During Wonderful Wednesday on March 20 and April 17, students will get the chance to send positive messages to members of the Emory University community through the Reframes campaign. The campaign, which Campus Life launched on Feb. 13, aims to give faculty, staff and alumni a platform to share personal stories of overcoming obstacles that spurred transformative changes in their lives.

This comes after the University set up a photo booth where students could take pictures, share words of encouragement and learn more about the campaign during Wonderful Wednesday on Feb. 21, Campus Life’s Executive Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives Sara Tanner said.

The project included personal video testimonies from campus leaders, such as Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Enku Gelaye and Emory School of Medicine Executive Associate Dean Bill Eley (79C, 83M, 86MR, 89FM, 90PH).

Additionally, the site’s videos are accompanied by a portrait gallery in the Emory Student Center, which displays photographs alongside advice from faculty, staff and alumni.

Portrait gallery in the Emory Student Center. (Jack Rutherford/Asst. News Editor)

Associate Vice President for Health, Well-being, Access and Prevention James Raper started developing the Reframes campaign in collaboration with Emory Communications and Marketing 18 months ago and filmed the majority of the videos about 11 months ago. Raper noted that Emory students’ fixations on achieving perfection contributes to the many challenges they face on campus.

“A very rigid, perfectionistic approach actually gets in the way of our ability to perform well and take full advantage of the opportunities of being in college,” Raper said.

Raper said that perfectionism is not sustainable for students.

“One of the outcomes that I hope for is a campus where our students can allow themselves to be internally more human, fully human, including making mistakes, failing at times and also allow that to be seen by others,” Raper said.

Raper asked for student input when developing the project, and he said he found that students he spoke with wanted to hear from people who they “aspire to be like.” He invited participants who represent diverse areas of leadership and identities so the campaign could resonate with a broad audience.

“What we’re trying to do is to normalize that to be a human being means to make mistakes and go through real significant challenges,” Raper said.

Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology Kenneth Carter (87Ox, 89C) shared his story in the video of a time when a publisher canceled the contract for a book he was working on. 

“That canceled contract was actually the beginning of a new story,” Carter said. “It was up to me to turn it into that.”

Carter, who previously served as interim dean of Oxford College, eventually published his book with a new contract but seldom discussed the initial failure. He felt people can relate to his experience because moments of disappointment are universal.

“What I’m hoping is that hearing my story of something that felt like a disappointment, where there was something else that could happen, I’m hoping will be either reassuring for them if they’ve gone through that themselves, or inspiring for them if they’re … in the midst of that disappointment,” Carter said.

For Senior Director of Faculty Inclusivity Ed Lee III’s (23T) video for the project, Lee recounted failing a business course when he believed that he could only be successful through business school. Lee said he was compelled to share his story because he thinks people are “under a tremendous amount of pressure to find perfection.” 

However, Lee said he believes that students can do the most creative work and find their paths in these moments of uncertainty.

“I wanted to push back on what I think is a dominant narrative that occurs on our campus and in many college campuses, where you need to know exactly what you’re doing as soon as you enter into the university,” Lee said.

Lee noted that the idea that people must be perfect and constantly productive can profoundly impact their ability to have fun or a sense of purpose. However, he said the Reframes campaign can open up possibilities for them to become someone different from what culture has ascribed them to be.

“The notion of reframing is ultimately a commitment for us to rethink, reassess and redo that when we are in fact challenged in our world, in our life, that it’s not for us to try and get it right the first time, but for us to make an attempt and when we fall short, to rethink, reassess and repeat,” Lee said.

Karyn Lisker (24C) is a member of the Student Well-being Advisory Committee, which Raper leads, and provided input on the Reframes campaign. Lisker said the project enables campus leaders to share their failures while creating a platform for students to tell their stories.

“It’s a dismantling [of] the idea that we have to hide failure from ourselves and from others because failure does not have to be a bad thing,” Lisker said. “If you reframe it, as the title of the campaign, you can turn failure into motivation.”

Raper noted there is an online toolkit that teaches viewers how to reframe “unexpected challenges” with self-affirmation and perfection management. 

The Reframes campaign is part of a larger well-being framework that Campus Life is implementing in 2024 and beyond, Raper said. 

“Our job is to prepare them for what it means to live life out there upon graduation,” Raper said. “In a way that is sustainable and that is kind, being kind to others, that is being a good human in the world and a good human to yourself.”

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Heather(Zeyi) Lu (24C) is from Xinjiang, China, majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Law & International Studies. She enjoys exercising and baking outside of the Wheel.