Princeton University has moved online. To many students, that simply means that classes are held over Zoom and assignments are submitted electronically. But it also means that the comprehensive non-academic support that Princeton offers to its students is available wherever and whenever they need it.
One of the most important services available to Princeton students is mental health care. Even during a typical academic year, stress can be difficult to manage. But with the added concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic, the transition to online learning, and general uncertainty about the future, emotional well-being has never been more important. The University is working to incorporate mental health awareness and education into every facet of campus life, including the First Year Residential Experience (FYRE).
FYRE introduces new students to life at Princeton. Although the “residential” portion of FYRE is not applicable for the majority of first-years, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students Mellisa Thompson emphasized that the four pillars of FYRE – “civility and citizenship, health and well-being, inclusion and belonging, and personal growth and development,” – remain intact. To support the health and well-being of students, first-years are required to undergo Kognito training. Kognito is a virtual simulation designed to give students the tools to recognize when peers may be struggling emotionally or in need of assistance, as well as to care for their own mental health. This year, September 20th was designated as “Kognito Day,” a day reserved for first-years to complete their training alongside their RCAs. The RCAs then led students in a virtual debrief and conversation about mental health at Princeton. Mayowa Oke ‘22, an RCA in First College, said of online Kognito training that “a lot of conversations translate surprisingly well over Zoom.”
Kognito Day is an effort to maintain students’ health by supplementing professional care with an informed, active, and compassionate community. Kognito training has been specially adapted to suit the online semester. According to Dean Thompson, Kognito Day, originally scheduled for November, was moved up to September so that students could use the training to recognize and cope with the stress of the last several months. Kognito has also been updated to include a self-care component, ensuring that individual students are able to monitor their own mental health and to seek any further assistance they may need.
Kognito seeks to maintain a higher standard of care in part by mobilizing students to care for one another. First College Director of Student Life Garrett Meggs reinforced that idea, saying that “[W]e have CPS and administrators who are here to support students, but in everyday interactions, students are spending a lot of time together on Zoom … sometimes students are going to be able to pick up on how their friends are doing better than a faculty member or an administrator.”
A full range of mental health services is still available to every Princeton student. Through Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS), University Health Services offers remote counseling sessions, group therapy, and 24-hour on-call specialists. Student-led groups supported by the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students (ODUS) and the Residential Colleges, like Princeton Peer Nightline and the Princeton Perspective Project, work to help their friends and classmates through difficult times.
Kognito Day 2020 took place on Sunday, September 20th for first-years. But Kognito training is available, and encouraged, for all other members of the Princeton community. The 30-minute simulation is free and can be found here.