YAB Perspectives: Emotion Revolution Summit

The Emotion Revolution Summit was an opportunity for the dozens of young people in attendance to hear from advocates, academics and experts and to share their own ideas for improving school climates. Two Born This Way Foundation Youth Advisory Board members were among them. Below are their reflections:

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From Christopher Rim:

“When you leave tonight don’t leave loving me more, leave loving yourself more,” said Lady Gaga to the audience at her Monster Ball Tour in September of 2010.  I found myself impressed by her authenticity and connection to the crowd.

For the rest of my high school career and my first semester at Yale, I had a duty to uphold: to broadcast Lady Gaga’s message to the world and allow all people to express their true selves without any hesitation. The next step was determining how to accomplish this.

After much research on Yale’s campus, I stumbled upon the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. On October 11, 2013, I emailed Professor Marc Brackett asking to him to share his experience as a member of the Research Advisory Board of Born This Way Foundation. Seven minutes later, Dr. Brackett responded enthusiastically and became my mentor for the next three years. Two years later, I was asked to be on the Youth Advisory Board of the foundation, and in that capacity, I had the opportunity contribute to the Emotion Revolution.

The Emotion Revolution started with Dr. Brackett and his team, in collaboration with Born This Way Foundation creating a nationwide survey that asked high school students to share – in their own words – both how they feel (currently) and how they hope to feel in school. The goal was to collect enough data to be able to stress the importance of creating positive learning environments where students’ emotions were valued. The Emotion Revolution Summit was created to share the results with students, educators, and policy makers.

On October 24, 2015 the day of the summit had finally arrived. The morning session was marked by Dr. Brackett launching the outcome of the survey  — the results were astonishing. Take a look:

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The remainder of the day was filled with workshops and discussions exploring new outlets for students to safely express emotions.

In the afternoon, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel moderated by Soledad O’Brien alongside two high school students and Lady Gaga. When Lady Gaga asked me what changes I hoped to see in the classroom, I utilized what I had learned in Dr. Brackett’s Emotional Intelligence class this semester by encouraging schools to explore RULER – an evidence-based approach to embedding emotional intelligence into the “DNA” of schools. This method calls for students (and educators) to “recognize emotions in themselves and others,” to “understand the causes and consequences of emotions,” to “label emotions accurately,” to “express emotions appropriately,” and to “regulate emotions effectively.”

The teachers and administrators I had in high school always reminded me to follow my passions, learn from my losses, and celebrate my achievements. However, listening to my peers during the Emotion Revolution workshops made me realize that not all teens throughout the United States have this same sense of support at school. Interestingly, research shows that school leaders and teachers need to model the skills of emotional intelligence while they are teaching ig. That way, there is congruence between what adults are modeling and what they are teaching kids to do.

Although the Emotion Revolution Summit has ended, the aim to further a focus on positivity and self-expression is still at play. One project I am currently working on to support this cause is inspirED, a new online resource center on Facebook. Born out of a collaboration with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, inspirED, is a community with lessons, activities, and projects designed by educators, teens, and experts in social and emotional learning (SEL). The goals: to help high school students and educators work together to create the best possible learning communities.

It has now been five years since Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball concert, but I can still hear her words as I further my involvement in the Emotional Intelligence initiative. If there’s one idea that I have taken to heart throughout this whole journey, it is the notion that simply listening to each other can spark a conversation. Dr. Brackett, although extremely busy and very accomplished, took the time to listen and respond to my email. From there, I had the opportunity that many only dream of being part of – a role in a project like the Emotion Revolution.

Imagine what we could achieve in our nation’s schools if educators and students would just simply listen to each other more and find ways to work together to make schools places where everyone feels connected and inspired

From Daniella Cohen:

It has only been a few weeks since the Emotion Revolution and I am still shaking from a discussion I had with Lady Gaga and Soledad O’Brien. Let me take a few steps back:

I was at the Emotion Revolution as a Youth Advisor to Born This Way Foundation. The foundation is working to shine a light on important, yet stigmatized subjects: emotional and mental health. At the Emotion Revolution, Gaga said she wanted “to explode the conversation” about emotions– that is exactly what she did. The weekend began by learning more about the story behind the foundation. Lady Gaga and her mom, Cynthia Germonatta, were honest and bold when sharing their story. The Foundation was started so no child is told they are “just being dramatic” or should “toughen up” when battling negative emotions. I was deeply moved by Lady Gaga’s words; she is a fearless, passionate woman and her genuine character is something I will remember forever. I am humbled that I was able to be a part of her vision.

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This summer, I worked with Facebook and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence to develop InspirED. InspirED is an emotional health curriculum that directly addresses the findings of a Yale survey. The survey found alarming disparities between the way students currently feel and they way students want to feel in school. Specifically, “When asked how they currently feel in school, out of all the words respondents listed, approximately 75% were negative. The most common words these students used to describe their current emotions at school are ‘Tired’ (39%), ‘Stressed’ (29%), and ‘Bored’ (26%). When asked how they WANT to feel in school the top three emotions that students want to experience more of are ‘Happy,’ Energized,’ and ‘Excited.’”

Later during the closing session, I was on a panel discussion with Lady Gaga, moderated by Soledad O’Brien. The discussion was in response to what we learned at the Emotion Revolution and a recent study by the American Psychological Association. The study found that for the first time ever, the stress levels of teens are higher than the stress levels of adults. The discussion can be watched here: (1:20:00)

Here is what resonates with me:

  1. Mental and emotional health is just as important as physical health.
  2. Battling emotions is a silent struggle; often times it is isolating. What I learned at the Emotion Revolution is that there are other people who are battling their emotions.  There are resources to get help. We are not alone.
  3. “Self-care is not selfish.” We deserve the same compassion for ourselves, as we give to others.
  4. Learn to say, “no.” Our decisions and actions are our vote. Say “yes” to things that promote emotional health and happiness. Say “no” to the things that promote stress.
  5. Sometimes the small things can cause us immense stress; but the accumulation of small acts of kindness can inspire happiness. Give a few more compliments, tell someone you care about them, or pay it forward- small acts of kindness are easy and can promote the happiness of those around us.
  6. “How are you?” is a powerful question that I am still learning how to respond to. Don’t have a knee-jerk response such as, “I’m fine.” When asked that question, pause and truly assess your emotions. If you are feeling inspired, say “I am feeling inspired right now!” If you are feeling sad, be brave and do not be afraid to say, “Actually I’m feeling sad right now, but I think I could feel inspired if you help me.”

Let’s start an emotion revolution– explode the conversation about emotional health.