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Thinking About Resilience Seminar Highlights Sharing Strengths Through Small-Group Discussions

Boston College launched a new Cross Currents seminar this spring designed to build students’ resilience through small-scale discussions, according to Matt Razek, an instructor for the course and associate director for student programming at Boston College.

“It’s a class built on participation and sharing your story, but it’s done in a way that you build trust with the people in the room and find opportunities to uplift each other’s stories,” Razek said.

The one-credit seminar, Thinking about Resilience, is a collaboration between the Division of Student Affairs and athletics administrators that meets once a week for an hour and 15 minutes. There are three sections this semester, each co-taught by two administrators.

Melinda Stoops, an instructor for the course and associate vice president for student health and wellness, said the idea for the class came from faculty at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who are currently teaching a seminar on resilience. Stoops said two UMass professors trained her and the other instructors for the course in the summer of 2022.

The seminar is a way for students to develop resilience amid the stress of college, according to Stoops.

“In thinking about the fact that more and more people in general are struggling with anxiety and depression—and more so than ever—I think it’s really important that we learn to be resilient and to be able to overcome obstacles and to be able to take care of ourselves in a health-promoting way,” Stoops said.

Along with promoting mental health, one of the main topics of the seminar is strength, according to Razek. As an instructor, Razek said he helps students in the class focus on their current strengths while also learning from others.

“And so the goal is not just as instructors for us to, like, point out that gift,” Razek said. “So much of the class is sharing out and learning from each other and learning from experiences.”

According to Stoops, students in the class complete a strengths assessment in which they identify five of their current strengths. Each class, instructors ask students to talk about a time during the past week when they used one of these strengths. Stoops said approaching the class from a strengths-based perspective will help students learn how to be more resilient.

“So we’re encouraging students as part of the time between class to really look at opportunities throughout the week to approach situations from a strengths-based perspective,” Stoops said.

Razek said students in the class first practice centering themselves. After these centering practices, which involve breathing exercises, the class moves into its main lecture for the week—often focused on resilience, strength, and leadership.

“We have a reflection where we allow people to center themselves and allow them to place themselves in the room and be present through breathing exercises, through movements, and it really focuses on the five senses,” Razek said. 

Stoops said because each seminar is co-taught, it gives students the opportunity to see leadership and resilience modeled by people who share different experiences and perspectives.

“I think it’s really important that when you have two people, you’re showing two different models of resilience because there isn’t one cookie cutter resilient person,” Stoops said.

Maggie Guo, CSOM ’24, is currently in the class and said she likes the discussion-based structure of the seminar because it allows her to learn more about her peers.

“I think I’ve just learned so much more about the community here at BC and just, it’s always great to hear people’s stories and really put into perspective your own experience,” Guo said.

Guo said she also enjoys seeing her peers become more comfortable with sharing their personal stories during class discussions as time goes on.

“I think it’s just always great in these discussion-based classes to see everyone else opening up and more willing to communicate as the time goes by,” Guo said.

Learning to be resilient is an important quality when growing as an individual and a professional, according to Stoops.

“The more we can understand resilience—not just as a concept, but looking at it in the context of our lives and have skills that we can apply in those difficult times—the better we’ll be in life and better equipped to deal with those ups and downs that we encounter,” Stoops said.

March 19, 2023