Category Archive 'Laurie Santos'

16 May 2020

Therapeutic Yale

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Mediation room with sand box at Yale’s “Good Life Center”

Back in my day, Yale’s colleges had squash courts, pool rooms, wood shops, and not uncommonly print shops in which undergraduates could produce hand-printed limited edition books. Today’s Yalies go to therapy and play in sand boxes.

City Journal:

Before the coronavirus pandemic, before shelter-in-place orders, there was the campus safe space. Students claimed that they needed protection from perceived threats to their emotional well-being. College administrators were only too happy to comply, building up a vast edifice of services to respond to students’ alleged emotional trauma. Last year, Yale University created a safe space that will set the industry standard for years to come. Call it the college woke spa, though its official title is the Good Life Center. Featuring a sandbox, essential oils, massage, and mental-health workshops, the center unites the most powerful forces in higher education today: the feminization of the university, therapeutic culture, identity politics, and the vast student-services bureaucracy. While other colleges may not yet have created as richly endowed a therapeutic space as the Good Life Center, they’re all being transformed by the currents that gave it birth, currents visible even in the reaction to the coronavirus outbreak.

“I don’t know anyone [at Yale] who hasn’t had therapy. It’s a big culture on campus,” says a rosy-cheeked undergraduate in a pink sweatshirt. She is nestled in a couch in the subsidized coffee shop adjacent to Yale’s Good Life Center, where students can sip sustainably sourced espresso and $3 tea lattes. “Ninety percent of the people I know have at least tried.” For every 20 of her friends, this sophomore estimates, four have bipolar disorder—as does she, she says.

Another young woman scanning her computer at a sunlit table in the café says that all her friends “struggle with mental health here. We talk a lot about therapy approaches to improve our mental health versus how much is out of your control, like hormonal imbalances.” Yale’s dorm counselors readily refer freshmen to treatment, she says, because most have been in treatment themselves. Indeed, they are selected because they have had an “adversity experience” at Yale, she asserts.

Such voices represent what is universally deemed a mental-health crisis on college campuses. More than one in three students report having a mental-health disorder. Student use of therapy nationally rose almost 40 percent from 2009 to 2015, while enrollment increased by only 5 percent, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Pennsylvania State University. At smaller colleges, 40 percent or more of the student body has gone for treatment; at Yale, over 50 percent of undergraduates seek therapy.

Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos created the Good Life Center in response to this alleged mental-health crisis. She had just taught what is billed as the most popular course in Yale’s history: “Psychology and the Good Life,” which aimed to arm students with “scientifically validated” techniques for overcoming emotional distress and “living a more satisfying life.” The course presented the findings of positive psychology, a recent subfield that examines what makes humans happy, rather than what makes them miserable. “Psychology and the Good Life” was not just a disinterested overview, however; it was a semester-long exercise in self-help. Students were assigned better mental-health practices—getting more sleep one week, exercising a few minutes a day another; meditating during the next week, keeping a gratitude journal the following week. For the final exam, students designed their own personalized self-help: the “Hack Yo’Self Project.”

The course’s target audience was, by its own account, in desperate need of emotional rescue. “A lot of us are anxious, stressed, unhappy, numb,” a female freshman told the New York Times. “The fact that a class like this has such large interest speaks to how tired students are of numbing their emotions—both positive and negative—so they can focus on their work, the next step, the next accomplishment.” The size of the turnout itself was therapeutic: “Being able to see that an entire giant concert hall full of people is struggling alongside you is huge,” another student told the Yale Daily News. Apparently, being a Yale student was a massive burden—something that would have astounded Yale’s legendary teachers, such as art historian Vincent Scully and literary critic Harold Bloom, who conveyed to students the excitement they should feel before the lure of beauty and knowledge.

The questions of what leads to happiness and how we should conduct our lives have deep philosophical roots in the West, stretching back to the pre-Socratics. The Stoics and Epicureans sought to inculcate in their followers a mental outlook that would steel them against fate and the fear of death. Only a virtuous life, growing out of settled habits of character, the ancients counseled, led to happiness. Aristotle posited that the use of reason to attain truth would bring fulfillment, since reason was man’s highest faculty and truth was the telos of human existence.

The syllabus for “Psychology and the Good Life” contained no hint of this rich tradition. Instead, it was relentlessly presentist, consisting of online TED talks, news articles on positive psychology, lecture videos from other psychology courses, short research papers, and chapters from recent nonfiction books, like Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler’s Nudge. The final recommended reading was Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go. To get students “pumped” for each lecture, Santos played the Black-Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” (“I gotta feeling, that tonight, that tonight / That tonight’s gonna be a good, good, good, good, good / Good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good, good”). Plato’s Symposium this wasn’t.

