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‘Hidden Lives’ of Otterbein

‘Hidden Lives’ of Otterbein

Many of us have this idea of what the college experience means for students. It starts with a picture of mom and dad unloading suitcases, helping their student unpack and get settled into their new home.

The fact is we have students who show up, alone, with one suitcase. Their reality is not the one we expect.

After 37 years at Otterbein, I’ve seen hidden challenges and adversities that are difficult to imagine any student having to face.

In fact, almost every student has a hidden life.

Our job is figuring out when something is preventing students from achieving the success they come here seeking; and then, what we can do to help them get through it.

Earlier this year, a panel of students shared their hidden lives with the Division of Student Affairs. It was a sobering reminder of what our students struggle with in addition to their coursework — family demands, work, heartbreak, personal worth, sexual identity, illness, loss, financial worries, food insecurity. For example, we’re seeing such an increase in food insecurity, meaning students don’t know where their next meal is coming from, Otterbein will be starting a food co-op to help meet that need.

When we can connect students with the resources and support they need, they do persist. When the number of students requesting counseling services increased 25 percent and we had a three-week waiting list, we took action. Today, we offer counseling services through a full-time psychologist and a part-time therapist.

I’ve also seen the gap widen in terms of the socioeconomic realities during my years here. Of this year’s first-year students, 32 percent are Pell eligible, which means many of these families are below the poverty level, and 23 percent are first generation. Otterbein remains committed to opportunity. I’m often struck that so many of our donors give to scholarships and support programs while not always knowing who the ultimate recipient will be. I can assure you the benefit is real. Our faculty and staff get to see what our donors’ support means in the lives of students every day and the results are inspiring.

What follows are three stories of hidden lives at Otterbein. We’ve protected their identities to honor their candor and their privacy. If you feel moved by their courage and tenacity, you’re not alone. They are the reasons so many of us dedicate our lives to this work and this place. Remember, my door is always open for those who want to help us continue to make a difference in the lives of our students.

- Bob Gatti

Choosing to be the Exception

Love Endures

Owning Her Life

Read more about those reaching out to the 'hidden' in the latest issue of Otterbein Towers Magazine.