Editorial notebook

Moving on with resilience

A breakdown of the 2015–2016 community theme

In a previous notebook, I mentioned that the 2015–2016 community theme, resilience, wasn’t so bad. After reading what I wrote, Jack Wellhofer ’18 told me he’d never heard anyone support it. Administration tend to be biased toward it—for obvious reasons—and students tend to be biased against it. I believe that there’s more to it than a paycheck or spite, so here’s my case.

Before I dive in, let me clarify what resilience is. On the Rensselaer webpage, Professor Holly Traver defines resilience as “being able to deal with whatever life brings our way, to overcome crises or obstacles we face”; Merriam Webster defines it as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” Both of these definitions suggest something far more simple that we all embrace: the ability to overcome difficulty, and even turn failure into an opportunity. Even if we may not like the sound of the word ‘resilience’—it sounds tacky and obnoxious to me in a non-scientific connotation—there are a few sensitivities that can be addressed by it.

I previously wrote, “Contrary to popular opinion, the administration is not here to torture us. In fact, the yearly theme of resilience was selected to help us in response to the national trend where students whine, sit back, and coddle their minds, as seen here, and as seen in the situation Hubert J. Lecuyer reported about at Yale University.” Allow me to elaborate on this issue: Lecuyer was writing about a news story at the time, in which Erika Christakis, co-master of Yale’s Silliman College, received backlash for saying that there is no clear line for offensive Halloween costumes; she was met with a wave of outrage so strong that she resigned. What’s so wrong here is that the Yale community didn’t respond to a tangible offense—they were offended by the idea of something rather than an actual threat. In fact, the bulk of Christakis’ email speaks to several issues implied by Halloween costumes—the capacity to address issues rather than hide from them; to both mature and regress a little bit in college; and to facilitate self-censure, free speech, and an open society. All of this illustrates hypersensitivity that would be diminished by an increase in ‘resilience’.

To give a more recent example, there has been controversy over the University of Chicago mentioning that it won’t support safe spaces and trigger warnings; however, that the university has to use a negative statement to describe a normal state (they won’t support safe spaces and trigger warnings) indicates an imbalance in social thinking. To put this into more relatable words, a school having to state that it won’t support these modern mechanisms is as biased as assuming that somebody is heteronormative. This speaks, once again, to youths’ ability to address issues on their own, rather than retreating into safe spaces and behind trigger warnings. It’s important to remember that this isn’t how issues are resolved—banning “offensive” material doesn’t make the “offensive” people disappear. Instead, if we all treated each other, and our opinions, with a little more respect, things would be a bit better; this kind of tolerance requires resilience to disagreeable ideas, people, and content as well.

I’d also like to mention that RPI wasn’t alone in its resilience initiative. Around the time that the Yale controversy was storming, one of my teachers from high school shared an article on Facebook regarding the issue of college student resilience. At the start of the article, the author writes that “Students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life. Recent examples mentioned included a student who felt traumatized because her roommate had called her a “bitch” and two students who had sought counseling because they had seen a mouse in their off-campus apartment.” (The full article can be found at https://poly.rpi.edu/s/bzlzy/.) He continues, detailing how students are afraid of failure, are uncomfortable with struggle, and aren’t challenged enough. Of course, this article may be completely off-kilter, but if the Rensselaer administration read an article like this and then implemented the theme of resilience, that still speaks volumes—it tells me that they’re trying to connect to the greater community of higher education and do what’s best for us. Read: the administration is not here to bully you.

To be fair, however, “resilience” became a sugarcoated buzzword that was thrown about—not to mention that a one-year initiative isn’t long enough to conceive real change—and it would be nice to see more tangible evidence of ways the theme is enforced. To my understanding, the theme for this coming academic year is unity from diversity; this goes perfectly with resilience, considering that resilience includes the ability to accept ideas and people that are different and potentially offensive. It is rather generic, in my opinion, but it works. And if it really is a theme meant to bring the community together, I’d truly like to see both the administration and the student body improve their two-way flow of communication—and attitudes toward each other—in order to realize this vision, especially after the monumental events of the last semester. I implore you to do what so many of us cannot: communicate and cooperate.