September 18th Session: “Strategies for Challenging Hate and Creating Progressive Social Change in Academic Communities”

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The past year has been full of hateful influences impacting classrooms and academic communities across the country.  How do we combat the hate and create progressive social change?

According to Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education and author of “Why Most Republicans Don’t Like Higher Education”, only 36% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said colleges and universities had a positive effect in a national survey released by the Pew Research Center in July, 2017.  

A major reason for the declining support of higher education is the content the media has shared since the recession in 2007.  More often than not, stories of students who have “wasted” time and money pursuing higher education, now living in their parents’ basement swimming in student loan debt are showcased than the success stories of individuals that have found a job and started a bright future with the help of their college degree.  Media coverage of how some colleges have poorly handled controversial “hot-button issues” such as race and gender have also contributed to the decline in support of higher education.

Nell Gluckman’s article “Faculty Members Organize to Fight ‘Fascist’ Interlopers on Campuses” includes excellent examples of the violence portrayed by the media, and how faculty, staff, and students of Purdue University and other campuses are standing up and fighting back.

As someone who is pro-equality, and anti-racism, it is important to look at not only how you feel, but how you act to support those feelings; to support equality among all races on a deeper level of acting versus simple agreement.  Laurie Calvert’s article “I Was a Racist Teacher and I Didn’t Even Know It” gives incredible insight on racism from the view of an educator.  Calvert quotes, “Anti-racism is more of an action than a feeling. I’m learning to take action to promote equity and to call out injustice. I am learning to lean into doing my part to help this country that I love I become true to our promise of justice for all.”


Please join us for our upcoming Tuesday, September 19th session on “Strategies for Challenging Hate and Creating Progressive Social Change in Academic Communities.” Our esteemed presenters for the September 19th session include Brad Russell, Luke Lavera, and Zoe Weinberg.  All Provisions sessions will take place in the Standish Conference Rooms A and B from 12:00-1:15 and are free to attend.  Hope to see you there! 🙂 

 

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“13 Reasons Why” Netflix Series: Considerations for Educators

“13 Reasons Why,”  a new series that was recently released on Netflix, opened the door for discussions and awareness regarding suicide. The series was based on the novel, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. However, the series depicts graphic images and scenes related to a teen suicide. Much debate has occurred over the various aspects of suicide, bullying, and sexual abuse depicted in the series.  In response to concerns regarding the ‘contagion’ of suicide for those with depression or suicidal ideations, practitioners have provided suggestions for dealing with the backlash.


The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) provided an explanation of important considerations for educators based on the emotional reactions elicited by the series. I am providing the entire article below, word for word, because of the important implications and the various resources embedded within.

“Schools have an important role in preventing youth suicide, and being aware of potential risk factors in students’ lives is vital to this responsibility. The trending Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, based on a young adult novel of the same name, is raising such concerns. The series revolves around 17-year-old Hannah Baker, who takes her own life and leaves behind audio recordings for 13 people who she says in some way were part of why she killed herself. Each tape recounts painful events in which one or more of the 13 individuals played a role.Producers for the show say they hope the series can help those who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide. However, the series, which many teenagers are binge watching without adult guidance and support, is raising concerns from suicide prevention experts about the potential risks posed by the sensationalized treatment of youth suicide. The series graphically depicts a suicide death and addresses in wrenching detail a number of difficult topics, such a bullying, rape, drunk driving, and slut shaming. The series also highlights the consequences of teenagers witnessing assaults and bullying (i.e., bystanders) and not taking action to address the situation (e.g., not speaking out against the incident, not telling an adult about the incident).

