Student Narratives of Resilience

Student Narratives on Resilience


Narrative 1:

After my sophomore year, I had to take some time off because I had failed two courses, one of which was in my major. I was devastated and didn’t want to leave Wes. When I look back it now, though, two years later, I’m really glad that I took a break. I worked at a bookstore, took some classes, worked with a therapist and spent time with my little brother. Now, when I look back, I wouldn’t change my experience (except maybe the Fs on my transcript). My Mom was upset, but I think being home, helping out, really focusing on my anxiety and depression, it all really made a difference and I was able to come back to Wes after a year and do well. If I had stayed, I’m not sure if I would have been able to take that time to focus on me, to take a break, to reconsider what I wanted to do with my time at Wes and after, and I definitely wouldn’t have had that time with my family, so even though it felt like a huge failure and I was embarrassed and upset not to be with my friends for that year, now I know what I can do when things go wrong and and how much I grew from it.



Narrative 2:

Resilience is a virtue, I think. With all the challenges I’ve come across in my "umpteen" years, I still wonder if I can get through this at all—and I’m a senior! What is resilience? These few years at Wes have given me so much to think about, in such a very short time. One thing I’ve learned here is that it’s not all about the grade. Nor is it just about the friendships or the connections we make. My favorite professor once told me once to cultivate something like resilience: I’m here to learn, not necessarily to kill myself over getting an A. Yet it seems we all have to get through it in our own way. This is a story about things to value more than grades. Sometime in my freshman year, I took a class with a girl who acted like a teacher’s pet. I was triggered and annoyed by this, at first. The professor liked her a lot, it seemed, and I thought about this. Her comments in class were kind of insightful, but I didn’t need to care so much about it. I moved on from my childish opinions, and soon I got to know her personally. I found that she was a pretty cool person. She had a well-known name, too, and I figured it was cool to know her if just for this. She wasn’t famous, nor did she know any famous people. She didn’t have big academic goals like I did, but she was cool. I didn’t admire her occasionally snarky attitude, but I got over it. After all, I figured it’s good to make friends. Challenges kept pushing me though. Trigger number two came when she got an A, as she both boasted and complained about this as we sat outside Pi café. I didn’t say anything at first. I worked hard for my B+, and I figured that she probably worked hard for grade too. I thought about this, though. It's not bad that I got a B+. Besides, our interests are different; we have different classes; and my workload at the time was significantly heavier than hers was. Still, I couldn’t help but feel upset as she complained about getting an A. Part of me wanted to feel happy for her, but part of me was very angry and jealous. At first, I kind of wondered if it was because she was cuter than I am; or if she was in fact the professor's favorite; I even wondered if it was because of her well-known name. But I understood I was just jealous, so I decided to just let it go and move on. That’s how I was raised, after all.

And then came trigger number three—the BIG trigger—when she announced to our friend circle that she was going to contest her grade. “I should’ve gotten an A+” she said. “I want those cords! I want to make the President’s List.” My friends and I glanced at each other, and no one said anything. This person doesn’t even want to go grad school, and she says her parents aren't pushing her—what’s the big deal? My anger festered. Days went by, and she continued complaining. She went on and on about ways she had cheated in the past and won other people’s favor. How she cheated in many of her classes, and how she knew she could cheat to get honors, too. I was dumbfounded by all of it. My feelings were hurt yet again. I couldn’t just anonymously tell the dean, but I wanted to. I didn’t know how to resolve this, so I spoke to someone about it. CAPS didn't help like I expected though. Most of our friend circle felt uncomfortable about this, and I really tried to let this go. Eventually I confided in a mutual friend, a senior, who offered to help. There was something about this woman that I could just respect, and I can't explain this. 'Senior' said, “Don’t worry, friend, I got this.” The next day, we all went out to lunch. Sure enough, this girl went on and on again about her newfound hatred for this professor, her undeserved A, and the “biased” administration who eventually denied her appeal for an A+. The girl talked about other complaints she could make, and ways she could even slander the professor and appear honest. Something had to be done. Senior spoke up, in way that she seemed to listen: She cheered her on. (The appeal process was already underway at this point.) Senior said to this person, kindly, but sarcastically, “I’m really proud of you for standing up for what you think you deserve. You know, I’ve met a lot of students who try to cheat and take the easy road to a good grade, and I can see you’re not like that. You’re not doing it the easy way. You’re a good student. And I KNOW you work really hard for your A or your A+ or whatever it’s supposed to be. So many of us work SO incredibly hard for our grades. I don’t have that kind of courage to appeal for a better one, even when I’m damn sure that I didn’t deserve the one I got. You didn’t deserve that A—I get it. You’re better than that. Good for you! And, yeah, I bet that professor really has a vendetta of some kind against you. Seriously, I’m really proud of you for not cheating like so many others do. Not taking the lazy route. I hate it when students get good grades they don’t deserve. Cheaters don’t deserve honors or cords or any of that. And I’m so glad you’re not like that. Cheaters can be so annoying sometimes, you know?” My jaw dropped when she said this.

