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Student Well-being: A Comprehensive Approach to “De-Stressing” Our Students

Professor of Cinematic Arts Anikó Imre introduced this panel by arguing that USC should move beyond crisis management toward repositioning the mental health epidemic as a global, historical and collective symptom of a widely normalized value system that puts competition and performance in the center of social life. While this ethos—which USC’s culture poll identified as central to our current values—inevitably produces widespread anxiety, it affects younger generations especially hard, as they face insecurities in housing, employment, climate and politics.

Next, Brenda Ingram, Director of Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention and Services, talked about “Trauma-Informed Pedagogy” (TIP). TIP correlates the increasing prevalence of “adverse childhood experiences” (ACE) in early life with an increased risk of negative consequences later, such as alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, smoking, and mental illness. Ingram said that 56-89% of college students have had at least one ACE event. She urged adjusting our pedagogies in three ways: by realizing the many ways students’ trauma can manifest; by recognizing these deferred signs and symptoms; and by responding in ways that are compassionate, build trust, and help students resist re-traumatization and build resiliency.

Finally, a student panel, including USG President Trenton Stone, USG Senators Randi Anderson and Ben Rosenthal, GSG President Sam Cwalina and GSG Director of Social Programming Alexis McDonald, reflected on three questions:  (1) the main sources of stress for students; (2) existing campus resources and faculty approaches that have proven helpful; and (3) ways that faculty and USC could do more to address wellness challenges. Panelists pointed to the pressure to perform at 100% all the time, food and housing insecurity, and the lack of coordinated messaging about mental health resources as the main challenges for students. They asked faculty for more empathy and flexibility.

The panel concluded with a lively audience discussion about how we can improve communication and engagement, create more safe and accessible spaces for relaxing, modify our teaching to increase engagement and minimize performance anxiety, and adjust faculty evaluation/promotion criteria to recognize the emotional work done by faculty, which often disproportionately falls on women and faculty of color.

Anikó Imre
USC Cinematic Arts