University of Colorado - Advancement | CU Foundation - Boulder, Colorado Springs, Denver, Anschutz Medical Campus

The promise of youth

Institute partners with local schools and families on interdisciplinary research about the wellness of young people.

A woman smiles; she has long brown hair and wears a navy scarf and white sweater. The background is an artistic design with colorful shapes.

To say 2020 has been a challenging year is an understatement: fears and confusion from the coronavirus pandemic, social unrest, political tensions, market instability, remote work and school environments, and other uncertainties weigh heavily on the nation’s psyche.

Imagine now how a kid feels.

During the last decade, mental health problems – from mood disorders to suicidal thoughts to drug and alcohol abuse – have increased among adolescents and young adults, according to a study released last year by the American Psychological Association. Uncertainty has increased the complexity of their challenges, which is why the work of the Renée Crown Wellness Institute at CU Boulder is more critical than ever.

A transformational gift in 2019 established the Crown Institute, where Sona Dimidjian serves as director. She is also a professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and the inaugural holder of the Sapp Family Endowed Chancellor's Chair for Research Excellence.

A group of five researchers - three women and two men - stand outside on the CU Boulder campus.

The five founding scholars of the Crown Institute are: Kathy Schultz, Ben Kirshner, Sona Dimidjian, Erik Willcutt and Yuko Munakata (from left to right).

Dimidjian says the Crown Institute is committed to interdisciplinary research and integrated partnerships to improve the health and well-being of children, youth, educators, families and schools in Colorado communities.

“The questions we ask and the problems we strive to solve are grounded in trust with our community partners — they might be educators in schools, community organizations, or students in schools or on our campus. Young people need connection to thrive, and science and research need connection to have real impact. This means connecting across traditional disciplinary boundaries within the university, and it also means connecting beyond the traditional walls of the university.”

The Crown Institute’s scholars study mindfulness, compassion, belonging, dignity and agency. Research programs address disparities in mental health, wellness and education associated with gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, linguistic diversity, geography, income and other structural and systemic inequities with a focus on access, justice, and dignity.

This fall, the Crown Institute collaborated with CU Boulder's College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Education, the College of Media, Information and Communications, and the Division of Student Affairs to design and build an online course for first-year CU students. With input from a team of 14 students and more than 30 faculty members across the campus, the course addressed mental health and well-being needs in response to COVID-19, as well as systemic injustice. 

“There's so much stigma around the sharing of personal challenges and the pressure to appear as though we, our families and even our communities have it all together. I think what's really important right now is that people are speaking their truth about the ways in which they are having a hard time, and communities are coming together to address historical injustice.”

Scholars like Dimidjian use their research to create a brighter tomorrow for future generations. Philanthropic gifts help make that possible.

“I think our children and youth hold a lot of optimism, enthusiasm and vision for what their lives could be like. We also know that they are experiencing unprecedented levels of mental health concern, stress and challenges. We see both the power and the promise that children and youth bring forth into the world, and we hold this sense of responsibility to help them determine what kind of legacy they want to have and what needs to change in the world today.”

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