At first, it didn’t seem like this was the right thing to say, but the way Senior said it somehow worked. The girl appeared to get it, too. I don’t know if she gave up on cheating, but she certainly talked about it a lot less. She never really spoke to that Senior again, but the Senior told me she didn’t care about gaining this person’s friendship; she knew what kind of people she wanted to be around. Senior had a lot of really good things to say, over time. Our group conversations changed a bit too. We talked about how professors here aren’t supposed to give out a lot of A’s—how it’s just policy, and that it’s difficult even for the professor to not give them out sometimes. We talked about how rubrics could be helpful to understand why we get the grades we do. As for Senior, she shared her own frustrations with getting a B- at a severely emotionally difficult time during her junior year. She herself would complain how hard she worked in all of her classes, and how she felt really overwhelmed by the work—just like so many of us feel—almost always just to get in the range of a B+. Then, when she realized she was complaining and couldn't change the situation, she apologized! Senior talked about how her goals of getting good grades, just in general, had an effect on her mood and the way she studied.

She told us how staying positive got her through the toughest times, when no one would listen. I knew exactly how she felt. This woman was really cool, and I hope we meet again. I’ve taken a lot of this story to heart, myself, and these days I speak up when I need to, even if I have to get my point across sarcastically, but care-fully. I’ve also learned to be mindful of who I surround myself with, no matter what their last name is. It’s not easy, but I try. When it comes to resilience, I think of how we get to our goals. I think of what complaining does, and how I deal with it normally. Like my "old" friend Senior, I try not to be a complainer. I try to stay positive, and just move on when I’m confronted with emotional triggers, especially jealousy. If there’s anything I’ve learned here about being resilient, it’s that negativity makes all of this harder. I’ve also learned that tattle-taling is inappropriate, no matter who we complain to. But we all get to the same destination—graduation—in the way we think we have to. Do grades really matter? I suppose it depends on the situation, and who we’re trying to impress. I hope to impress my professors, personally. Impress my parents, too. But mostly I want to impress myself. (Thanks for the advice, Senior.) I don’t think resilience means that I should cheat in order to obtain the good grade I hope for, so I can party a little longer, or even just watch TV, on the weekend, weekday, or whenever. Moreover, resilience also isn’t letting myself stress out to the point that I’m worried I’ll do worse than a B-, and subsequently risking my health.

Resilience, ‘Senior’ taught me, is about balance, and doing it the right way: It’s about working hard, accepting that you’re not always right, being honest with yourself about how much effort you’re putting in, and how much that effort is really worth. It’s about asking friends for help, when you can’t figure out the right thing to do. Resilience isn’t about being kind to complainers, either. Resilience is knowing when to stand up to say something personally instead of telling the Dean--and doing this. Resilience is trusting the dean, too, sometimes, for as hard as that can be. Resilience is respecting authority, and knowing exactly when I should challenge it. Resilience is making sure that I learn things when I’m here other than what my grades reveal. It’s checking in with myself, regularly: Checking in to see how well I’m 'getting through it'. Resilience is probably a virtue. To some people, it might be just getting through it no matter what. To me, real resilience is getting through it without cheating, lying, slandering, and/or manipulating the grade. Just ‘get through it’ in a way that’s respectful to oneself and one’s peers, AND to the faculty and administration. To an extent, it’s probably to respect one’s “Seniors” too--but don’t tell my dad I said this. Nevertheless, it’s common knowledge that we respect ourselves in respecting others--even in the face of a cheater. Personally, I choose to respect Wesleyan, too. That’s how you get through it.



