From left, Chioma Ugwonali ’24, Issa Mudashiru ’25, and Isaac Lunar ’24
Photo: Sameer A. Khan h’21 / Fotobuddy
Three Princeton student leaders share their thoughts on campus culture, attitudes, and available resources

Concerns have grown over the past few years about student mental health on Princeton’s campus. In a special episode of the PAWcast, we asked three students to discuss what they’ve seen while serving as leaders and mentors in this area: Isaac Lunar ’24, Chioma Ugwonali ’24, and Issa Mudashiru ’25. These excerpts have been edited and condensed; learn more about the students, listen to the podcast, and read the transcript at

University Resources

Chioma: I think there is a gap in between the resources that the University offers, students’ perception of available resources, and student mental health. Often I hear students share grievances or complain about the lack of mental health resources or not feeling connected to campus, not feeling heard or seen or appreciated by administrators outside of their capacities as a student. And it’s really disheartening being in a lot of spaces with administrators and other students who are heavily involved in mental health and trying to bolster those resources.

Isaac: When you consider the academic environment that students are in, the rigor, the pace of the semester, there’s not really a lot of time or opportunity to be able to use these mental health resources. So if your mental health issues stem from maybe falling behind in courses or not doing well in a specific class, and you have to take the time in order to use the mental health resources that we currently have, a lot of students, I think, feel that it would only exacerbate the problem, since they would rather spend that time trying to catch up.

Change the Culture

Chioma: Taking care of your mental-emotional well-being is not seen as valued on this campus, and if I may venture to say, in our culture, in our society at large. And so there is this trade-off, should I work on this P-set, get this essay done, work on my R3, or should I schedule that long-overdue counselor appointment or make time to go and hang out with my friends in New York this weekend just to take a pause, take a break? If they decide to do the latter, there is no professor, there is no career recruiter, job recruiter who is going to recognize that work outright, directly, and reward that work.

Issa: It’s not really talked about enough that it’s OK to get preliminary help, because you will end up going through things here. You will end up facing obstacles and challenges. It’s OK to seek out a resource ahead of time, before it becomes a problem.

Isaac: I think the administration just gets it wrong … this idea that they have to balance mental health with rigor, as if those two exist in opposition to each other. When you have a student population that has a better wellness, whose mental health is better, you’re going to have a better-performing student population.

Take Control

Chioma: We have a personal responsibility to recognize what works and what doesn’t for our own well-being. We have to take initiative to find these resources and to use them.

Isaac: I think students here just don’t recognize how much, for one, goes into making sure you’re mentally well, and two, how important that needs to be. I do a lot of mentoring specifically for underclassmen and for high-schoolers; it’s just a theme I see time and time again. Some of the first messages that I always make sure to give incoming students are: Make sure you’re eating, make sure you’re sleeping, make sure you have a block of time where you’re able to do whatever you want. That’s what helps constitute good mental health.

Chioma: Students are by and large in survival mode: What is the least amount of sleep I can get so that I’m still functioning, I can still go to class, I can maybe grab a bagel or skip breakfast altogether?

Isaac: I ask them, how much sleep are you getting? They’re like oh, I’m getting like four hours of sleep a night. That’s …

Issa: That’s valorized.

Isaac: We treat it like a shared trauma, almost. We socialize over how little sleep or how infrequently we go to dinner, things like that.

Reaching a Breaking Point

Chioma: Students are in this mentality of health as a means of survival until we reach a breaking point where our body says, I need to rest, I need sustenance. And this breaking point might be when someone catches the flu or someone has a panic attack or someone sleeps throughout an entire day, all of which I have heard students mention just in this semester.

I’m part of the University Mental Health Task Force, and we have an outside third party who’s evaluating the state of mental health and our resources on campus currently. And preliminary results have shown that, believe it or not, Princeton is actually doing much better than a lot of universities and colleges across the nation. So there are, I think, a plethora of resources that the University offers. Again, do students know about them? Do students use them? Do students have the time to use them? That is another issue.

Isaac: I’m about to call out a specific class. I love all the teachers in EEB [Ecology & Evolutionary Biology] 211. I appreciate all of you, but I had a lab report that was due over the Thanksgiving break. That’s my break. I should be able to go home, be with my family, have my Thanksgiving meal, and instead I’m out here worrying about spider locomotion.

And that’s just one example of just how pervasive academics can become in Princeton students’ lives, just how integrated we make it into our lives. We plan everything around it. And in that sense, where is the room for mental health? Where’s the room to access mental health resources?

Issa: I actually had a paper due over break as well, the Friday after Thanksgiving. Talking with one of my preceptors, their decision to assign something over break was in their eyes a way of relieving the week before break where you’re at school and teachers tend to pile a ton of work on you before you leave for break. That was a way for them to give you more time and more space to focus on the project.

Origins of Pressure

Isaac: I think that’s highly individualized. I mean, there are some general pressures just to do well, to make sure you can secure a good future for yourself. But then of course there’s just other things that you have to consider. I mean, does your culture [have an] impact? Do you have a family back at home that you want to do well for? I know that’s a common pressure for kids whose parents were immigrants. It’s something that I feel. My parents were immigrants. They made efforts here in America once they came to make sure that I had a good life for myself, and now I have an opportunity here, I better use it well.

Chioma: I think we can get so caught up in this attitude that we forget — and I am definitely guilty of this too sometimes — we forget that we are loved. We do have an enormous, oftentimes strong, resilient, and consistent community, whether physically or just emotionally close to us, who is looking out for us. But I think when we’re in this environment, it is so hard to remember that we are loved for who we are.