CMU responds to ‘stress culture’ on campus

Dec 31, 2013 by

On a campus whose hard-charging culture exacts an emotional toll on some students, Carnegie Mellon University junior Soniya Shah told a group of freshmen this fall something they may not often hear.

Every so often, it’s OK to fail.

Her simple message — delivered in a new course — is one often lost on those who were the best in their high school class but quickly discover when they arrive at Carnegie Mellon that no matter how many all-nighters they pull, everyone around them seems just as smart or smarter.

It is that so-called “stress culture” that one of the nation’s most highly competitive campuses hopes to modify through a series of initiatives, some of which grew out of campus soul-searching over a sophomore’s suicide a year ago this month.

Among the first is an elective course for first-semester freshmen called “thrive @ CMU,” developed jointly by Ms. Shah and another junior, Vivek Nair. The 50-minute weekly class, which meets over two months, debuted this fall and is intended to give new undergraduates tools to find balance in their lives while making their mark on campus.

Inside a windowless room in Wean Hall, lecturers ranging from professors and psychological staff to the wife of the university’s president offered various perspectives on wellness, relationships and identity.

The goal is not to make Carnegie Mellon less rigorous, said Angela Lusk, assistant director of student life. Rather, the idea is to alter perspectives on that rigor and encourage students to see their own success without “always comparing it to the person next to you,” she said.

One recent evening, Ms. Shah shared her own struggles early on as an undergraduate, telling the class about a D she received in Organic Chemistry I — a serious blow to someone who finished high school near the top of her class.

She rebounded with an A in Organic Chemistry II, and as of the fall, carried a 3.25 grade point average. Just the same, that low point gave her fresh perspective and is why she said she wanted to share it with those who might soon face something similar.

“Everything isn’t going to go right all the time,” said Ms. Shah, 20, a technical writing major from Clarence, N.Y. “You’re still going to wake up in the morning. Life goes on.”

Her story of early failure hit some in the room like a rock.

“I think I freaked some of them out,” she said. “I don’t think we talked about failure enough in the class.”

College: universal angst time

On any college campus, there are students hundreds of miles from home for the first time who are in anguish over academic or personal woes, from their first failing grade to a bruising long-distance romantic breakup.

via CMU responds to ‘stress culture’ on campus – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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