In student life circles today, there’s a lot of talk about the need to help students build resilience.
But the fact is, student life professionals have been doing that all along.
Our initiatives are designed to help students live happy and healthy lives, engage with each other and the community around them, learn to navigate challenges, and acquire the skills they will need to succeed.
In other words, to be resilient.
Our current challenge is to cultivate resiliency across a number of spheres, in all aspects of the new learning environments, in which “student” is much more broadly defined.
A number of provocative thinkers and ideas have emerged alongside the resiliency topic. One leader I’ve found inspiring is Jane McGonigal, a gaming expert who is the author of the bestseller Reality is Broken and the co-founder of the innovative game, “SuperBetter.”
Her TED Global talks (http://janemcgonigal.com/videos/) opened up a new way of looking at resilience.
In 2009, she suffered a debilitating concussion that left her with ongoing symptoms. Instead of giving in to such a dark time, she started wondering how she could help herself heal. She knew that she responded well when faced with a challenge and surrounded by support. And she was a gamer.
So she put her skills to work to create a simple game, enlisting her family and friends to play with her. It might sound odd, but each day, through playing the game, she was taking steps to boost her resilience. And it worked.
Today, she is Director of Games Research and Development at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, California. She specializes in developing “alternate reality games” that challenge players to tackle real-world problems or to improve happiness and well-being. She also researches ways that games can increase resiliency.
She has consulted and developed internal game workshops for a diverse array of companies and organizations from Intel to Disney, and the American Heart Association to the World Bank. She holds a Ph.D. in performance studies from the University of California, Berkeley, where she has taught game theory and design.
What struck me most about Jane was how she took adversity and turned it on its head. Instead of becoming bogged down by the trauma of her injury and its aftermath, she looked for post-traumatic growth.
As Jane points out, post-traumatic growth is an actual phenomenon. After a trauma—loss, injury, illness—people often say they are different afterward. They grow. They are stronger. They discover how resilient they really are.
Jane wondered if people could strengthen resilience without having to experience trauma first. It turns out the answer is “yes.” There are steps you can take every day to boost your resilience.
Jane’s innovative approach challenges us to find inventive ways to engage all students in the process of promoting resilience.
Yale Student Life has several initiatives under way in this area, and I’ll be sharing these as the year unfolds.
I invite you to share your thoughts on this important topic and skill, one that makes a difference not only in student life, but also throughout all of life.