Cautions

We do not recommend that vulnerable youth, especially those who have any degree of suicidal ideation, watch this series. Its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to romanticize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies. They may easily identify with the experiences portrayed and recognize both the intentional and unintentional effects on the central character. Unfortunately, adult characters in the show, including the second school counselor who inadequately addresses Hannah’s pleas for help, do not inspire a sense of trust or ability to help. Hannah’s parents are also unaware of the events that lead to her suicide death.While many youth are resilient and capable of differentiating between a TV drama and real life, engaging in thoughtful conversations with them about the show is vital. Doing so presents an opportunity to help them process the issues addressed, consider the consequences of certain choices, and reinforce the message that suicide is not a solution to problems and that help is available. This is particularly important for adolescents who are isolated, struggling, or vulnerable to suggestive images and storylines. Research shows that exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of death, can be one of the many risk factors that youth struggling with mental health conditions cite as a reason they contemplate or attempt suicide.What the series does accurately convey is that there is no single cause of suicide. Indeed, there are likely as many different pathways to suicide as there are suicide deaths. However, the series does not emphasize that common among most suicide deaths is the presence of treatable mental illnesses. Suicide is not the simple consequence of stressors or coping challenges, but rather, it is most typically a combined result of treatable mental illnesses and overwhelming or intolerable stressors.School psychologists and other school-employed mental health professionals can assist stakeholders (e.g., school administrators, parents, and teachers) to engage in supportive conversations with students as well as provide resources and offer expertise in preventing harmful behaviors.

Guidance for Educators

  1. While we do not recommend that all students view this series, it can be appreciated as an opportunity to better understand young people’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Children and youth who view this series will need supportive adults to process it. Take this opportunity to both prevent the risk of harm and identify ongoing social and behavior problems in the school community that may need to be addressed.
  2. Help students articulate their perceptions when viewing controversial content, such as 13 Reasons Why. The difficult issues portrayed do occur in schools and communities, and it is important for adults to listen, take adolescents’ concerns seriously, and be willing to offer to help.
  3. Reinforce that school-employed mental health professionals are available to help. Emphasize that the behavior of the second counselor in the series is understood by virtually all school-employed mental health professionals as inappropriate. It is important that all school-employed mental health professionals receive training in suicide risk assessment.
  4. Make sure parents, teachers, and students are aware of suicide risk warning signs. Always take warning signs seriously, and never promise to keep them secret. Establish a confidential reporting mechanism for students. Common signs include:
    • Suicide threats, both direct (“I am going to kill myself.” “I need life to stop.”) and indirect (“I need it to stop.” “I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up.”). Threats can be verbal or written, and they are often found in online postings.
    • Giving away prized possessions.
    • Preoccupation with death in conversation, writing, drawing, and social media.
    • Changes in behavior, appearance/hygiene, thoughts, and/or feelings. This can include someone who is typically sad who suddenly becomes extremely happy.
    • Emotional distress.
  5. Students who feel suicidal are not likely to seek help directly; however, parents, school personnel, and peers can recognize the warning signs and take immediate action to keep the youth safe. When a student gives signs that they may be considering suicide, take the following actions:
    • Remain calm, be nonjudgmental, and listen. Strive to understand the intolerable emotional pain that has resulted in suicidal thoughts.
    • Avoid statements that might be perceived as minimizing the student’s emotional pain (e.g., “You need to move on.” or “You should get over it.”).
    • Ask the student directly if they are thinking about suicide (i.e., “Are you thinking of suicide?”).
    • Focus on your concern for their well-being and avoid being accusatory.
    • Reassure the student that there is help and they will not feel like this forever.
    • Provide constant supervision. Do not leave the student alone.
    • Without putting yourself in danger, remove means for self-harm, including any weapons the person might find.
    • Get help. Never agree to keep a student’s suicidal thoughts a secret. Instead, school staff should take the student to a school-employed mental health professional. Parents should seek help from school or community mental health resources. Students should tell an appropriate caregiving adult, such as a school psychologist, administrator, parent, or teacher.
  6. School or district officials should determine how to handle memorials after a student has died. Promote memorials that benefit others (e.g., donations for a suicide prevention program) and activities that foster a sense of hope and encourage positive action. The memorial should not glorify, highlight, or accentuate the individual’s death. It may lead to imitative behaviors or a suicide contagion (Brock et al., 2016).
  7. Reinforcing resiliency factors can lessen the potential of risk factors that lead to suicidal ideation and behaviors. Once a child or adolescent is considered at risk, schools, families, and friends should work to build these factors in and around the youth.
    • Family support and cohesion, including good communication.
    • Peer support and close social networks.
    • School and community connectedness.
    • Cultural or religious beliefs that discourage suicide and promote healthy living.
    • Adaptive coping and problem-solving skills, including conflict resolution.
    • General life satisfaction, good self-esteem, and a sense of purpose.
    • Easy access to effective medical and mental health resources.
  8. Strive to ensure that all student spaces on campus are monitored and that the school environment is truly safe, supportive, and free of bullying.
  9. If additional guidance is needed, ask for support from your building- or district-level crisis team. The team may be able to assist with addressing unique situations affecting your building.

