In Fisher Fine Arts Library, a wire tree has leaf-shaped notecards with affirmations dangling from its branches. The project, called the Affirmation Tree, was created by a Penn student to encourage positive self-reflection among students.
College senior Elana Burack, who launched the project Monday, said self-affirmations are statements that help people remember their values and their positive traits. Next to the tree, a sign asks students prompts including “What do you value, and why?,” “What is meaningful to you?,” and “I am proud of myself because…” and calls on them to pen their responses and hang the notecards on the tree.
To decide prompts for the tree, Burack reached out to Adam Grant, a management and psychology professor in the Wharton School, and Andrew Ward, a psychology professor at Swarthmore College. She said the professors helped point her towards self-affirmation research and suggested directions for the prompts.
The Affirmation Tree will remain in the lobby of Fisher Fine Arts until the end of this week. Burack said she plans to move the tree every few weeks to various locations around campus, including Houston Hall, Van Pelt Library, and Weingarten Learning Resources Center.
Burack said she first encountered self-affirmations when she was dealing with bullying in the eighth grade. When she remembered the self-affirmation technique at the beginning of her senior year, she realized it was a tool Penn students could benefit from.
“We’re in this hyper-competitive environment, and encouraging people to take a moment and reflect on themselves and reflect on things bigger than themselves is a key to surviving and thriving here,” she said.
College senior Michelle Cossette, who attended the launch, agreed that it was important for students to stop and reflect on their positive attributes.
“I do think that when you say something to yourself, about yourself, or a goal you have for yourself, if you say it out loud or write it down you’re more likely to believe it, and to make sure that it can come true,” Cossette said.
Burack said this past fall, she made a two-dimensional tree for her apartment wall and encouraged visitors to place their affirmations on it. She wanted the project to be an interactive piece, however, that could move around campus. Through a mutual friend, she reached out to Julia Magidson, a sculptor in her final year of the coordinated dual degree program between Penn and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Magidson and Burack started planning the project last semester and worked together to build the sculpture.
“I always really loved self-compassion. I didn’t know what affirmations were, but when Elana told me what they were they seemed pretty in line with self-compassion and it’s definitely something that I think about in my own art,” Magidson said.
Burack said she drew inspiration for her project from the “Wall of Rejection” that appeared in the Annenberg School for Communication in February 2017. Burack said the wall, which attempted to normalize rejection, was a way for students to “engage with things we don’t normally engage with," and she hopes the Affirmation Tree will play a similar role.
The project was also sponsored by Penn Wellness and the Sachs Program for Arts Innovation.
“I think it’s kind of taboo to say positive things about yourself in a very genuine way at Penn in particular," Burack said. "But I think that’s a very important psychological tool and I hope people will take it as a resource."