Nearly a quarter of Yale’s undergraduates signed up for “Psychology and the Good Life,” whose popularity may have been boosted by rumors of undemanding grading expectations. Courses that met at the same time experienced a sharp drop in enrollment. A decision was taken not to reoffer the “Good Life” course. As it happened, however, Santos had precious real estate at her disposal, since she leads Silliman College, one of Yale’s 14 undergraduate residential communities. So she converted four rooms at the top of a landing in Silliman into the Good Life Center, to “promote a campus culture that values wellness as a community responsibility,” as the center’s mission statement reads. Or, in less bureaucratic terms, to “spread good vibes,” as the GLC website puts it. …

Here, in a nutshell, is the essence of the college woke spa: an aesthetic and worldview built predominantly around what have been largely female interests, concerns, and fears. The GLC’s self-esteem bromides, the self-compassion ethic, the yoga and mindfulness sessions—all would be at home in a Beverly Hills “healing space,” where trophy wives can “center themselves in an atmosphere of calm.” A visitor keeps expecting to encounter crystals and star charts. …

Underneath the essential oils and yoga mats, the woke spa mental-wellness crusade is accomplishing an even more profound transformation of university life. The assumption that emotional threat and danger lie just beyond the spa is the product of an increasingly female-dominated student body, faculty, and administration. That assumption is undermining traditional academic values of rational discourse, argumentation, and free speech.

RTWT and weep.

19 Sep 2019

Snowflakes Melting Again at Yale

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Laurie Santos, new “Head” of Silliman College, famed for teaching an extremely popular course on Happiness.

The Yale Daily News reports that a Yale junior’s Instagram quip has the campus again in a turmoil over Free Speech, with many students demanding punishment, Silliman Head Laurie Santos promising action and then crawfishing, Peter Salovey timidly defending Free Speech, and faculty arguing.

All this ICE but no detention centers in sight,” read the caption, beneath an Instagram photo of a Yale junior smiling amid a backdrop of snowy mountains.

Was the gaffe a distasteful joke or an affront to undocumented immigrants? Yale administrators and faculty disagreed. Screenshots of the post — a play on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and ice itself — quickly went viral on social media. Students denounced the junior for joking about the plight of undocumented immigrants, who sometimes spend weeks and months in border detention facilities. Tweets criticizing the post received thousands of likes and more than 900 retweets. One student said he is “glad to see that Yale is still prepping for the future generations of Kavanaughs.” Others urged their peers to email the head of the junior’s residential college, psychology professor Laurie Santos and demanded consequences for the junior. …

As emails requesting the student to be held accountable for his Instagram post inundated Santos’ inbox, the Silliman Head of College responded to at least one student’s call for action against the junior.

“I have now heard about this incident from many, many students,” Santos wrote in the email, which was obtained by the News. “I’m upset that a member of my community would post something like this and I will take action on it. I will be bringing this up with the proper channels.”

While some students said they appreciated Santos’ note, many members of the University community voiced concerns about the email’s implications on whether administrators and faculty members have the jurisdiction to regulate students’ speech.

English professor David Bromwich said the idea that the junior “should somehow be punished, or cited to justify a reprimand, seems a clear overreach of authority.”

“[Of] course the result [of Santos’ email] would be to chill speech generally,” Bromwich said. “People say silly things like this all the time, on campus and in everyday life elsewhere. Will you install microphones in the potted plants and try to catch them all?”

In an interview with the News, Chairman of the Institute for Free Speech Bradley Smith said Santos’ email is “absurd and anti-liberal.” The email sends a message that students now have to be extra careful to not upset others and “gives a license to social justice warriors to pick on students they don’t like,” Smith said. He added that free speech is not only about a lack of censorship, but also about an open attitude of accepting controversial ideas.

In an email to the News on Wednesday, Santos said in hindsight, she “would have worded things differently to make it clearer that what I wanted to do was gather more information — that was the action I had in mind.” …

Salovey did not comment on whether he had spoken with Santos about her handling of the matter.

