Creating Communities of Emotional Development and Learning
The JED foundation, in partnership for Drug-Free Kids and The Jordan Porco Foundation released the results of its national survey, which discovered, among other conclusions that “…emotional preparedness – defined…as the ability to take care of oneself, adapt to new environments, control negative emotions or behavior and build positive relationships – is a major factor to students’ success during their first year at college.” Also, the majority of the US college students surveyed wished they had more opportunities to emotionally prepare for college life.
For sure, upon entering higher education there are a myriad of new challenges that can be emotionally challenging for students, both new and recurring. Unfortunately, colleges’ structures are fragmented into academic and student affairs divisions leaving little room to adequately address the tangled and infused links between learning and the emotional experiences that come with it. This gap can be attributed to the mainstream notion of the self in education, which is still grounded in the dualism that separates cognition from emotion, learning from identity development, and the student from its socio-historical conditions (for overview, see Martin, 2004). On top of that, when the emotional experiences of learning and college life are considered, they are typically neglected over the academic side. The JED foundation survey also stated that 87% of students surveyed said college preparation in high school mostly focused on academic, rather than emotional preparedness. This directly relates to the mission of the Futures Initiative in which we advocate for innovation and broad approaches in bringing the students back to the center of pedagogy. Thus, the Futures Initiative recognizes the need for opening up democratic spaces — both in the classroom and online — for students to develop in all aspects of their lives, especially emotionally.
In response to these challenges, finding a mentor can have a huge impact on relieving the emotional burden that comes with being a college student. I was lucky enough to find a mentor who was previously my psychology professor. A mentor can provide support, guidance, and feedback for college students. Although typical mentorships consist of a one on one relationship, interestingly, research on students taking part in a extra-curricular community with peers and faculty in the college has also demonstrated many benefits for their social and emotional development.
I still continue to work with Dr. Eduardo Vianna, Full Professor of Psychology in LaGuardia Community College and I have been fortunate enough to take part in his critical learning community. Based on my experiences there, I can highly recommend students to find be a part of a community in their college. In a recent book chapter, colleagues and myself reflected on how we became radically different persons as we engaged in this community, the Peer Activist Learning Community (PALC). Most of us joined either because we were struggling academically or felt that we needed guidance with our professional aspirations. Despite our differences, we all shared the goal of achieving an individualist sense of upward mobility. Through discussing and interrogating educational practices, which led us to read critical theories of education, the oppressive nature of the educational system became clear. It was in this context that learning began to hold a meaning beyond our individual pursuits. Moreover, we became a group that inspired one another and supported each other with course assignments. This was really empowering because we could directly see that we could make a difference in each other’s lives. Consequently, not only we were developing emotionally and socially by gaining knowledge, but also we were developing through building and contributing to our critical learning community.
Personally speaking, engaging and contributing to this extra-curricular learning community has provided me and my peers a space for a) meeting and en3gaging diverse perspectives among students and faculty, b) discussions that focus on ourselves and our collective stances toward a range of topics, and most importantly, c) equalitarian contribution whereby everyone’s contribution counts. Thus, being part of a community does not only thrive from what you can gain from it, but also from each member contributes to it.
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