It is my pleasure to welcome you to this timely Summit on Transforming UP into a Nurturing and Healthy University, an initiative of the Office of the President through the Padayon Public Service Office under the Office of the Vice President for Public Affairs.
When Quezon Hall was lighted to officially commence the Christmas season for the University in the first week of December, I was seated between UP Diliman Registrar Tes Payongayong and VP Butch Dalisay.
By coincidence, Prof. Payongayong was sharing how she was almost brought to tears that afternoon while talking for hours to a bright Philippine Science High School graduate who was in a psychological state and would not let her go. VP Butch in turn shared similar experiences with his students. Later that night, he told me that the situation is of crisis proportions and that it has become urgent to convene a Summit on psycho-social issues. Sadly since December, I am aware of at least three suicide attempts that were kept under wraps to protect the privacy of the students. .
It is auspicious that the name of this Summit changed from a Summit on Emotional resilience when it was first conceived to a Summit on Transforming UP into a Nurturing and Healthy University, signaling a paradigm shift. Calling it a Summit on Emotional Resilience when it was formally conceptualized was not really off the mark. After all, in recent years, the concept—which refers to adaptive behavior in stressful situations—has garnered much attention from academic institutions, including those from developed economies, due to a rise in mental health concerns among students coupled with a reported decline in their ability to manage everyday problems. Universities have responded to this alarming state of emotional fragility in students by moving beyond the traditional confines of higher education. Aside from strengthening academic goals, universities worked to place greater emphasis on the abilities needed for expressing oneself and establishing meaningful relations. A key consideration in these measures is the fact that the university itself can be a major stressor, for instance, by putting students in a new environment, and in some cases, removing them from home and by presenting greater challenges related to social networks, academic demands, sexual orientation and gender identity, career plans and prospects, among others. Problems outside the university such as financial worries and disasters and calamities make the situation much more stressful for many students.
However, naming it the Summit on Emotional Resilience called too much attention to the emotional vulnerabilities of the persons outside the context of a significant part of their environment at a particular juncture in their lives when they are at the interstices of youth and adulthood—the context of the University. For this reason, I find the shift in the naming of this Summit from Emotional Resilience to Transforming UP into a Nurturing and healthy University an enlightened one. Having been a faculty member in the University for 44 years now, I have observed at least two ideal typical perspectives on the role of UP in the education of its students—one sees UP as the training ground of future leaders who know their duties and responsibilities from the day they enter UP and are able to survive various forms of stresses terror teachers. This view takes pride in the ability of our students to survive UP as a microcosm of the travails of life in the real word. On the other hand, a less common perspective highlights the need for a humane and nurturing environment—for mentors who respond to more than just the cognitive needs of their students.
For someone who has had a personal experience as dean in being caught between two departments that reflected these competing perspectives in determining whether an ill-advised student, should graduate or not, , I welcome the change of Summit titles from Emotional Resilience to Transforming UP into a Nurturing and Healthy Environment. For it is the start of a paradigm shift which, if taken seriously, has profound implications for the culture of the University.
This paradigm shift suggests that the University of the Philippines, as the national university, is committed not only to promote honor and excellence but also to preserve dignity, a basic principle of mental health care. This commitment starts by recognizing that emotions are part and parcel of the human experience and as such largely influence how effective we are in playing our roles in society. Because there is strong evidence that academic success is directly proportional to the mental health and well-being of a student, it is the responsibility of the university to ensure that its students are capable of rising above emotional crises. Of course, resilience is not only about achieving what one has set out to do in the midst of difficulties. It is also, and perhaps more importantly, about learning from failure. Improving skills needed to build up emotional strength, namely, flexibility, adaptability and communication skills are explicitly stipulated in UP’s framework for general education. This only shows that resilience, as an outcome, is not immediate, rather it is something that is fostered over time. As Truebridge and Benard argued, “resilience is not a trait but a process. It is not a program or a curriculum. It requires that [the university] shifts from a ‘problem-based deficit model’ to a ‘strengths-based model’. It is a culture.”
Resilience begins with recognizing one’s emotions and knowing the best way to confront challenges and if need be, down the road, accepting when help must be sought. In all three stages, the University should have concrete measures and structures in place mindful of the need to guide our students without babying or protecting them from the failures that ultimately strengthen. It is our hope that this Summit leads to an action plan that precisely addresses this need. But beyond the action plan we will arrive at in the next two days, we hope that this Summit stimulates collective reflections on our philosophy of education at this particular historical juncture that would result in a more enlightened understanding of the young generation we are mandated to educate, whose brains are certainly wired differently from ours. In informal discussions about the fragility of this generation, we tend to arrogantly compare them to our generation. WE claim to be made of tougher stuff., in much the same way that our parents who lived through the perils of the second world war thought they were tougher than us. Yet we forget that people cannot to be imagined outside the times they live in. Each generation confronts its own challenges. This allegedly “weaker” generation lives in a rapidly changing and uncertain world, one that is ironically networked but highly individuated, one with a different time frame and rhythm from the world we grew up in. . Who knows but that we would even be more vulnerable to psycho-social issues had we been confronted with the same challenges confronting this generation in our growing up years. .
Our campaign in creating a nurturing and healthy university will be successful only with a sense of absolute urgency and the collective effort of the System and our constituent units. My warmest thanks to all of you for your commitment to this task.
Thank you once again and I wish us all a productive summit.