Anne Liotine & Michael Magee, Harper College
The Spring 2020 semester will be remembered as one of the most challenging in the history of higher education. Students have endured significant crises throughout time; however, having multiple crises occurring concurrently has rarely, if ever, been experienced. First, Covid-19 threatened the health of students and their family members. This led to a sudden economic downturn as nationwide stay-at-home orders were implemented. Within the span of a few weeks during the middle of the semester, students may have lost their job or had to get a job to support their families if their parents were laid off, furloughed, or became unemployed. This may be more applicable to community college students, non-traditional age students, or those who are commuters. Residential students had to leave their campuses and move out two months early. Many students (Fischer, 2020) did not have the resources to move off campus let alone to continue their education in an online modality. Students lost their homes, meals and health care, with very little warning. Currently, there are hundreds of lawsuits from students seeking refunds of tuition, room and board, and other college related expenses (Keshner, 2020).
With dueling crises happening in the nation, we entered a period of social unrest related to festering racial inequalities in American society. Protests, rioting, and looting ensued after the Memorial Day death of George Floyd. This action led to a third crisis that has engulfed the nation. With many campuses prepared to welcome students back to campus soon, protests and hate crimes may become another major issue for students to overcome. FBI data has shown an uptick in hate crimes on campuses (Bauman, 2018), and this was prior to the latest string of racial incidents.
Twenty-first century students have had to overcome many tragic events. The terrorist attacks of September 11th, Hurricane Katrina, economic collapse in 2008, and multiple natural disasters since then. Students have lost everything due to natural disasters and relied on strangers around the country for support (Magee et al., 2007). Many needed the support of counseling services on their new campuses to enhance and develop their ability to persevere through a tough situation (Fernando & Hebert, 2011). During challenging times where resilience is critical to student success, advisors must be prepared to empower and support students to persist.
Determination and resilience, particularly through times of adversity, to reach a desired outcome can be the hallmark of a successful student. Angela Duckworth and her team of researchers define the term grit as “perseverance and passion for long term goals” (Duckworth et al., 2007, p. 1087). Choosing to attend college is not a small decision, especially for first generation students. As college expenses continue to rise, more and more is asked of our students: studying 2–3 hours outside of their courses, working a full-time/part-time job, and taking care of at-home responsibilities. For a college student to be successful, they not only need to have the passion to complete their courses, but they also need to keep in mind their long-term goal, whether that is earning a certificate, associate’s degree, or continuing their education further. In the Duckworth et al. (2007) study, the researchers wanted to understand why some college students are more successful than others. They found that grit increases with age and students with a higher grit score have lower SAT scores but higher GPAs. Resilience is one component of grit that explains some of these phenomena as well as overcoming adversity in the face of challenges (Perkins-Gough, 2013). Being able to pick yourself up from a failure and keep moving forward exemplifies the definition of grit in that a student who may have a lot going on outside of school, will work harder in their courses to understand material receiving a passing grade in a class.
Another noteworthy researcher is Carol Dweck, who studies growth mindset. Her “research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value” (Dweck, 2016, p. 6). What Dweck (2016) insinuates is that when you have a growth mindset you believe that you can change innate qualities within yourself, whether that is your personality, intelligence artistic or athletic ability. Failure can help drive you towards your next success because you learn and grow from mistakes. It aids you in coming up with creative solutions to move forward and taking action to confront the problems, rather than believing you cannot come back from it (Dweck 2016).
As advisors, we must encourage and promote grit and growth to encourage resilience and persistence. To do this, advisors first need to look inward and determine how we overcame setbacks while working from home. How have we handled a mistake? Do we work towards a creative solution or dwell on the fact that we have failed ourselves and/or our students? Duckworth has a free online assessment that will help determine our personal grit score (Duckworth, 2020). Determining where we are can help us move forward, and the same goes for our students. We can share this resource during our phone/video appointments to then discuss how to persevere through a challenging course or semester.
When it comes to our student’s long-term goals, we can help them break down their habits. For example, if a student wants to earn all As and Bs this semester, what does that look like? What kind of behaviors can advisors encourage they follow through with when they encounter a paper, test or discussion post that has brought down their grade? As the advisor, it will be important to encourage tutoring, utilizing professor’s office hours, creating study groups with peers, and having enough time to prepare. The objective is to help students think outside the box, as well as how to overcome a setback when they should face it.
Online learning can be challenging for students. This can be even further multiplied by students who may not have a laptop or consistent internet at home. Advisors may hear comments from students like, “I just can’t teach myself this material” or “I am not motivated to do the homework.” Part of building resilience and growing their mindset can be breaking down their goals into simpler tasks. If they want to get all As and Bs in their classes this semester, how far in advance are they studying for their tests? How much time are they devoting to their readings? Papers? Have students create a schedule of when they will be doing their homework for each class, blocking off time as if they must attend classes in person on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays, or Tuesdays and Thursdays. Having smaller goals will help them to not feel overwhelmed by the bigger picture.
College students have overcome many obstacles throughout the history of higher education. However, this may be the most uncertain time as there is a global pandemic, economic depression (and potential recession), combined with civil unrest. How advisors can best help students is to understand where they are coming from, acknowledge the difficulties they have faced and may continue to face, and then help them pick up the pieces to help them sustain their overall long-term goals. Advisors are not meant to have all the answers, but in order to best serve our students in this current situation, it is critical that academic advisors continue to serve as beacons of hope that can help guide our students through these turbulent waters.
Bauman, D. (2018, November 14). Hate crimes on campuses are rising, new FBI data show. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/Hate-Crimes-on-Campuses-Are/245093.
Duckworth, A. L. (2020). Grit scale. Angela Duckworth. https://angeladuckworth.com/grit-scale/
Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9, 1087–1101. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1997
Dweck, C. (2016). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Ballantine Books.
Fernando, D. M., & Hebert, B. B. (2011). Resiliency and recovery: Lessons from the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 39(1), 2–13. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-1912.2011.tb00135.x
Fischer, K. (2020, March 11). When coronavirus closes colleges, some students lose hot meals, health care, and a place to sleep. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/When-Coronavirus-Closes/248228
Keshner, A. (2020, May 22). At least 100 lawsuits have been filed by students seeking college refunds – and they open some thorny questions. MarketWatch. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/unprecedented-lawsuits-from-students-suing-colleges-amid-the-coronavirus-outbreak-raise-3-thorny-questions-for-higher-education-2020-05-21.
Magee, M., Cobb, A., Bodrick, J., & San Antonio, L. (2007). Triumph in the face of adversity: Hurricane Katrina’s effect on African American Students’ coping ability with forced transitions. National Association of Student Affairs Professionals Journal, 10(1), 97–111.
Perkins-Gough, D. (2013, September). The significance of GRIT. Educational Leadership, 71(1), 14–20. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/272078893_The_significance_of_grit
Cite this article using APA style as: Liotine, A., & Magee, M. (2020, September). Student resilience during times of crisis. Academic Advising Today, 43(3). [insert url here]