Talking About Student Resilience with Karen Oehme

If you’ve been walking around campus a lot lately, you’ve probably noticed the #ResilientNole stickers, buttons, and tee-shirts that students and faculty are sporting. The Student Resilience Project was created by the Institute for Family Violence Studies at the FSU College of Social Work with a campus-wide team to help inform students about the effects of trauma, strengthen student coping and stress management skills, and increase students’ sense of belonging at FSU. The site has proven to be very popular both on campus and around the United States, with over 12,000 people from all 50 states visiting the site since the fall. The director of the Institute for Family Violence Studies, Karen Oehme, sat down with me ahead of her Faculty Luncheon Series to talk about the project.

“The Student Resilience Project isn’t just an online website; the whole idea is that it’s a campus campaign. The first dose was called What I Wish I Knew: that’s the peer-to-peer student videos. We released those videos in the summer to make sure that the new freshman would encounter them before or just as they got to FSU. The videos represent the most common problems that people talk about – things that get them frustrated or upset. We wanted to  put those out there and say “you’re not alone, other people have experienced this, and FSU has great resources for you.” She added, “The stories are called restorative narratives, and the idea is as old as Greek mythology – learning through stories. We want students to see other students who have struggled and then triumphed. And not just that: we give students action steps that they can take. So we’re using a restorative narrative and we find it really compelling that students are so receptive to those narratives. Then we have student ambassadors who help promote the Project around campus — they keep the conversation going.

Our expertise at the Institute of Family Violence Studies is developing online training, so when President Thrasher came to our Dean and said that he wanted something helpful for all students, we immediately started to think about our audience. Generation Z is utterly amazing; they live online, they’re fearless about technology, and they are very accepting of a changing world. We wanted to do something a little different, and it had to be accessible 24/7 and not look like a traditional university website. It needed to look edgy and be authentic because students can spot marketing from a mile away. If they think they’re being preached to they aren’t going to listen. The testing we’ve done has been an integral part in making sure that students would use the project.”

The Institute of Family Violence has done a lot of research about the implementation of the website as well as the information they’ve put into it.

“We know from two decades of research that when you remind people of their strengths, they accept health messaging better. So there’s a lot of theory and design that goes into this to try to figure out what students will accept. We’d never done a campus project before, so we knew for this to work we needed a lot of student input. For example, last night was the campus involvement fair so we had our student ambassadors, led by Richard Brito, out there, talking to hundreds of students. Our goal is to teach students that there are a lot of ways to be healthy and they can learn new skills for coping and stress management. They already have the resources on this incredible campus. But sometimes students don’t know where resources are located. Our data shows that since the project launched students have found the site believable, authentic, potentially helpful, and when they go into it they don’t feel like it’s a university class.”

Ms. Oehme largely credits the success of the project to the students and faculty that have participated in the development of the project and those who have embraced the project with open arms.

“The idea really is that we wanted something for everybody. FSU faculty and staff really care about students and the student-centric design, and you’ll see it in the implementation and dissemination of this project. We also wanted to make sure that our LBGTQ+ students felt at home here too, and that our students of color are acknowledged and supported. We need to be honest with people and acknowledge their strengths and their values and then at that point, I think they’re more willing to listen. The feedback that we’ve gotten from our Student Ambassadors, the peer to peer contact, has been the best components of the campaign.

One thing that really surprised me is the librarians. I’ve been here for 20 years and I never fully appreciated the incredible impact that librarians can have on the students. They were so supportive of this project because they see these stressed students all the time at Strozier and the other libraries. They pass out the project cards, buttons, stickers, and even put The Resilience Project slides up. I am so indebted and so grateful to the librarians because they embraced the ideas we were promoting right away. Of course, it makes sense because they are meeting the students where they are when they need these resources the most.”

And as for the future of the program, and how Ms. Oehme and the Institute of Family Violence envision its growth?

 

“Growing and maturing is a process  And we want students to come back to the project again and again. So we are adding new content, for both undergrads and graduate students. And we are creating a customizable website to license to other colleges too because the project has been so successful.”

The last part of our discussion focused on the implementation of the project website, particularly after the several events over the Fall 2018 semester that affected the student population negatively. For example, the mass shooting at a Synagogue in Pittsburg, Hurricane Michael, and the Tallahassee shooting that resulted in the loss of Nancy Van Vassem and Maura Binkley.

“That’s a very good question. Our team struggled too. But we knew that students needed information. So we put up information and advice for after a mass shooting and after a hurricane on the site within 24 hours of each event. We wanted students to have a way to talk about these issues because we need each other, and we need to know that others are struggling too. We need a common language of grief and coping. We certainly didn’t anticipate that it was going to be such a rough semester, but we were very grateful to have the Project to offer students. We know that one of the worst things to do when you’re in a crisis is to isolate yourself. I was very impressed with the support that the administration provided. Our President and Provost, and Vice Presidents and Deans are amazing, dedicated people. The Student Resilience Project would not exist without them.

To learn more about the Student Resilience Project, which has been awarded The 2019 John Blackburn award from the American Association of University Administrators, visit the website at https://strong.fsu.edu/

 

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