Metro

  • Written by Shawna Shapiro, Associate Professor of Writing and Linguistics; Director of Writing & Rhetoric Program, Middlebury

It is a growing problem on campuses across America. Students entering college are reporting levels of anxiety, depression and social isolation higher than previous generations[1]. The phrase “mental health crisis[2]” has become commonplace within higher education circles[3].

Today’s undergraduates belong to the group known as Generation Z, iGen or post-millenials, defined roughly as those born between 1997 and 2012[4]. They comprise the most ethnically diverse[5] and globally connected generation of U.S. students. They have been widely categorized as open-minded[6], hard-working[7] and eager to solve world problems[8].

So why do so many of these students report feeling stressed and socially disconnected on campuses – and what can be done to help? Surprisingly, my research[9] shows that a sense of safety or comfort may not be enough.

A sense of belonging

Like a number of other researchers, I have been working to understand what factors contribute to college students’ sense of belonging. Sense of belonging is difficult to measure: It is not captured with demographic statistics or attrition rates. Rather, it has to do with students’ feelings of importance, connectedness, respect and shared sense of purpose within the campus community[10]. These feelings track closely[11] with students’ reports of personal growth, as well as their academic performance.

Decades of research shows that one of the key ingredients for a sense of belonging is frequent interaction with diverse groups of peers[12]. Such interactions not only allow students to learn from one another – they also improve student perceptions of the campus climate as a whole.

However, when my research assistants and I surveyed dozens of students about their experiences engaging with peers whose backgrounds and perspectives differ from their own[13], we found that such experiences were less common and positive than we had expected.

Many students described our campus – a small liberal arts college in rural Vermont as socially segregated – a trend documented at other institutions[14]. Students described a variety of social divisions – not just along the lines of race and class, but also for example, between athletes and non-athletes. Students in our study said they want to push past these boundaries, but many are unsure how to do so in ways that are meaningful and productive.

“If students were able to step outside of their box more and interact with people they wouldn’t naturally interact with, that could help,” suggested one student – a comment echoed by many others. “Students have to take risks,” said another, “in terms of expanding what you’re comfortable doing in regard to what you’re in interested in.”

Yet when asked in a separate study what inclusivity means to them[15], many of my students invoked images of harmony, peacefulness and acceptance. There seemed to be little room for tension or conflict in their views.

This creates a paradox, since engaging with diversity – that key ingredient for sense of belonging – may involve discomfort and even tension at times. If students gauge the success of those interactions in terms of short-term comfort, rather than long-term growth, they may end up feeling further alienated from one another.

Why building community – even through discomfort – could help stressed college students Bringing different groups of students together can improve an individual’s sense of belonging on a college campus. www.shutterstock.com[16]

Paddling furiously

Indeed, at many institutions, and elite ones in particular, there is a culture of “Duck Syndrome”[17] in which students appear to each other to be “gliding effortlessly,” but are in fact “paddling furiously” beneath the surface. Students often avoid discomfort, therefore, with a “fake it ‘til you make it”[18] approach to social interactions.

This performed perfectionism can cause students to feel as if they are alone in their struggles. Conversely, sharing honest accounts of “belonging uncertainty[19]” – even if such accounts make students feel vulnerable or uncomfortable – can help to decrease feelings of isolation.

The good news is that many institutions are experimenting with ways to promote a culture of belonging. Stanford University, said to be the epicenter of “Duck Syndrome,”[20] has implemented the Resilience Project[21], which aims to “instill a sense of belonging and bravery,” through storytelling about failure and struggle. The Failing Well[22] project at Smith College has a similar goal, and even works with students to create a “failure resume” describing setbacks they have faced.

These sorts of initiatives are part of a national trend[23] toward programming that helps students to forge social connections through sharing experiences of discomfort, rather than allowing students to avoid discomfort through social segregation. A key feature of these programs is that they are accessible (or even required) for all students, regardless of their social identity. Middlebury is also taking part: Our orientation for first-year students includes an event called Midd Uncensored[24], during which students share their hopes and fears about college adjustment. First-years also participate in a program called JusTalks[25], which aims to “foster dialogue and communication that confronts privilege and engages with difference.”

Redefining what belonging means

One takeaway from my research is that those of us working in higher education need to help students redefine belonging as something more than comfort. We need to have honest conversations with students about the role of disagreement and tension in building relationships across social groups.

