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Student Q&A: Neha Basti ’20

Neha Basti

As a high school student striving to achieve her full potential, Neha Basti yearned to have more conversations about wellness and mental health. When she arrived at Northwestern in 2016, she was glad to find those topics openly discussed on campus. But by then, Basti wanted to do more than just talk about mental health. She wanted to take action not only for herself, but on behalf of the Northwestern student community. 

So as a junior, Basti launched ResilientNU, a peer-run program to help students truly thrive at Northwestern. The neurosience major, who won a 2019 Wildcat Impact Award for her initiative, spoke to Weinberg Magazine about how college students can find balance in a high-performance environment — even in the midst of a global pandemic.

What causes stress for the typical Northwestern student?  

We have so many opportunities at Northwestern, and it can be hard to say “no” when there’s so much you can do with your four years here. There is a fine line between doing everything you want to do and over-commitment. Also, we want to make an impact and do a lot for other people. It can be hard to turn that compassion inward and say, “I need this time for myself.” Helping myself and other students develop that mindset is what led to ResilientNU. 

How does ResilientNU work during a “normal” quarter?  

Students join a cohort and meet weekly with a staff facilitator and a trained student facilitator. Each session of our four-week skills-based curriculum focuses on a different main topic: personal wellness and values, coping with difficult emotions, mindfulness, and addressing failure. All the learning happens through discussion, reflection, journaling and relaxing. There are no quizzes or homework — it’s more about the community and the experience.   

Has the program been successful?  

I recently received a text from a participant who told me, “It’s been six months since I’ve done my cohort, but I still feel the impact. It’s still changing the way I manage my time.” To know that this is affecting students months after they’ve done the program is really special.  

More than 60 students have completed the program so far.  It’s really exciting to see the size and number of cohorts growWe’re currently working on collecting student feedback and formally assessing the impact of our program.

How did ResilientNU continue to support students during the spring 2020 quarter, after the COVID-19 pandemic forced all Northwestern classes and programming to go online?

Our group joined with a few other campus organizations to present a campaign called Days of Wellness. We shared practical skills and practices that students could take part in. Some were very lighthearted and quick activities; others were personal, tangible and long-term. We also compiled a list of activities that students could try during the pandemic. I followed a daily practice called 28 Days of Meditation that’s been really helpful for me, so I was eager to share that. One member said she started doing TikTok dances with her family, and found that to be a lighthearted way for her to distract herself and connect with others.  So we offered up things like that — things that were serious and long-term practices, as well as activities that could make you laugh and distract you for couple of minutes.

The team worked on shifting our curriculum and model to fit an online structure. ResilientNU is now conducting summer cohorts for the first time. We also opened up our programming to graduate students and recent graduates. Currently, we are conducting three summer cohorts.

It sounds like you planted some seeds for better mental health, heading into a crisis like this.

We hope so. That’s really the goal for a program like this — that students will be able to pick up some skills that they can hold on to, regardless of the circumstances they face. [The COVID-19 pandemic] is kind of an extreme example of that, but that really is the intention: to teach students skills that they can draw on before a crisis strikes.

Are you hoping the program will continue in person when the pandemic subsides?

I hope so. There’s really no substitute for the kind of connection and learning that happens when you’re in person with a group of your peers and a facilitator. So I think that’s ideal. But this is also a great way for us to take a look at our curriculum and see what’s working. So if we do make some changes before we are in-person again, then our curriculum will just be better. So it’s a win-win.

What sort of messages from Resilient NU should participants be remembering and drawing on right now?

Personally, the most important thing — at least the thing that works for me, that I find most helpful and productive — is to not force yourself to be positive over time, or to set a deadline on when you need to be done coping and making sense of everything that’s going on. I never want ResilientNU to fall along the lines of toxic positivity; I want it to be a space where we encourage students to feel what they’re feeling and cope with that, instead of trying to suppress it and be “productive” like they used to be. So the most important message, I think, is to give yourself space and time to process.

A lot of the work we do is helping students cope with difficult emotions, and I think that this is the prime example of when you need to cope with difficult emotions. So I hope that this is something that students can keep at the front of their minds right now.

ResilientNU is open to all Northwestern students. LEARN MORE:

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