NYU Student Newspaper Publishes Special Issue Focused on Drugs, Sex and Mental Health

The top-notch crew at The Washington Square News, New York University’s student newspaper, has put together a fascinating new special issue focused on a triumvirate of topic areas that are both newsworthy and highly relevant to campus life.

These areas are featured in parentheses and in all caps on the issue’s cover, bleeding together in gray against a stark red backdrop as if forming a single word: (DRUGSSEXMENTALHEALTH).

While breaking down each subject in its own double-truck, the issue presents a diversity of stories and features. It debunks popular drug myths (including “Prescription Drugs are Not Bad for You”); outlines upcoming changes to the university’s sexual assault policy; provides a “guide to common mental health conditions” and “destressing spots” throughout New York City; and explores how NYU handles student suicides.

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In an opening note to readers, WSN web managing editor Kavish Harjai explains:

1“Sometimes as I walk down the street, I’m thankful to be surrounded by the city’s energy. Other times, attending a demanding university in New York’s chaos is suffocating. We talk a lot about balancing our lives in college — social life, academics and sleep — in an effort to preserve our sanity. But striking a balance isn’t always easy. … I conceived of this issue to help battle the pendulum of feelings that comes with being a student in New York. This issue contains advice on how to manage stress and stay mentally healthy, as well as tips on safe drug use and sexual health. With these tools, navigating life can be done with more ease and confidence.”

In the exclusive Q&A below, Harjai and WSN editor-in-chief Nicole Brown further discuss the issue’s origins and aims. They also offer advice to student journalists interested in similarly exploring drugs, sex and mental health.

What motivated the staff to tackle drugs, sex and mental health in a special issue?

Brown: We felt that more needed to be done to start a conversation about these topics. As students, we all have personal reasons for why we think these topics are important, but as the student newspaper we recognize we have a responsibility to present important information to our peers and encourage them to speak up.

Harjai: NYU is a tough place to be — not only for the academics but simply because there never seems to be a break from the honking, the people, etc. This is true of many metropolitan-based universities. But at NYU, no matter how hard people try, there doesn’t seem to be a foundational community — which makes all the pressure of a city ever more burdensome. This could be attributed to the lack of a traditional campus, but also to the sense of independence that many students have at NYU. Some people excel in this environment and some don’t. I wanted to make it clear that even if you feel isolated in NYC and at NYU, there are people who are willing to help and people who care.

“NYU is a tough place to be – not only for the academics but simply because there never seems to be a break from the honking, the people, etc. … Some people excel in this environment and some don’t. I wanted to make it clear that even if you feel isolated in NYC and at NYU, there are people willing to help and people who care.”

What’s a story or feature within the issue you’re especially happy with, and why?

Brown: I am especially happy with the “University Suicide Response Examined Through the Years” piece because students at NYU always have questions about how the university responds to student deaths. This piece gives them the answers as to why the university does what it does. Even if they don’t like the university’s position, it’s important for all of us to understand. The majority of the undergraduates currently at NYU never saw our library without the gold panels, but we should know why they are there [“installed in 2012 to prevent students from jumping from the upper floors”], and we should start a real discussion about how we can prevent student deaths on campus. That’s really what the whole issue is about, as the name suggests. We need to create a safe place to have conversations about our health and safety, and what I love about this issue is that it addresses the difficult subjects, but it also provides some lighter sides to each of the topics in an effort to show we are all students and we all go through the same thing. I am incredibly proud of every piece in this issue.

Harjai: The story on the new sexual consent policy was great. We got the story out first and we fought for it hard. Schools across the country are changing the definition of sexual consent around the idea that “yes” is the only way to express consent. If someone does not say “yes” to a sexual advancement, then it is not OK to pursue them. This policy change is paramount to the success of students at a university. Young women and men should neither walk around their peers with fear of harm nor feel like their school does not have their back in case of an emergency. But, with this policy, I believe it is being made clear that people are going to be there for you and there will be resources at your disposal, if needed.

Any advice for other student media teams looking into these subjects?

Brown: Don’t be afraid to tackle these topics. There are a lot of challenges facing college students, and we need to address them so we can overcome them. There are definitely precautions that need to be taken, but it’s better to look into your university’s policies, what students think about them and what they want to change, than to push them aside as taboo topics.

Harjai: All your attention is needed when producing mass communication on this topic. You can’t miss a beat. You have to reach out to various medical professionals. And you need to understand you are talking about people’s lives. Past the obvious, realize mental health needs to be looked at holistically — that’s why we included sections on drugs and sex. The three topics are all linked and affect one another. Find out what you want to talk about that is specific to your school. At NYU, prescription drugs are a huge issue, so we talked about that. So is student suicide, so we also talked about that. However, that being said, be extremely careful when writing about these delicate topics.

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