It is not enough, however, simply to tell students to “toughen up,” which is the message many receive from institutional statements[26] on free speech and intellectual freedom. Colleges and universities also need to prepare students and ourselves to engage productively with the discomfort they will inevitably encounter as they interact with diverse peers and perspectives.

This sort of preparation is taking place on a number of campuses in the U.S. and abroad that have courses or programming focused on deep listening, including the University of Minnesota at Duluth[27] and the University of Edinburgh[28]. Middlebury is in its second year of a grant-funded Engaged Listening Project[29], which provides resources and opportunities for connecting across difference.

Why building community – even through discomfort – could help stressed college students Decades of research shows that one of the key ingredients for a sense of belonging is frequent interaction with diverse groups of peers. www.shutterstock[30]

How to help

Faculty can also do more to build community in the classroom – not just in week one, but throughout the semester. This can happen, for example, through increased use of pair or small group work in class, as well as through projects and assignments that invite students to put course learning into dialogue with their lived experiences. Staff working in student life may want to consider offering more programming designed to stretch students socially, such as events where connecting across difference is the central goal, rather than a possible byproduct.

And students may be the best positioned to tell us what can help: Some of those we interviewed, for example, suggested that the campus dining halls are underutilized as a space for deepening and broadening relationships. Sharing a meal, they reminded us, helps to create the atmosphere for good conversation.

Sense of belonging isn’t simply about creating warm, fuzzy feelings. It is about taking seriously the potential for transformative learning within a diverse community. I can’t think of a more worthy goal for higher education.

[ You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter[31]. ]

References

  1. ^ higher than previous generations (www.apa.org)
  2. ^ mental health crisis (theconversation.com)
  3. ^ higher education circles (www.insidehighered.com)
  4. ^ defined roughly as those born between 1997 and 2012 (www.pewsocialtrends.org)
  5. ^ ethnically diverse (www.npr.org)
  6. ^ open-minded (www.reuters.com)
  7. ^ hard-working (hbr.org)
  8. ^ eager to solve world problems (www.npr.org)
  9. ^ my research (sites.middlebury.edu)
  10. ^ importance, connectedness, respect and shared sense of purpose within the campus community (medium.com)
  11. ^ track closely (www.crcpress.com)
  12. ^ frequent interaction with diverse groups of peers (www.chronicle.com)
  13. ^ engaging with peers whose backgrounds and perspectives differ from their own (www.insidehighered.com)
  14. ^ a trend documented at other institutions (www.forbes.com)
  15. ^ what inclusivity means to them (www.insidehighered.com)
  16. ^ www.shutterstock.com (www.shutterstock.com)
  17. ^ “Duck Syndrome” (www.huffpost.com)
  18. ^ “fake it ‘til you make it” (psychcentral.com)
  19. ^ belonging uncertainty (gregorywalton-stanford.weebly.com)
  20. ^ epicenter of “Duck Syndrome,” (www.stanforddaily.com)
  21. ^ Resilience Project (learningconnection.stanford.edu)
  22. ^ Failing Well (www.smith.edu)
  23. ^ part of a national trend (www.nytimes.com)
  24. ^ Midd Uncensored (middleburycampus.com)
  25. ^ JusTalks (justalks.wixsite.com)
  26. ^ institutional statements (www.thefire.org)
  27. ^ University of Minnesota at Duluth (lib.d.umn.edu)
  28. ^ University of Edinburgh (www.ed.ac.uk)
  29. ^ Engaged Listening Project (engagedlistening.middcreate.net)
  30. ^ www.shutterstock (www.shutterstock.com)
  31. ^ You can read us daily by subscribing to our newsletter (theconversation.com)

Authors: Shawna Shapiro, Associate Professor of Writing and Linguistics; Director of Writing & Rhetoric Program, Middlebury

Read more http://theconversation.com/why-building-community-even-through-discomfort-could-help-stressed-college-students-121398

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

Violin ReEnvisioned

Falling in love with music so young was more than transformative. Music became the lead sheet of my life; challenging me to navigate changes with grace, maintain a steady rhythmic groove, dynami...

