Spring Duke Parents Advisory Council (DPAC) 2019 Reflection

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Samuel Clay Adams
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During the final weekend of March, the Division of Student Affairs hosted their spring semester Duke Parents Advisory Council (DPAC) meeting.  Friday evening approximately 25 families and their students joined us at the Washington-Duke Inn for an opening reception, highlighted by welcoming remarks by the Pratt School of Engineering's, Dean Bellamkonda. He shared his appreciation for the volunteer role our parents and families play in providing feedback on critical student issues. Additionally, Dean Bellamkonda shared his thoughts about the future educational teaching and learning model within Pratt, which focuses on innovation and topic-centered practices instead of a discipline-focused model. Finally, we talked about a concept he focuses on within Pratt around common humanity. His diversity and inclusion work within the engineering field has been immense, thus influencing his concepts of common humanity.

Saturday, DPAC transitioned to the business portion of our weekend. Larry Moneta, Vice President for Student Affairs, and Jayne Grandes, Director of Title IX Compliance, walked our council through the results of our Student Experiences Survey. Earlier this spring, the results of the 2018 survey (results linked above) were shared with the Duke community as part of our continued efforts to understand, address, and prevent sexual misconduct. Previously, Duke researched the topic of sexual misconduct in 2016.

During our conversation, a Class of 2021 parent made the observation and comment that “pathways of concerning behavior should be noted and that harassment, if unchecked, could lead to more egregious behaviors.” Additionally, several parents noted that “our students come from a variety of backgrounds, with various preparation on this topic, and high school educations. Bolstering our pre-arrival information can only help support awareness of the issue.” Although our DPAC members were unanimous that the current, national ‘Me Too’ movement has empowered more people who have been impacted to speak-out and report issues, there is not a magic solution to solving the pervasiveness of a deep societal issue, not unique to just higher education. Parents did share that one important role they could play is to have ongoing conversations with their students about the topic.

Next, our DPAC membership was treated to an overview and conversation of the You@Duke Project, which has come to be known as Duke Resiliency. Clearly, a massive oversimplification for this research project is asking the question “why do some students thrive and others struggle, especially when they experience challenges?”  Two of our primary investigators, Mark Leary and Rick Hoyle, who led this research project for five years, joined to share what they learned about the four developmental tasks and foundations of student resilience, which included: self-control, self-compassion, relationships, and engagement. Overall, this study was too significant for one meeting, so our faculty guests took a deep dive into two of those foundations: self-control and self-compassion.

Self-control looked into the proximal influences on behavior and (mis)behavior, the person and situation, impulse, habits or lack thereof relating to behaviors, and situational norms, modeling, influences, and constraints. Throughout this portion of our discussion, a University of Nebraska study on problematic cellphone use in the classroom was used to highlight the nuances of self-control. The discovered impact of the research as it relates to academics is that the self-control factors “highly” correlated during the first and second year to academic achievement.

Next, we transitioned from self-control to self-compassion or what our faculty coined self-regulation. Self-compassion for our conversation was defined as the degree to which people treat themselves with kindness, care, and compassion in the face of negative events. An important distinction was made between self-compassion and self-esteem. Students who were able to forgive themselves for perceived mistakes or failures exhibited an increase in resilience and/or the ability to move forward in healthier ways. The conversations in this area were both rich and significant, lasting throughout lunch and into the early afternoon. Parent discussions surrounded behavioral change, development of habits, and Duke’s potential impact on these four foundational traits.

Transitioning us out of our academic portion of the weekend, Lindsey Parker, Student Development Coordinator in DuWell led our DPAC members in a mindfulness exercise, which was designed in part to exemplify how the You@Duke (Resilience) Project impacts the student services we provide. Specifically, this mindfulness exercise demonstrated self-compassion, which is a practice statistically proven to support stress management and reduce anxiety.

Finally, we couldn’t finish our time together without a fun behind-the-scenes tour of the Hollows residence hall. The Hollows residence hall, which is a suite-style design, is scheduled to open in the 2019 fall semester. Our parents received a preview of this facility and certainly came away impressed. The West Campus residential footprint adds significantly to the housing options and facilities provided to students. It will support our closure of the Central Campus apartments and our eventual movement to having all undergraduate residential students residing on East or West Campus.

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