See Preventing Suicide: Guidelines for Administrators and Crisis Teams for additional guidance.Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) and the JED Foundation have created talking points for conversations with youth specific to the 13 Reasons Whyseries, available online.

Guidance for Families

  1. Ask your child if they have heard or seen the series 13 Reasons Why. While we don’t recommend that they be encouraged to view the series, do tell them you want to watch it, with them or to catch up, and discuss their thoughts.
  2. If they exhibit any of the warning signs above, don’t be afraid to ask if they have thought about suicide or if someone is hurting them. Raising the issue of suicide does not increase the risk or plant the idea. On the contrary, it creates the opportunity to offer help.
  3. Ask your child if they think any of their friends or classmates exhibit warning signs. Talk with them about how to seek help for their friend or classmate. Guide them on how to respond when they see or hear any of the warning signs.
  4. Listen to your children’s comments without judgment. Doing so requires that you fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said. Put your own agenda aside.
  5. Get help from a school-employed or community-based mental health professional if you are concerned for your child’s safety or the safety of one of their peers.

See Preventing Youth Suicide Brief Facts (also available in Spanish) and Preventing Youth Suicide: Tips or Parents and Educators for additional information.

Safe Messaging for Students

  1. Suicide is never a solution. It is an irreversible choice regarding a temporary problem. There is help. If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or know someone who is, talk to a trusted adult, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text “START” to 741741.
  2. Don’t be afraid to talk to your friends about how they feel and let them know you care about them.
  3. Be an “upstander” and take actions to reduce bullying and increase positive connections among others. Report concerns.
  4. Never promise to keep secret behaviors that represent a danger toward another person.
  5. Suicide is preventable. People considering suicide typically say something or do something that is a warning sign. Always take warning signs seriously and know the warning signs.
    • Suicide threats, both direct (“I am going to kill myself.”) and indirect (“I wish I could fall asleep and never wake up.”). Can be verbal, written, or posted online.
    • Suicide notes and planning, including online postings.
    • Preoccupation with death in conversation, writing, drawing, and social media.
    • Changes in behavior, appearance/hygiene, thoughts, and/or feelings.
    • Emotional distress.
  6. Separate myths and facts.
    • MYTH: Talking about suicide will make someone choose death by suicide who has never thought about it before. FACT: There is no evidence to suggest that talking about suicide plants the idea. Talking with your friend about how they feel and letting them know that you care about them is important. This is the first step in getting your friend help.
    • MYTH: People who struggle with depression or other mental illness are just weak. FACT: Depression and other mental illnesses are serious health conditions and are treatable.
    • MYTH: People who talk about suicide won’t really do it. FACT: People, particularly young people who are thinking about suicide, typically demonstrate warning signs. Always take these warning signs seriously.
  7. Never leave the person alone; seek out a trusted adult immediately. School-employed mental health professionals like your school psychologist are trusted sources of help.
  8. Work with other students and the adults in the school if you want to develop a memorial for someone who has died by suicide. Although decorating a student’s locker, creating a memorial social media page, or other similar activities are quick ways to remember the student who has died, they may influence others to imitate or have thoughts of wanting to die as well. It is recommended that schools develop memorial activities that encourage hope and promote positive outcomes for others (e.g., suicide prevention programs).

