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To undo snowflake mentality, one college is forcing students to fail

Richard Drew/AP

The Snowflake Generation now have a new resource at Smith College to build “resilience” – the latest, trendiest buzzword in academia. According to The New York Times, the women’s college has launched an initiative called “Failing Well,” which seeks to “destigmatize failure” for its students.

The program includes workshops on imposter syndrome, discussions on perfectionism, and a campaign to remind students that 64 percent of their peers will get a B-minus or lower.

Rachel Simmons, a leadership development specialist in Smith’s Wurtele Center for Work and Life argues that failure can be “an unfamiliar experience” for students at Smith. “What we’re trying to teach is that failure is not a bug of learning, it’s the feature,” said Simmons.

When students enroll in her program, they even receive a certificate of failure upon entry that reads: “You are hereby authorized to screw up, bomb or fail at one or more relationships, hookups, friendships, texts, exams, extracurriculars or any other choices associated with college … and still be a totally worthy, utterly excellent human.” Evidently, college students today need to be reminded that they aren’t perfect.

Donna Lisker, Smith College’s dean and vice president for student life argues that some students simply don’t know how to fail, and admits that “in many ways we’ve pulled kids away from those natural learning experiences.” The generation that’s been coddled with participation trophies and positive reinforcement ultimately hasn’t learned how to deal with failure prior to college. While being raised with society’s mantra of “follow your heart,” millennials were shielded from the blow of failure. To use a term coined by faculty at Stanford and Harvard, they were “failure deprived.”

Smith College joins the list of campuses providing “adulting” programs like this for millennials who struggle outside of their “safe spaces.” The Success-Failure Project at Harvard consoles students with stories of rejection. The Princeton Perspective Project attempts to encourage conversation about setbacks and struggles. Davidson College in North Carolina even has a “failure fund,” a series of $150 to $1000 grants for students who want to pursue a creative enterprise with almost no guidelines or restrictions because…why not?

Failure is a natural part of life, and students need to understand that, but why haven’t they already learned coping strategies in preschool or elementary school? Remedial education programs like this shed light on the failings of the media, our schools and our society, and ultimately divert resources from other important academic programs.



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