The Failure of Failure Friday

     When you first enter Mines failure might be a foreign concept. The school boasts high GPAs and extracurriculars of incoming freshman and current students. It is hard to look around and not see a complete stud at Mines. But Mines is not immune to the everyday problems that so many people have to face. While gathering high achieving students can be a blessing, it can also be a curse. As the years go on the classes get harder. The same techniques that were used in high school don’t work anymore. You can’t just study a night before the test or use Chegg for your homework. So when those first rounds of test come around and you don’t get a perfect score, you feel like a failure. You hear the scores around you. You negatively talk about the scores that were way above and try to listen for scores way below just to justify your score and yourself. 

     The climate at Mines promotes the hard crash of freshman. The hard failures on weekly quizzes and the first exams, so that students will wake up and start to change their habits. But does that work? Does failure ignite a change inside students? Our professors would say yes. That everyone has experienced failure and that is what brings you to be the person you are now. But when I look around at Mines students who fail, I don’t see the burning desire to get up and try again, instead I see the sadness, the low, the feeling of not being good enough. I see students who are without hope. 

     I guess the administration has too, and maybe this is why Failure Fridays have started. Failure Friday features short (usually less than three minute) videos of Mines professors talking about their previous failures and how it shaped them. The idea is to normalize failures at Mines and to try to reach these students. But how can students see these videos when they are buried in the Daily Blast (normally at the bottom). Accessing the videos is not the only trouble, but instead what type of failures have our professors faced? Not deleting their search history, being irritated at a student outside their door, saying they understood something that they really didn’t. Are these failures worth highlighting? I would say not. These failures that the professors are trying to normalize are not the failures that Mines students struggle with. 

     We all have little slip-ups, but those don’t tend to be the failures that make or break students. It’s having to withdraw from class, it’s getting a 0 on a quiz, or sleeping in and not being able to turn in your homework assignment. Staying up until 4 am to finish a lab report and still getting a C on it. These failures are the ones Mines students need to hear. The big failures, the worst nightmares, because at the end of the day you made it through. Getting a C, withdrawing from a class, failing a test happens every day at Mines, but we only hear about it through word of mouth. So do our professors have these stories or were their biggest slipups things that occur everyday? 

     Failure Fridays are a great idea in theory, but for those who watch these videos they actually do quite the opposite of increasing positivity. Instead it creates a barrier between students and professors because it seems like they have never faced anything major. Or have they? Is it possible that professors only share their minor slip-ups because they are scared that if they share their experience failing a quiz or working really hard to just barely pass a class that their credibility would decrease? And if professors are not willing to be vulnerable about their failures how are students supposed to be vulnerable about theirs? To normalize failure at Mines, we have to change the culture. It can’t just be word of mouth recorded or passed on through conversations. It has to be active change and it starts with talking about your failures. 

     The professors have tried, but they only interact with students minimally. We are the ones who see each other crying from stress, being kicked out of the library at 2 am and on our bad days. Students see students and know the problems we are facing. It’s our turn to try to change the culture. To understand what failure is and how to deal with it. The conversation has started, but has change occurred? Students are still talking about suicide, still talking about being failures, not being smart enough or not knowing if they will make it through. Failure Fridays from professors can continue to be aired, but until students hear from students, nothing will change. The culture will stay the same and Mines students will continue to fail and feel alone doing so.



'The Failure of Failure Friday' have 5 comments

  1. Avatar

    February 5, 2020 @ 12:54 pm Tracy Gardner

    You make some very good points here. Thank you for writing this. We want to do better. Are you willing to work with us to do so? For example maybe we could get some students to make videos? We are already working on getting alumni to make some – perhaps that will be more useful? And we could also ask faculty to post about more difficult things, as you suggest – at least I know I could do that. And we can also make the videos easier to access, I think. If you are interested in helping us make this a more useful venture, or if you think it would be better to just bag it, or whatever you think if you are willing to discuss about it please reach out to me. I am just one of the members of the team responsible for FFV, and am speaking on my own here, but I know the team just wants to help students. If the students aren’t feeling helped (and worse if this effort is making things worse) we need to address that quickly. tgardner@mines.edu

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    February 5, 2020 @ 1:24 pm Tracy Gardner

    And yes, I failed tests and withdrew from a class when I was a student at Mines. Both in Organic Chemistry. In fact, I ended up taking O Chem at CU Denver and transferring it in! I’ve also missed turning in homework assignments because I overslept or couldn’t find a parking place on time, pulled tons of all nighters getting things done at the last minute, had my phone ring during an exam (seriously ticking off the professor, who is now one of my colleagues)… Once I even broke up with a fiancé and then blew two finals the next day because I basically just sat through them staring into space. I could go on…but let’s meet and figure out how to make things better instead!

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    February 5, 2020 @ 1:44 pm Tracy Gardner

    One last thing (this is why I am not on any social media and never respond to posts about anything…apologies for the multiple posts here, but campus culture and the Mines community members are very important to me.): A little slow on the uptake here about your main point – I agree that it is vital for the students to take an active role in addressing improving campus culture. Many already are and I applaud their work. Your call to action here to students to speak up and help each other too is so important! Let us know if and how we can help.

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    February 5, 2020 @ 10:38 pm Alex Flournoy

    I agree with Tracy and am also one of the faculty organizing this program as well as a participator. I too have numerous academic failures, including doing so badly on a test that I just folded it up and put it in my back pocket and left the exam room. I also have countless homework and lab failures, but most importantly I failed the one test I took as a grad student which was the comprehensive exam. This exam was offered once a year and if you failed it twice you were kicked out. Well I failed it the first time, and as a result I turned my study habit around and passed it the second time with the highest score.
    It’s very interesting because in planning this we thought about professors telling stories about failing exams or classes, but we decided that this might get too common to hear, so we asked the professors to tell more interesting stories. It seems that this was not the best angle, and so we will try to adapt. Trust us that this effort is being pushed to close the gap between faculty and students and not widen it further.

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    February 24, 2020 @ 7:22 pm Rob

    I thought the article being written by Anonymous is complete and total crap. the viewpoint is spot on and stellar, capable of launching a movement ONLY if people knew who (the writer) to cling too in order to start such a movement. Ususally to make a change of this nature a team has to band together, and with the writer being Anonymous, how is a movement to start? I do believe the focus and push ought to be hearing true life stories from your Professors allowing honesty and transparency to flow. In hearing from other students you make them more vulnerable and no student can afford to be MORE vulnerable, can you? I am a community member who read the Jan 27, 2020 edition due to Housing, if I knew who to contact, I’d be part of the team making Professors be a little more candid.

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