University students are burdened by more stress compared to any
other time since such things were measured. We see this escalating among iGen
students — those who have never known a world without the internet. Their lives
are mostly inputs and outputs that lack time for integration, evaluation, or
Recently, I was in a meeting with a wide-ranging group of
student leaders, and they said that they found themselves too busy for periods
of sustained reflection. It’s hard to imagine a more significant time in their
lives for deep, soul-searching thought.
At Susquehanna University, we are challenging our students to coöperatively
reason when faced with countervailing ideas, to cultivate their personal
philosophies, and to develop the skills to defend their viewpoints. Such emphases
will foster the development of leaders our society so desperately needs.
A decade ago, educators began to emphasize information literacy
as the academy’s challenge transitioned from limited access to a constant overexposure
of wholly unvetted, information. Information
literacy continues to be successful, and is becoming ever more important, yet none
of us sensed how swiftly immediate access stole the precious reflective
experiences innate to our historical modes of researching and learning. We’re quickly
losing slow learning.
The information age has fueled society’s teach-to-the-test obsession,
and the ways in which we assess learning continue to drive our focus on content
retention and testable skills. While those are important, the ineffable
components of a broad, holistic education are being lost in the rush. Students
complete majors and minors as if they are collecting merit badges, and we
praise them for their ambition and effort, but is this luring them away from
In Creating Minds,
Howard Gardner examined the careers of seven stellar geniuses of the 20th
century whom he credits with transforming their respective disciplines: Martha
Graham, Albert Einstein, T.S. Eliot, Sigmund Freud, Mohandas Gandhi, Pablo Picasso,
and Igor Stravinsky. He identified a number of fascinating parallels between
their work, including a deep focus and mastery of the traditions of their
discipline, followed by a series of innovations, and then a period of
maturation and integration. For the individuals in his study, each phase lasted
about seven years. More importantly these innovators were dependent upon
sustained and deep reflection. The true mother of invention appears to be prolonged
and intentional mindfulness.
At Susquehanna University, we have begun a campaign to encourage
mindful habits and regular periods of reflection. Signs around campus read,
“Breathe.” Institutions that have adopted these practices have seen
improvements in student mental health, reductions in sexual violence, and a
decline in acts of biased behavior.
Early this semester, Holly Rogers, M.D., co-founder of
Koru Mindfulness and a psychiatrist at the student counseling center at Duke
University gave a series of presentations on campus, including a session for
the entire first-year class. She encouraged all of us to adopt a mindfulness
practice. She challenged us to dedicate at least 10 minutes each day to being
mindful, to be reflective in the moment through meditation, prayer, or
We need to ensure that the sources of contemporary stress don’t mitigate
their cure. As our contemporary challenges continue to grow in complexity, so
too will the solutions, which in turn will demand progressively more mindful
The promise of each meaningful solution deserves our unhurried
and focused attention.
Gardner, Howard: Creating Minds
York: Basic Books, 1993.