Narrative 3:

I was at risk of not being able to return to campus after my Freshman year. I let partying, not doing my work, and hanging out on Foss Hill when I was supposed to be in class take over my life. I was indulging in all the freedom I had, the seemingly structured day that was really up to me to keep structured, and I let the days pass by without a care in the world. I withdrew from too many classes because I wasn't doing well and then reality hit me with my first F. All my life, I had As and some Bs, but I was one of the few underprivileged kids from a low-income community to gain the privilege to leave the education system I was born into. I knew what it was like to work hard and to persevere. Yet, here I was, feeling like a failure, afraid of disappointing my parents, afraid of becoming an exceptional story--one of a smart kid who made it out, but didn't make it. I didn't know what my options were, I didn't know what I was doing anymore, I didn't even know what minimum requirements I needed to fill to return the next school year. Then, I got an email from my Dean. He wanted to meet as he does with all students reaching a critical point in a class or their education, based on performance in class and suggestions from professors. I was behind 1 credit to be able to return the next semester according to him, yet he wasn't here to judge me. He wasn't calling me a failure, and he didn't share the same sentiments I did about seeing myself as a failure. Instead, he and I brainstormed classes I can take at other universities over the summer in order to gain the transfer credit so I can return in the Fall. Instead, he and I met every week at a scheduled time to go over the assignments due for each week for each class and to discuss strategy plans to tackle each one, including exams. He made sure I stayed on the ball, basically becoming my advisor. It wasn't easy dealing with the FOMO of hanging out with friends, going out on weekends, and being lazy on Sundays. But he reminded me why I was here, and how my parents must have sacrificed so much to get me to where I am, and that's how I found myself recentered. Anew with motivation to succeed, to pull through for the next 3 years and to show myself that this was just a rough patch. But I had to ask myself, how can I raise a 1.43 GPA, the worst I've ever seen, to the modest 3.0 that I need to at least feel good about my education? It was difficult, because I received A's through the next several semesters and I still found myself struggling to get my GPA up to where I want it to be. But I still find myself not giving up, because I know that I can achieve my goal, especially with all the support and help I received over the years.



Narrative #4:

I’m not like everyone else here, not really. I’m first-gen, my family doesn’t have a lot of money and I’m not from New York or California. When I see people out on Foss Hill relaxing while I’m working one of my two jobs, it’s hard. I’ve made some good friends and have some support from my professors, but my first semester was really hard. Like I didn’t belong here, like there was an admissions mistake, like I was an impostor hard. When I got a D- on my first Econ exam, it felt like everything I had been feeling was right out in the open. I wasn’t smart enough to be at Wes and here was the proof. I didn’t talk to anybody because I was ashamed and nervous. My other classes started falling apart too and then my dean wrote to me. I got really nervous and didn’t want to talk to her, but she emailed and texted and I finally got up the courage to go in and see her. We talked about tutors and peer advisors and talking to the professor. I couldn’t talk to the professor. The idea was terrifying. But I signed up for an Econ tutor and that was really helpful. My tutor told me to sign up for a peer advisor too and that completely changed everything. Things other students took for granted, like being able to manage everything and study for tests and take notes, nobody had ever really talked to me about, so it really made a difference. I survived that first semester and I’m now a junior. If I did it, you can too.



Narrative #5:

It was my first semester junior year and I’d been doing well up to that point, but I found myself struggling and confused. I had run out of my meds and didn’t want to go to CAPS or anything. I didn’t have the energy to deal with it. I was feeling really disconnected from my friends who were abroad or busy with things and it started getting harder and harder to leave my room. Dealing with people, even just grabbing coffee at Usdan, was difficult. Going to class was even worse. I kept doing the reading and the assignments, but not going to class meant that I was basically failing, and I stopped checking my email because my professors and dean kept writing. I finally broke down and told my friend, who brought me to CAPS that same day. Sometimes you have to let people in so that they can help you and I was able to get back on my feet. My grades were not great that semester and I got some incompletes so that I could have more time to do the work. I really felt like my professors cared and were concerned, and while my grade point average dipped down, I came out of the semester knowing that there were people all over campus reaching out to me and trying to help. Once I was able to receive that help, everything came out okay. I guess my lesson is: don’t be afraid to ask for help. It can seriously make all the difference.