Shocked by Sophocles? Don't be.

By Marcus Dysch
November 12, 2009

Michael Sophocles’ piece on our campus page this week will no doubt shock many readers. Probably more parents than students.

Admittedly not every Jewish student will turn to working as a sex escort or become a gambling addict in order to cope with the trials and tribulations of being at university.

But many will experience a vast array of personal and social problems during the supposed glory years of academia.

While many of Michael’s problems in Edinburgh appear to have stemmed from his own battle to “embrace an independent lifestyle”, as he put it, any concoction of issues can throw a student into a period of depression or anguish.

His point about not everyone being cut out for student life is, I think, one often overlooked, especially by Jewish parents. In the majority of Jewish homes in Britain the idea of an 18-year-old not going off to university would fill parents with dread. God forbid an ‘ology’ or Oxbridge place is not forthcoming for little Jonny or Rebecca.

But why should everyone automatically disappear off to a campus somewhere, particularly to study something like celebrity culture at a new ‘metropolitan’ university. Would a traineeship and some hard graft in the family business not suit them better?

Uni is not as easy as many people think, and in many ways. Some students – those training to be teachers, or medics for example – work exceptionally hard, in many cases more so than most professional graduates in a dead-end job. And the aforementioned personal and social problems are only ever round the next corner.

From my four years at two universities I could tell you plenty of stories about friends caught up in drug abuse, alcoholism, eating disorders and even, tragically, death. All the ‘regular’ tragedies of everyday life can be replicated at uni, and, in the gold-fish bowl environment – away from family – are perhaps even more intensely felt.

The issues that Michael raises may be extreme. But they are not entirely out of the ordinary. Jewish student chaplains could tell you plenty of true stories of the students they are called upon to assist. I may be wrong, but, quite often, the generally middle-to-upper-class parent’s view of their child having a wonderful experience, meeting Jewish friends, sitting around discussing Dostoyevsky into the wee small hours and only occasionally writing the odd essay or sitting an exam, could not be further from the truth.

Parents who read Michael’s column today and recoil in shock should take a minute to phone their student child and ask, perhaps discreetly, just whether everything really is ok at uni. For some, the answer may be 'no'.


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