Why the viral “Cry Closet” is problematic AF

A photo of a so-called “cry closet” taken at the University of Utah recently went viral on Twitter. The closet, which was installed in the university library, supposedly provides a “safe space” for “stressed out students” to have a quick cry to vent their emotions during their studies. The wooden box was apparently part of a student project and has been widely praised for giving students a place to privately ‘break down’ during their finals.

The original tweet read: “so my school installed a cry closet in the library LMFAOOOO..”.

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However, when I first saw it I didn’t LMFAO. I don’t think it is funny at all. Instead, I think this gives us an insight into the worrying culture of higher education. I also think there is a real sense of context missing from this conversation.

YouGov recently reported that 1 in 4 students experience mental health problems. 77% of reported mental health presentations in university students include depressive symptoms. To improve this, a real cultural and social shift within higher education is needed. In an ideal world, this shift should make it easier for students to access mental health services and counselling, inspire open conversations, and reduce stigma. It should not encourage students to sit alone in a dark room and cry. The cry closet doesn’t fix the problem, it facilitates it.

Instead of joking about the concept, why are more people not seriously concerned by what this tells us about the state of higher education? If any workplace introduced a designated place for employees to cry and vent stress, we wouldn’t laugh. We would think that the workplace is severely warped in its approach to employee wellbeing. We would call it irresponsible and question any job that assumes that level of emotional vulnerability. Why are universities any different?

I am not arguing that people shouldn’t cry. Or that people don’t need spaces to vent their emotions. Of course we do. University can be really stressful, and people respond to the pressures of uni in very different ways. I know that some people would find 10 minutes in the cry closet to be helpful, even therapeutic. However, I am concerned by the widespread acceptance that this level of stress in young people is not only expected, but also facilitated. I believe that this is a result of extreme stress being embedded into the culture of an institution.

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