Can you teach resilience?

Fostering student resilience will curb your high mental health service demands

The University of Virginia (UVA) recently appointed its first executive director for student resilience and leadership development. 

His mission? To teach students to be more resilient.

Tim Davis spoke with the Chronicle of Higher Education's Kelly Field about his new role and the challenges that make student resilience so important.

UVA decided to create a role like his partially to meet student mental health needs, Davis said. Today, student demand for mental health services is growing five times faster than enrollment. 

What this trend means at UVA is the counseling center must devote more resources to clinical needs and crisis response, Davis explained. There were fewer resources left over for counseling and "strengths-based programming," he said.

Davis has established an "executive coaching" program at UVA, in which interested students volunteer to attend a safe, confidential setting in which they discuss their struggles and stressors as they relate to leadership.

The program helps students develop self-awareness, which Davis argued is critical for resilience.

Davis said it's difficult to confirm the claims that students today are less resilient than they used to be, adding it's possible the conception is only the result of a heightened awareness. More people are paying attention to student resilience—or lack thereof—and that makes it difficult to determine whether, as Davis said, there has been "a meaningful shift in the resiliency of this generation."

Davis attested to one factor that may be affecting student resiliency, arguing that many parents today are "doing too much for their kids, and really not allowing them to learn through struggle and through failure."

Social media has also made many students more competitive than they used to be, he said, since they're able to constantly "quantify what they're doing relative to other students."

Davis argued that when students refuse to take difficult classes for fear they will receive anything lower than an A—or push themselves out of their comfort zones—they shield themselves from the failure necessary for fostering resilience. He tells students, "you need to take classes where you'll get a B" (Field, Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/18).

Help students overcome the "resilience gap"


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