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Coping On Campus

A study of stress in Columbia's Class of 2005

Today's undergrads appear to have it easy. Many parents pay for tuition. Meals are served with a swipe of an i.d. card. Colleges typically offer everything from swimming pools to high-speed internet access in the dorms.

But college students can get stressed out, and "the Class of 2005 Project," a study by Associate Professor of Psychology and Education George Bonanno, aims to learn why.

The study, which is following about 140 Columbia University undergraduates over four years, looks at both chronic and acute stress-related events, including financial difficulties, death of a loved one, physical assault, and a serious relationship conflict or a break-up. Students go online and check off which events they have experienced that week. Then they rate the events for stressfulness and significance. Bonanno hopes to find out which students are coping well, which ones aren't and why.

In an article in Psychological Science in which he discussed preliminary results of the study, Bonanno challenged the assumption that expressing emotion is always a healthy response to stress or trauma. "The healthiest thing is being able to suppress or express emotion as needed by the situation," he wrote. Students who demonstrated this kind of flexibility showed the best adjustment to college two years after enrollment.

Published Wednesday, Apr. 20, 2005