GRIT lacking true grit?

Something students have become accustomed to seeing all over campus in randomhidden spots or out in the open are short standing boards with thought provoking questions under the headline Got G.R.I.T.?

One of the more provocative questions commonly seen is "what risks are you willing to take to achieve your dream?"

It's probable this question isn’t meant to be answered with risks like climbing to the summit of Mount Everest or eating a live tarantula, but it does incite the idea that the pursuit of your dream will go beyond the academic realm.

G.R.I.T., an acronym standing for growth, resilience, integrity, and tenacity, is a two and a half year-old program aimed to help students flourish academically and personally.

It requires students to reflect inwardly and ask themselves difficult questions regarding their education. Not the same old "what do you want to major in?" or "where do you want to transfer?" but, loaded questions like "what do you see as the purpose of your life?"

These are questions proposed by the initiative’s brainchild, Eric Oifer, a political science professor at Santa Monica College.

Oifer uses a breadth of statistical data and research to suggest that student success is embedded in qualities such as grit, resilience, perseverance, dedication, and engagement. He urges students to rethink how they measure success and how instructors reward these qualities.

The G.R.I.T. site uses surveys to introduce students to what the program is about, and whether he or she currently has the attitude of success.

What remains to be seen from the initiative is how a person can be instilled with qualities such as resilience and perseverance.

Can these attributes actually be learned or taught? Without the appearance of a strong structure to this kind of experiential academic learning, students who are in a hurry to maintain their grade point average and transfer opportunities might disregard the statistical research supporting G.R.I.T.

Without a strong program structure, G.R.I.T. just seems like a highly motivational and influential Ted Talk that will inspire students but will ultimately be forgotten thirty minutes later.

The main program being pushed, making the initiative’s goals a bit more tangible, is called the You+1 G.R.I.T. Coaching Program.

The You+1 program pairs students with a personal mentor or a coach who will provide the student with emotional support and them overcome everyday challenges in their personal lives. School programs seem to have a tutor for every subject these days, but an emotional tutor?

The research behind this concept suggests that students who have someone actively supporting them are more academically successful.

“This person is someone in the student’s life who understands college, who can emotionally support the student," says Oifer.

The program encourages students to reach out to people in their personal or academic life who could help them find constructive ways to deal with stress and hardships in life.

This is perhaps where the program’s application again becomes a little bit ambiguous. Reaching out and asking for emotional support is already a pretty difficult task for college students, for many people in general.

Author M. Nora Klaver assesses why people feel hesitant about asking people for help in her book “Mayday! Asking For Help in Times of Need.” She specifically concluded that people more often do not want to seem weak, needy, or incompetent by asking for help.

In her research, seven out of the ten subjects she interviewed admit they could have used help over the last week but did not ask for it.

Perhaps asking someone from your personal life to be your uncertified counselor and emotional support buddy through your college years may seem intimidating for some students; daunting enough that they might not want to try it.

According to Oifer, after finding an emotional mentor, the success of the program will be measured in the student’s improved retention, consistency, connection and academics.

When presenting the initiative to the board of trustees, Oifer mentioned that he hopes the G.R.I.T. initiative will serve all students, particularly students who have had, statistically, the most difficult time succeeding. In his research, these students at SMC are most commonly Latino/a and African American students.

While most of the initiative’s programs are in their fledgling stages, pilot programs are being initiated and various surveys are being supplemented to various campus organizations such as the Latino Center and Black Collegians.

Other than campus surveys, much of the program is still only a reality in various informational seminars explaining the importance of G.R.I.T. in college education.

Proof of the initiative enhancing student success at SMC and tangible implementation still remains to be seen.