Chelsey Green - avatar Chelsey Green

Kadda Sheekoff Win Best Urban Song For "All My Life"

Singer Kadda Sheekoff have emerged as the toast of the 2020 Songdew Pause&Play. Obviously, there are many composers who deserve the award more than Kadda Sheekoff, but the decision of the S...

Media Release - avatar Media Release

A Musical Journey: The Authentic Ted Cline

Ted Cline was born in 1962 as the 11th of 13 children.  His parents were hard-working tobacco share-croppers in Weston, Missouri. By the time he was eleven, he was sneaking downstairs to play his...

Ted Cline - avatar Ted Cline

Angela Predhomme - My Musical Journey

Determined to “make it” in the music industry as a songwriter, I meticulously crafted the best songs I could and pitched them to industry gatekeepers. “THIS one’s got to be IT,” I thought. But ala...

Angela Predhomme - avatar Angela Predhomme

GREYE: “So Far So Good”

“So Far So Good” After seven plus years firing up venues up and down the Atlantic Coast and throughout the Midwest to the breakneck tune of 90-110 annual shows, it’s definitely been jarring fo...

News Company - avatar News Company

The life and times of Wendy Moten

I never thought I would be in the music business, much less a recording artist. I never saw it coming. I thought I'd be a corporate attorney or something like that. Little did I know that anothe...

Wendy Moten - avatar Wendy Moten

CARY PARK “You Matter to Me”

“You Matter to Me” In any other time, Cary Park’s stunning new single “You Matter to Me” might be just another beautiful heartfelt love song, an outpouring of personal affection towards a cheri...

News Company - avatar News Company

TED CLINE ... Country Music Done Right

Country Music Done Right When Ted Cline uses the phrase “Country Music Done Right” to describe his engaging vibe, the Kansas City area-based singer/songwriter isn’t simply being crafty or clev...

News Company - avatar News Company

LAMONT DOZIER, JR. “Why Can’t We Be Lovers”/”I’m Gonna Take My Time”

When it comes to enduring musical legacies, it’s always inspiring when the melodic, grooving evergreen apples drop so close to the tree. The son and namesake of legendary singer, songwriter and re...

News Company - avatar News Company

Metropolitan Business News

MODEL/ACTOR THORN CASTILLO IS THE “NEW FACE” OF SCHICK STYLIST

In 2019, just as his multi-faceted career was taking off, Thorn Castillo heard Robert Downey Jr. offer a sage bit of advice during an interview on photographer/director Sam Jones’ acclaimed multi-...

News Company - avatar News Company

New Research Highlights Opportunities for Sports Betting

Revenue Stream for Sports’ Post-COVID-19 Recovery Strategies New Rochelle, NY, June 1, 2020— Twenty-four states have now legalized sports betting, with more states considering legalization la...

Len Stein - avatar Len Stein

How to make overseas transfers easier?

Mainstream banks can charge as much as $20 just to process a basic international money transfer. Fortunately, today people are not doomed to handling personal finances only through mainstream gl...

News Company - avatar News Company

The flourishing international market of fragrance and perfume

There is something special and unique about the art of fragrance. This is a big world and there are quite literally a lot of smells around at any given time. In fact, as one of the five human senses i...

News Company - avatar News Company

Impact of good marketing on sales

Sales and marketing are brothers as they go hand and in hand. The job of both of these departments is to generate revenue so that an organization can make money. A company that does not generate rev...

News Company - avatar News Company

7 effective tips for increasing sales in retail

It seems that retailers have drawn a difficult lot in the 21st century: competition from online retail is growing steadily. After all, Internet retailers can sell your products at significantly lowe...

News Company - avatar News Company

Holidays

5 COOL GADGETS TO CARRY FOR A SAFE TRIP

Are you planning to go on a trip? Possibly, you do not know what things are most necessary on a trip. In this article, we will guide you through some important tips. These tips help you to...

News Company - avatar News Company

New Baggage Regulations to Help Aussie Parents Travel with Infants

Travelling around the globe has never been easy, especially when infants tag along for the trip. One of the main issues that parents often have to deal with is the need to bring extra item...

News Company - avatar News Company

Maya Beach Opens to Tourists

Despite recent reports that Southern Thailand's famous Maya Beach will close for three months this year, in fact no decision to this effect has been made by Thai authorities. Phi Phi Nati...

Maevadi Rosenfeldt - avatar Maevadi Rosenfeldt