columbia College Chicago. She uses her blog as an advice column and tries to “remove shame and stigma about seeking help” for mental health.

About 20 people came to the talk in the Dittmar Gallery. The event, sponsored by Sit & Spin Productions, addressed issues of stress, mental health and feeling alone in the college setting. A question-and-answer session followed the speech.

The discussion coincides with a play Sit & Spin is putting on in early February called “Language of Angels,” which focuses on a group of teenagers who lose a friend one night, among other tragic events. The theme of isolation is presented throughout the production, director Natalie Houchins said.

Houchins said Peepas’ focus on feeling isolated was especially pertinent to college students because “everyone feels that way.”

“We hope that this event, in a small way, can show Northwestern students that being alone isn’t weird and that reaching out to other people doesn’t have to be so hard,” the Communication junior said.

At the talk, Peepas addressed three primary issues college students struggle with: grades, the future and “life stuff.”

She first focused on the need to have perfect grades and how that perfection is often equated with how successful a student will be after college.

“Your natural state is perfection, and if you’re not perfect, then something’s wrong,” she said. “You’ll have a better time in classes if you focus more on the work than on the grades.”

Continuing to de-emphasize the importance of grades, Peepas said many of the skills required for most jobs are picked up “on the fly” when a student is pursuing his or her degree, adding that many parents leave out the “bad stuff” when discussing jobs.

“Nobody wants to tell you all this achievement you’ve been going at is going to lead to work that’s boring,” Peepas said.

Weinberg junior Michael Lamble said he enjoyed the frank way Peepas spoke about such important issues.

“I especially liked the core message of taking care of yourself for being happy in general and not taking care of yourself to be a cog in the machine,” he said.

Instead of focusing on high-salary careers, Peepas said students should spend time figuring out what they are and are not interested in pursuing.

Peepas discussed mental health and stress-related issues as she wrapped up her speech. She said students need to learn to stand up for themselves without apologizing. She also stressed the importance of sharing rather than internalizing serious problems.

Instead of highlighting self-care, much self-improvement advice is more concerned with improving oneself to better contribute to society, she said.

“Don’t stand up for yourself or take better care of yourself so you can be a better worker, but so you can feel better,” Peepas said.