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The power of resilience

The power of resilience

Associate Professor Noni Gaylord-Harden researches the ways urban youth are affected by violence in their community. (Photo: Heather Eidson)

College of Arts and Sciences

Noni Gaylord-Harden finds that resilience can do amazing things for youth struggling in difficult
environments

By Kristen Hannum

Noni Gaylord-Harden, PhD, was talking with kids in a Chicago school one day as part of her community-based research on African American children who are exposed to multiple stresses in their environment. She asked them what their biggest stressor was.

“Trying to get home without getting shot,” they told her. “I was blown away that these 12-year-olds were having to deal with this,” says Gaylord-Harden, an associate professor of psychology now in her 11th year at Loyola. “They talked about being angry and depressed, about how it was affecting their homework.”

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Loyola recently launched Plan 2020, a five-year strategic plan to promote social justice. This story falls into one of the four strategic priorities outlined in the plan. Read more here.

Because of what children in the community told her, she and the graduate students she works with began looking more specifically at violence. Her research team comes back to the term “resilience” frequently, because it describes the strategies—such as coping and future orientation—that predict positive outcomes for the children.

“If they can continue to maintain positive thoughts about the future, about living beyond 18 or 21, they do better,” Gaylord-Harden says. Depression, on the other hand, is a key predictor for less positive outcomes. “If you develop hopelessness,” she says, “you’re more likely to put yourself in dangerous situations.”

Loyola is critical to her work because of the nature of those conversations with children in Chicago schools. “The voices in community have to be heard,” she says. “We maintain the relationships and continue to earn trust.”

Gaylord-Harden’s research gives her an opportunity to work with many families through intervention, whereas in clinical work she was limited to helping one family at a time. Still, it’s not something she planned to do. She earned a PhD in clinical psychology and was working with children in an impoverished community in Tennessee. The children there were going to inadequate schools and facing discrimination and violence.

“The research said they should all have negative life outcomes,” says Gaylord-Harden. “That’s when I began learning about resilience."

She became a postdoctoral clinical research associate through the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago and has been widely published in her field. But she especially enjoys working with her students.

“The beauty of psychology is that it draws people who want to help others,” she says. Loyola magnifies that. “I knew coming in that I would have the opportunity to have class discussions on social justice issues. I think students are drawn to Loyola because of its commitment to social justice,” she says. 

In her human diversity course, she focuses on social justice in the last class. A handout helps students write about their role in creating justice. “For me, a reason for writing a mission statement is that it helps me remember why I’m doing the work in the first place,” she tells them.

“I revisit my mission statement and remember conversations I’ve had, the smiles I’ve seen, and the feeling of knowing my work is important.”

Meet more Loyola faculty who are focused on social justice: