Student Flourishing Initiative: Building Resiliency Among College Students

Photo of Girl Watching Class Through Imac

One in five college students reports declining mental health as a result of the COVID pandemic. This is on top of a recent generational rise in rates of anxiety and depression among college-aged youth. Could a unique course that blends academic and experiential learning help prepare first-year students for the stressors that lie ahead during college—and in life?

Such is the idea behind the Student Flourishing Initiative (SFI). “We were looking for ways to address the mental health crisis among students and promote flourishing on campus,” says Robert Roeser, Bennett Pierce Professor of Care, Compassion, and Human Development at Pennsylvania State University.

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Cultivating Compassion in Healthcare: One Researcher’s Journey

Image from Emory University.

In the midst of the COVID pandemic, health care is in the news daily. But there’s an often-overlooked element in many hospital systems: the role of chaplains. For patients experiencing loneliness, isolation, fear, and physical pain, chaplains offer much needed emotional support, spiritual guidance, and hope.

But could chaplains and the patients they support also benefit from compassion training? In search of an answer, Jennifer Mascaro, a biological anthropologist in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the Emory School of Medicine, and research partner Charles Raison, received a 2017 Mind & Life PEACE Grant. Their study sought to explore whether Emory’s Cognitively-based Compassion Training (CBCT®) could be used—not only to reduce anxiety and strengthen emotional resilience among chaplains—but to enhance the well-being of their patients.

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Can We Change Racial Bias?

In the four years since this piece was originally published, issues around race and systemic racism in the United States have only become more pressing. The list of names of Black victims of police violence has grown steadily. Now, in the summer of 2020, following the murder of George Floyd and so many others, daily protests and uprisings persist across the country in the name of racial justice. The roots of this nation with regard to the enslavement of Black people, and genocide and displacement of Indigenous peoples, are being reckoned with once again—and for many Whites, perhaps for the first time in a serious way. It feels like we’re approaching a tipping point in consciousness, as an increasing number of people across races and identities work toward the promise of an America that “never has been yet.” 

The role of implicit bias, as explored in this piece, is still a key construct to understand when it comes to race. This is part of a deeper understanding of how our minds work, and how they can both contribute to—and help solve—critical societal problems. The possibility for contemplative practices to reduce our automatic associations and biases has continued to be studied, with promising results beyond what was cited in the original piece (for a few examples, see these findings on how loving-kindness training persistently reduced implicit bias and how mindfulness training reduced automatic responding). 

Even so, as described by civil rights expert john powell in a recent Mind & Life podcast episode, changing bias is deeply challenging and depends on more than the individual; we must also examine and shift our social and cultural environments. It’s clearer than ever that the work before us must happen at all levels—from shaping individual minds, to changing societal norms, to creating inclusive and just policies, structures, and institutions. I hope that the information in this essay might be a small drop in the rising tide toward true equality.

– Wendy Hasenkamp

Original post from July 19, 2016

Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Freddie Gray. Sandra Bland. Ferguson. Baltimore. Charleston. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. In the wake of so many recent tragedies involving racial discrimination, Americans are taking a hard look at this systemic and divisive issue in our culture, and asking what can be done to change it.

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Cultivating Pro-Sociality at a Time of Unprecedented Change

Image of Kamilah Majied’s SRI 2020 plenary lecture, painted by contemplative scribe Kelvy Bird.

Held against the backdrop of a global pandemic and worldwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism, Mind & Life’s 17th annual Summer Research Institute (SRI) offered participants in 22 countries a unique opportunity to reflect on recent events and their roles in contributing to individual and societal healing.

“This is a critical moment in history that will shape our society in ways we cannot imagine,” said Mind & Life President Susan Bauer-Wu in welcoming over 200 attendees to the June 8-13 online event. Entitled Cultivating Pro-Social Development Across the Lifespan: Context, Relationships, and Contemplative Practice, the event sought to explore how people can “engage with one another in ways that foster meaningful relationships and caring connections,” she added.

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Message from the Dalai Lama in a Time of Crisis: “We Have to Think of One Humanity”

In a world besieged by the COVID-19 pandemic and rocked by anti-racism protests, more than 1.3 million people tuned-in to a livestream event, simultaneously translated into 14 languages, to hear the Dalai Lama offer insights on the way forward.

Hosted by the Mind & Life Institute, the June 19 “Conversation with the Dalai Lama on Resilience, Compassion, and Healing for Today,” coincided with the Juneteenth holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. Over 90 minutes, the global leader spoke to the urgency of managing destructive emotions, the primacy of recognizing our essential oneness, and the role of education in equipping emerging generations to do both.

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Mind & Life Speaks Out Against Racism

We sit with heavy hearts in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. This senseless loss has deepened wounds in the United States at a time when ongoing health and economic crises continue to disproportionately harm Black people. We are profoundly aware of the horrors of racism, reverberating with societal disconnection and continued fear and grief across our communities. 

We have also witnessed the resilience, courage, and hope of the human spirit in the face of such pain. In this country and around the world many are working hard to alleviate suffering, to dismantle systems of oppression, and to better support, protect, and uplift the voices of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.

At the Mind & Life Institute, we solemnly acknowledge the generations of injustice and trauma experienced by people of color—whose each and every life matters. As an organization, we are committed to showing up fully to support the healing, humility, and open-heartedness required for antiracist work. Mind & Life does this work as a staff and as an expanding community, in recognition that we must take ownership and address our own biases. We know the ripple effect of our actions day-to-day contributes to greater collective flourishing. 

We believe our work at the intersection of contemplative wisdom, science, and changemaking is a powerful place from which to inspire action toward a future that embraces our shared humanity and interconnection. In the words of Ruth King, we “must teach [our] children about racism, not from a distance, but from [our] own wise heart.” 

Mind & Life is committed to a bold vision for shifting human consciousness and embracing compassion as a guiding principle in creating a safer, kinder, and a more equitable world.

“It’s Helped Me Manage My Life Better:” How University Students Benefit from Mindfulness During the Pandemic

In mid-March, Cindy Ripoll-Martinez, a second-year student at the University of Miami, was alerted that campus would be closing for the remainder of the semester in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hastily, she moved 20 minutes away to her brother’s apartment, where she now lives by herself and attends classes virtually.

While Cindy talks regularly to her family in the Dominican Republic, she admits that being alone in the middle of a pandemic can be stressful. As part of her morning routine, she practices mindful sitting, followed by loving-kindness meditation.

Cindy began pursuing contemplative practice in earnest as part of a class she’s enrolled in, “Mindfulness, Attention, and the Brain,” taught by Amishi Jha, a cognitive neuroscientist and Associate Professor of Psychology at the University. A Mind & Life Institute Fellow, Amishi started teaching the course 15 years ago when little was known about the science of mindfulness.

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Could COVID-19 be the Catalyst Whole Student Education Needs?

No one quite knows where education is headed in the era of COVID-19. Students grapple with when, and if, they’ll return to school this year, while teachers struggle to master online instruction. Parents, too, stress over how to support kitchen table learning, while working from home. 

And it’s not just about when and how schools will start back up. Members of Generation Z, young people between the ages of 11 and 25, and Generation Alpha, those born from 2010 to 2024, will experience a world profoundly transformed—economically and socially—by the virus. 

How will educational systems respond in preparing students to navigate uncertainty, manage challenging emotions, and understand their roles and responsibilities in an interconnected world? What can schools do to help teachers manage stress? A new Mind & Life Institute resource, “Education of the Heart,” offers insights and inspiration from leading scientists, scholars, and educational practitioners on how to meet these and other pressing needs. 

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Cultivating a Compassionate and Connected Remote Work Culture

Amid this COVID-19 pandemic, we all find ourselves forced into physical isolation, necessitating what Time aptly called “the world’s largest work-from-home experiment.”  As individuals and organizations, we are navigating this uncharted terrain without a roadmap, or clarity around how long it will last. 

How do organizations skillfully move forward at this time of not knowing, while effectively carrying out their missions? How do individual team members maintain engagement and productivity while caring for those they live with, especially young children and elderly parents? 

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Mind & Life Impact Story: Bringing Mindfulness to Utah Public Schools

Students practicing a Learning to Breathe exercise.
Students practicing a Learning to Breathe exercise.

While attending Mind & Life’s 33rd Dialogue with the Dalai Lama in 2018, Kirk and Gael Benson were inspired. The Dialogue, now available online as the “Education of the Heart,” explored new frontiers in youth education rooted in science and contemplative wisdom, expanding beyond Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). During the Dialogue, Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, a renowned expert in SEL at the University of British Columbia, showed a map of the United States indicating that in 2018 only 50% of states were integrating SEL into their education policies.

“We saw how mindfulness was spreading throughout the country, but were struck with how little was being done in Utah, our home state,” Kirk says, “my wife turned to me and said, we can do this at home.”

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