Deemed one of the top public universities in the United States, UT has students who strive to live up to Texans’ expectations. It is no wonder that with résumé building, working and studying, students are forced to put their mental health on the back burner.
To help alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety students may be facing, UT should plant more trees and gardens on campus. This project would help students relax in a natural environment.
The symptoms of stress and anxiety permeate the student body. In a 2017 study, 86 percent of students reported feeling overwhelmed in the last 12 months. Fifty-seven percent felt overwhelming anxiety. Stress can have a physical affect too — chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.
However, staying in touch with the natural environment can actually reverse the physiological ailments of stress. While stress weakens the immune system, spending time outdoors increases the number of cells in our bodies responsible for fighting off disease.
Furthermore, spending time outdoors offers students a mental break from their highly urbanized surroundings.
“Usually when it’s nice outside, it clears my head,” psychology freshman Aviery Boone said. “When I’m outside, I can appreciate the quiet, natural world. It isn’t hectic like my normal routine.”
Currently, the UT campus lacks this valued connection to nature. Students often struggle to find study spots that aren’t gloomy and cold.
“I will never study in the (Perry-Castañeda Library) again because it makes me feel sad,” said Kelly Choi, government sophomore and Student Government Mental Health Agency co-director. “The lighting, the overworked students — it’s just bad vibes.”
Through an elevated exposure to nature, students can achieve a level of serenity uncommon in today’s world. There are several ways the University can provide this to students.
First, UT can improve students’ access to greenery by increasing the amount of gardens on campus. Currently, gardens are hidden in pockets inaccessible to most students. One example that comes to mind is the pollination garden. Tucked behind Jester Center, few students can appreciate this gem provided by UT Farm Stand.
In addition, planting more trees would increase students’ exposure to nature. Increasing the number of trees on campus would improve areas where they are sparse around campus.
“There should be so many trees that you can go and escape into them and find a sense of peace and joy in observing them as they develop and grow,” biology freshman Mackenzie Boaze said.
Funding these projects isn’t as complicated as you might think. It is the responsibility of Financial and Administrative Services to finance any landscaping changes, such as planting more trees and gardens. Students don’t need to raise money or plant on their own. They simply need to reach out to those who work for FAS and communicate the change they wish to see — whether the issue of physical and mental health is considered or not.
“We have identified potential areas for tree planting, but these have not yet been vetted for conflicts with existing utilities,” James Carse, UT Landscape Services manager, said via email. “On Dean Keeton, possible sites are the south side of the street west of Red River along the hill, the Law Complex street frontage and the (Chemical and Petroleum Engineering building) street frontage. On north Speedway, the hillside at the Speedway Garage has potential.”
UT Landscape Services is currently working on the garden beds on the north side of Sid Richardson Hall and is developing a redesign for the western beds of San Jacinto Residence Hall to implement this winter. It is also exploring the possibility of adding more gardens of this type with Bee Campus USA in the near future.
With potential areas already mapped out, it seems a campus more enriched by nature is in the works. The Student Government Mental Health Agency hopes to advocate for more trees in the potential areas mentioned by Carse at the upcoming 2020 assembly.
Marlatt is an international relations and global studies freshman from Missouri City.