“I would like to take this opportunity to underscore that Yale is committed firmly to free expression,” Salovey said. “To learn, to create knowledge, to teach and to improve the world, we must engage in the exchange of ideas freely, especially when we disagree with one another. I have always encouraged members of the Yale community to participate in open discussions because the answer to speech that offends us is, most often, our own speech.” …

Thomas Kadri GRD ’23 — who is a fellow at the Yale Information Society Project — added that while people should have the right to speak freely, free speech does not mean that people cannot criticize others if they dislike what is said.

“That said, it might also be worrying if many students ‘fear’ the ‘consequences’ of expressing their ideas and opinions,” Kadri added. “Quite how worrying it is would depend on a few things, I think. Are their fears reasonable? What do they actually fear will happen — criticism, social ostracism, bad grades on assignments, worse job prospects?”

American Studies professor Matt Jacobson said that while the University may have some work to do, feeling uncomfortable is “emphatically not a ‘free speech’ issue of the constitutional sort.” Self-censorship is different from government censorship, and is in some cases “an organic response to the contending interests and the internalized dissonance brought about by social change and societal polarization,” Jacobson said.

He added that even if the climate issues on campus are very real and need to be addressed, it is important to recognize that there is a concerted effort on the right to use free speech as an instrument to advance a particular agenda, such as framing discrimination of ethnic, religious and racial minorities as freedom of expression.

RTWT

27 Jan 2018

From Yale, the Painfully Embarrassing and Appalling News Keeps on a-Coming

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laurie-santos
Current Head of Silliman College: Laurie Santos, Harvard ’97 A.B psychology & biology, ’03 Ph.D. psychology.

The new all-time record enrollment Yale course is a 1200-student T-group taught by Yale’s own equivalent of Oprah, the new “Head” of Silliman College, appointed right after all the Snowflakes-of-Color chased Nicholas Christakis and his wife Erika off-campus and right out of town for the hideous thought-crime of defending free Halloween costume expression (!).

NYT:

On Jan. 12, a few days after registration opened at Yale for Psyc 157, “Psychology and the Good Life,” roughly 300 people had signed up. Within three days, the figure had more than doubled. After three more days, about 1,200 students, or nearly one-fourth of Yale undergraduates, were enrolled.

The course, taught by Prof. Laurie Santos, 42, a psychology professor and the head of one of Yale’s residential colleges, tries to teach students how to lead a happier, more satisfying life in twice-weekly lectures.

“Students want to change, to be happier themselves, and to change the culture here on campus,” Dr. Santos said in an interview.

“With one in four students at Yale taking it, if we see good habits, things like students showing more gratitude, procrastinating less, increasing social connections, we’re actually seeding change in the school’s culture.”

Dr. Santos speculated that Yale students are interested in the class because, in high school, they had to deprioritize their happiness to gain admission to the school, adopting harmful life habits that have led to what she called “the mental health crises we’re seeing at places like Yale.” A 2013 report by the Yale College Council found that more than half of undergraduates sought mental health care from the university during their time at the school. …

Students have long requested that Yale offer a course on positive psychology, according to Prof. Woo-Kyoung Ahn, director of undergraduate studies in psychology, who said she was “blown away” by Dr. Santos’s proposal for the class.

Administrators like Dr. Ahn expected significant enrollment for the class, but none anticipated it to be quite so large. “Psychology and the Good Life,” with 1,182 undergraduates currently enrolled, stands as the most popular course in Yale’s 316-year history. The previous record-holder — “Psychology and the Law”— was offered in 1992 and had about 1,050 students, according to Prof. Marvin Chun, the Yale College dean. Most large lectures at Yale don’t exceed 600.

Offering such a large class has come with challenges, from assembling lecture halls to hiring the 24 teaching fellows required. Because the psychology department lacked the resources to staff it fully, the fellows had to be drawn from places like Yale’s School of Public Health and law school. And with so many undergraduates enrolled in a single lecture, Yale’s hundreds of other classes — particularly those that conflict with Dr. Santos’s — may have seen decreased enrollment.

At the start of the semester the class was divided between a live lecture in 844-seat Battell Chapel, a historic place of worship on campus, converted to a lecture hall, and one or two smaller auditoriums where several hundred more students watched a live stream of Dr. Santos. After several weeks, the decision was made to move the lectures to Woolsey Hall, usually the site of events like symphony performances, which can accommodate the entire class.

RTWT and weep.

In the old days, the huge draw classes were things like Vince Scully’s History of Architecture and the draw factor was simply the sheer brilliance and encyclopedic knowledge of the lecturer. Rather than lining up in droves for tea and sympathy and advice on finding happiness, the Yalies of my day would have laughed Laurie Santos right off the stage.


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