Read these helpful points from SAVE.org and the JED Foundation to further understand how 13 Reasons Why dramatizes situations and the realities of suicide. See Save a Friend: Tips for Teens to Prevent Suicide for additional information. “


Similarly, an article from U.S. News.com by Alexandra Pannoni also provides suggestions for parents and educators regarding the premise of the series that allows guided discussion about suicide. The four main points for take away included:

  • ensure the discussions are in the context of suicide PREVENTION
  • allowing the children and/or teenagers to lead discussions while you engage in active listening
  • be aware of the warning signs
  • have them ask how their friends are doing

The Academic Minute: Technology & Education

 

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On the Academic Minute, The Phantom Vibration Syndrome,” Robert Rosenberger describes the sensation of feeling your phone vibrate, when it actually has not vibrated at all. In a study of undergraduate students, approximately 90% reported that they experienced this “phantom vibration syndrome.” When medical staff were surveyed, approximately 70% experienced the syndrome. Although many have experienced it, only less than 2% consider the syndrome bothersome. There are many speculations as to why this occurs, including:

  • “Brain wiring” form phone useage creates cognitive pathways, which lead to the misinterpretation of other stimuli as phone vibrations.
  • Perceived phone vibrations are a side effect of a general rise in anxiety caused by technology.
  • The perceived phone vibrations are caused by a learned bodily habituation, meaning our bodies are trained to feel an incoming call or text, and thus experience the “phantom vibrations.”

On the Academic Minute, The Digital Divide,” Marshall Jones discusses that internet access has increased by 153% from 2010-2012 in North America and by 3,606% on the African continent. One-to- one programs (one computer/device for each student) are helping to close the “digital divide,” which is the separation between those with and without access to internet and technology. With one-to-one programs, internet access is almost equal to living in a city with access to a large research library.

  • A few pros of one-to-one programs are they allow:
    • creative ways to manage classrooms (45 degrees-laptops half closed)
    • free wifi hotspots for those without access at home
    • unique ways to shrink the digital divide
  • A few cons of one-to-one programs are:
    • they are expensive
    • they allow too much screen time
    • there is not enough administrative support and professional development for teachers
    • vendors oversell the benefits

Financial Stress & College Debt- How Bad Is It??

Student-Loans

In A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College, Andrew Martin and Andrew Lehren reported that in the year 2012, the country had over $1 trillion in student loans!! More specifically, they found that in 2011, the average amount that each graduated college student owed was $23,300.  In addition, it is predicted by the Department of Education that the annual average cost of a public college education will be more than doubled in only 15 years. With this amount of debt, it is no wonder graduated college students are facing tremendous financial stress after college.

“Most students remain worried about money and the cost of required academic materials, and the impact is worse for minority students, the National Survey of Student Engagement finds.” According to the survey results provided in the article, Students Still Financially Stressed, from 2012 to 2015, senior college students have increasing percentages of financial stress. Approximately 60% of college students have reported frequent financial worry. Interestingly enough, it was found that financial stress did not tremendously effect student academic performance, and in fact only sacrificed one hour of work. In addition to transportation, housing, and enrollment costs, textbooks can cost an additional several hundreds of dollars.

“An analysis finds a steady rise in the proportion of college graduates paying too high a percentage of their annual income to repay student loan debt.” In a recent article, More Grads Have ‘Excessive’ Debt, Doug Lederman discusses that approximately 1 in 4 students out of college are required to pay nearly 10% of thier monthly income.

Veterans in Higher Education

Stock Photo by Sean Locke www.digitalplanetdesign.com

Stock Photo by Sean Locke

A recent survey poll on veterans reports that although Veterans are the most financially stable, less than 1/3 of the Veteran student population believe their needs are being met in higher education. In contrast, those who attended college while active on duty reported much higher percentages of having their needs accommodated for.

Recent articles, White House Push on Veterans’ Education and Obama Takes Steps to Assure Quality of Education Programs That Recruit Veterans, report on the release of a new designed GI Bills Comparison Tool that will allow Veterans to compare colleges according to student graduation and retention rates. In addition, President Obama is “calling on Congress to pass a trio of bills that would:

  • Require colleges that receive money through the GI Bill to meet state-specific criteria for accreditation, certification, and licensure (HR 2360).
  • Give the administration the authority to reinstate GI benefits for students whose colleges close in the middle of a term (S 2253).
  • Replace the 90/10 rule with an 85/15 rule.” –Kelly Field

The Starbucks Corporation recently announced that the company will provide all Veteran or active duty employees with a free tuition admission (Bachelor’s degree) for the employee’s child or spouse.

Lectures – Relevant or Redundant?

