For the first time this semester, Yale undergraduates will receive a reality check.
On Tuesday, the Yale College Council hosted a session on mindfulness and meditation, the first in an extended series of workshops covering a range of practical topics from car repairs to managing a personal budget. Coined “YCC Reality Check,” the initiative is intended to equip students with important skills they would not learn in an ordinary classroom setting.
“This is the first year that the YCC is putting out workshops specifically geared towards life skills not conventionally taught in the college setting,” YCC Events Director Amour Alexandre ’17 said. “The inspiration from these workshops honestly came from talking with friends at Yale about things we wished we knew how to do and ‘life’ classes we wished Yale offered.”
Held once per month throughout the year, workshops will focus on relevant, timely issues. While the topic of each session has not yet been finalized, Alexandre provided the example of a workshop on filing taxes done in early March, around tax season. She added that while the events committee has a number of preliminary ideas, student suggestions and input are welcome.
All six students interviewed said they do not currently possess the kinds of skills the initiative is trying to teach.
“When I came … here I lacked a number of everyday life skills that took me time to acquire on my own,” Wayne Baylor ’16 said. “Having the opportunity to learn in and participate in workshops for things that I’ll use after graduation is quite beneficial in my opinion.”
The first two sessions were held on Tuesday and Wednesday in collaboration with Yale Health’s Student Wellness Center and the student groups YMindful and the Yale Undergraduate Mindfulness Education Initiative.
Alexandre said the initial classes focused on providing students with strategies to combat stress as well as maintain mindfulness, especially in light of ongoing campus conversations about mental health and well-being
“Personally, I find most Yalies feel guilty taking time for themselves, whether it be to get an extra hour of sleep, to take a break from studying or to invest in a hobby,” Alexandre said. “We chose the Meditation and Mindfulness workshop as the first workshop in the series given the inherent importance stress management has on our campus.”
Twelve students attended the first class on Meditation and Mindfulness, which was hosted by Student Wellness Health Educator Tracy George SPH ’15. YMindful and YUMEI held a similar workshop on Wednesday. In both sessions, participants began by defining mindfulness — paying attention on purpose, in the moment and non-judgmentally — before learning stress management strategies and engaging in meditation and deep breathing exercises.
“Stress often comes from worries in the past or worries about the future and mindfulness helps you focus on the present,” YMindful vice president Shannon Compton ’18 said. “It also helps you take a step back and recognize that you’re feeling stress, recognize why you’re feeling that way, and then after you recognize it you can begin to manage and address it.”
During the second session, students were also tasked with defining stress and its sources. Erin Wang ’18, classrooms facilitator for YUMEI, said session leaders shaped example scenarios to pertain to the college experience, with events centered on internships, social events and grades. Other portions of the workshop included a short activity in which students raised their hands every time they had a thought not about the present, as well as a body scan — a guided meditation focusing on different physical sensations across the body.
Former president of YMindful and current president of YUMEI Aneesha Ahluwalia ’16 said the organization has recently been trying to increase its presence at Yale, with the Reality Check workshops being their first official on-campus event. The group’s mission is to promote mental well-being in all aspects of our community, she said.
Still, Jae Hyung Kim ’18, who did not attend the session, said that while he acknowledges the potential usefulness of the skills the YCC is teaching — and while he admits he does not currently possess them — he does not think he would attend the workshops.
“I agree that, in theory, these workshops sound very useful but in all honesty, I would not attend them,” he said. “We are all busy and right now, what is on our minds are the immediate things that matter: [problem] sets, exams, readings. We do not have time, at least before senior year, to consider honing these skills.”
He noted that students are accustomed to looking for solutions online as problems arise, rather than proactively seeking out training.
But Alexandre said the hectic nature of students’ schedules make workshops like the one on mindfulness all the more important.
“We are all super busy, but it is important to take time for yourself and your own sanity,” Alexandre said. “We hoped that a workshop on stress reduction and management during midterms would emphasize its relevance.”