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High stress and marijuana use among the largest freshman class at SU

Updated: Oct 2

The Salisbury University class of 2027 is the largest freshman class in the institution’s history, with a number exceeding 1,370 students.

As the weight of their academic courseload becomes heavier, substance use and partying are becoming more ingrained in the weekly routines of freshmen. It is hard to determine whether SU resources have the capacity to assist the academic needs of these new students.

In the past two weeks, many freshmen have spent large swaths of time glued to their textbooks in the Guerrieri Academic Commons (or GAC), their dorms and other such locations in preparation for their first round of college essays.

Margaret Abler, an SU freshman and Arundel High School graduate, struggled to catch up with assigned reading notes in preparation for her first Political Science exam. After testing positive for Covid, she was confined in isolation for two weeks, missing important course material.

“It’s been a struggle, mainly because I got Covid and [the] infrastructure is not set up to help people who have Covid and miss two weeks. So you really have to do it [catch up] by yourself, and that can really be daunting when you’re a freshman who isn't familiar with college processes and you also have the added stress of being two weeks behind," Abler said.

Margaret Abler, a freshman majoring in Political Science, prepares for her first college exam. Image courtesy of Colin McEvers.

For some, the inexperience and/or inability to handle the various tasks which college life poses is overwhelmingly stressful. This is not unique to SU; studies have shown that the first year of college is a particularly high-risk period for the worsening of anxiety as well as heightened levels of stress.

Factors like sleep deprivation, feelings of loneliness, the separation from familiar support structures and challenging courses all contribute to this phenomenon. Lacking the experience of upperclassmen who have found effective ways to manage their academic stress, freshman students at SU and other institutions are at a considerable disadvantage.

Taehyun Nam, who has a doctorate in Political Science and has been teaching at Salisbury University for over 16 years, has accumulated extensive experience teaching freshmen in his Political Science courses as a professor.

“For a lot of people [freshmen] it’s a new city, a new way, all the professors are different – they’re different from high school teachers and then the professors are different from each other. So sure it’s disorienting and must be challenging too,” Nam said.

Taehyun Nam is a professor who has been teaching Political Science courses for over 16 years at Salisbury University. Image courtesy of Colin McEvers.

SU’s reputation as a party school may present additional hurdles to achievement for freshmen who are still navigating the ins and outs of college life.

Every weekend, hundreds of students from all grade levels go to any of several parties which are hosted at houses around the Salisbury area. These parties are typically roaring with music and packed with students who socialize, drink alcohol and smoke weed, depending on the party.

Going to parties and the associated activities are considered a weekend past-time for many students. Out of the SU freshmen questioned for this story, 53% said they go to parties frequently, 65% reported feeling more than a little stressed out with college life and 70% recalled using marijuana more than once in the past two weeks.

There are studies which indicate a low ability to handle stress is one reason for the persistence of marijuana use among teens. Although it is not permitted at SU, student use of marijuana outside or on campus is not uncommon. There are a multitude of freshmen who consume edibles or simply smoke weed for recreational purposes every week.

The impacts of cannabis on adolescent minds is another problem which can be piled onto the aforementioned adversities faced by freshmen students.

Studies show that cannabis temporarily halts adolescent brain development. The drug also blocks the process of learning and memory, which is far from ideal in a university setting where these processes are a requisite for success.

The long-term negative effects of marijuana use on the mind – impaired brain functioning, lower educational attainment and more – tend to be overlooked. The drug has been legalized in a plethora of states, including Maryland, and is the most popular drug among young adults. Cannabis is widely considered to be an effective stress managing tool.

In consideration of the existing academic challenges faced by freshmen and a noticeable trend in some unhealthy coping mechanisms, it becomes pressing to inquire how effective the academic assistance services offered at SU are.

The University Writing Center (or UWC) is located on the second floor of the GAC and is available to students who need assistance with their writing assignments. Students can come in up to two times a week, meet with a writing assistant and get help with anything from brainstorming to the final revision of a writing assignment.

Located on the 2nd floor of the library, the University Writing Center is one of many academic assistance resources available to SU students. Image courtesy of Colin McEvers.

Melissa Bugdal, who has a doctorate in English and teaches courses as an Associate Professor, has worked with the UWC for over five years and is currently the center’s Director.

"We may have students who come in repeatedly for the same project or that come in for different classes throughout the semester. We see a little bit of everything, so I'd say the variety is pretty great," Bugdal said.

One of the UWC's top priorities is getting a sense of each incoming class' needs and determining how best to go about providing help. Since they don't have the capacity to assist every individual student, they see around a quarter of SU's student population each year across their services.

"Through services like workshops and things that we call 'Writing Center Welcomes' where we go into classrooms or different organization's meeting times, we give a brief overview of what the writing center does. [This is] to reach as many people as we can and have quality meetings with them," said Stephanie Davis, an Academic Program Specialist at the UWC.

Services like the UWC are invaluable in the midst of academic stress which can seem overbearing for first-year college students. SU freshmen may certainly find it resourceful to explore their options as challenges continue to emerge with the progression of the school year.


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Greater Good Magazine, Berkley University:

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National Library of Medicine:

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Inside Higher Ed:,their%20peers%20who%20did%20not%20experience%20greater%20exhaustion.

Harvard Health Publishing:


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Featured image courtesy of Colin McEvers

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