In ‘Are lectures the best way to teach students?’ from the Guardian, a handful of academics discuss whether or not the traditional lecture, synonymous with higher-education for many years, is still relevant and effective in today’s climate.

Bruce Charlton, a reader in evolutionary psychiatry at Newcastle University believes that we are now seeing a pale imitation of what used to be the ‘best pragmatic way’ of teaching those who wanted to be taught. Charlton bemoans how, in this day and age, lectures typically consist of a whole host of different problems concerning both the lecturer and the students. He paints a picture of a several hundred strong group of inattentive, heavily distracted students who are passive recipients to an interminably long and unenthusiastic PowerPoint presentation, of which they may have already seen online. Despite this claim, Charlton explains that the art of lecturing, when properly executed, is on par with live theatre and musical performances. In order to achieve this, high levels of effort and concentration are required from all involved. Without the positive involvement from diligent students and charismatic lecturers, Charlton fears that we are witnessing a decline of what has the potential to be a valuable and memorable learning experience.

University teacher Sam Marsh and senior lecturer Nick Gurski from the mathematics and statistics department at the University of Sheffield experienced such a decline in lecturing first-hand. In their first-year classes, Marsh and Gurski saw how attendance was becoming a major issue; almost half of the class stopped attending lectures by the end of the semester. Despite attempts to improve the syllabus, update the materials, add tests, and even change the lecturers, the problem still remained. In response, Marsh and Gurski decided to replace lectures with a series of short, filmed, online videos appropriate to the specific topics. The goal was to allow students to watch the videos at a time most convenient to their needs and then carry out a short test. Marsh and Gurski discovered that this new format succeeded not only by getting the students to learn and attend to the material on time, but also in improving students’ exam results. Due to the success of this new format, Marsh and Gurski concluded that, in their experience at least, lecturing is no longer a viable or effective way to best teach their students. Although these are just the opinions of a small number of educators, it provokes some important questions:

Is this newfound dependence on technology a positive step toward improving students’ potential to learn? Through moving away from lectures, are we losing what, as Charlton stressed, is an ‘irreplaceable’ medium of teaching? Do they still have a valid place in colleges and universities?

The Second Year Slump

Much has been said about the difficulties and challenges that both students and teachers face during that first year of college. For some, the increased academic demands weigh heavy on their shoulders, while for others, the culture shock of a new, independent environment away from their comfort zone can be emotionally draining. Last semester, Provisions explored ways in which we can help these students to adapt, on both a personal and an academic level.

However, it appears that, even after those first year teething problems have been treated, educators must brace themselves for a familiar challenge…

In “Disengaged and overwhelmed: why do second year students underperform?” from the The Guardian, Clare Milson explains how students can often experience a slump in their academic progress. Whereas the first year and the last year arguably carry more significance in the minds of the learner, the middle year(s) is awkwardly caught between the two, struggling for identity. Milson, who likens the second year to a middle child, states that this issue is, in fact, “a widely recognized” phenomenon, which is referred to by U.S. academics as “the sophomore slump.” Research undertaken at a U.K. based university found evidence that one in three undergraduate students had been affected by an academic decline.

Milson notes that this phenomenon is far from simple to explain. Many of the students who were found to have experienced the slump reported that they felt “lost, perplexed, and disappointed” with their second year performances. Studies suggest that students were not prepared for the increase of the workload. Whereas students in the first year found their classes to be “cute and fluffy”, the second year represented a significant change in difficulty and volume.

Milson describes how students feel that there is a lack of “support and guidance” given to students entering their second year. Despite this yearning for help, many students do not actively seek it. Very few students took it upon themselves to make use of student services designed to provide the help and support that they clearly felt they needed.

Milson proposes three strategies that institutions of higher education can help students in the second year:

1) Design a second year induction program to reacquaint students with the challenges ahead of them.

2) Ensure that your subject is fresh and appealing. It is important for the student to feel excited about the upcoming semester.

3) Inform the students about the on-campus resources available to them.

While it is true that students may not be aware of the support available to them, there are many that are aware, but harbor feelings of embarrassment about seeking help. In order to provide students with the platform to change, educators must attempt to remove the stigma around it. What other ways can educators prevent students from succumbing to the sophomore slump?