OPINION: The 5Cs need to teach emotional intelligence

A drawing of a person sitting in the lotus pose. Their eyes are closed, and everything is colored in shades of purple.
(Sienna Swift • The Student Life)

Break out your tissues, diaries and $15 guided meditation apps — it’s time to talk about emotional intelligence. What is it? Why do you care? And why don’t we have it here?

Emotional intelligence has consistently been proven to be the single, best predictor of leadership ability and team success in studies since 2005. The 5Cs bill themselves as places where leaders come to learn these foundational tools. It’s time to teach them.

The term “emotional intelligence” was coined in the ’90s in an obscure psychology journal and popularized by Dan Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence.” Simply put, it refers to our ability to understand and control our emotions. For a long time we thought those were unchanging aspects of our personality, but in the last 30 years research has come out showing that we can train it just like any other skill. But emotional intelligence is not just like any other skill. It’s a key predictor of professional success, and dramatically more relevant to how we live our lives. 

This research has spilled over into the public consciousness—consider how much more mental health is discussed as compared to just ten years ago, let alone pre-pandemic. Mental health and emotional intelligence go hand-in-hand.

Yet, those lifestyle changes aren’t reflected in the classes available to 5C students. A quick survey of the available courses within the student portal reveals a glaringly obvious lack of emphasis on emotional intelligence. 

Only two academic courses at the 5Cs even contain ‘emotion’ anywhere in its title: a sociology course called Sociology of Emotions at Pomona College, and a class I’ll get to later. Some physical education courses like mindfulness and yoga offer limited exploration of emotional intelligence, but they’re completely optional and not taken by most students. Even those that are interested may be blocked behind additional charges that complicate access to those courses for low-income students. 

In 2019, the Claremont McKenna College administration released the “Campaign for CMC: Responsible Leadership,” stressing the school’s role in creating the “leaders of tomorrow.” The initiative has raised nearly one billion dollars and has received contributions from over 11,000 individuals. 

Despite all that money, the course list still doesn’t offer substantial education on emotional intelligence — the skill that has been demonstrated to be the most strongly correlated with leadership success. 

Even beyond leadership and teamwork, emotional intelligence is one of the most cross-functional abilities to train. It has been found to be a great predictor of future happiness. This makes a lot of sense — having good emotional intelligence has been shown to improve people’s ability to make good friends and have stable social networks. Commonly taught techniques in emotional intelligence circles like mindfulness practices have been shown to rewire the brain and improve decision-making ability, reduce chronic stress and improve brain health.

The lack of emotional intelligence courses is a clear area of improvement for the 5Cs. New emotional intelligence courses don’t need to be revolutionary — a course I took last semester at Scripps titled “Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence for Leaders” provides a good starting point for other colleges with its data-centric approach to Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness. 

Emotional intelligence classes need to be widely available, trusted and encouraged. Instead of the current, more reactive approach to mental health, where the 5Cs provide counseling and therapy, we should establish proactive measures to support students’ mental health and encourage learning about emotional intelligence. 

This demand is neither abstract nor unimportant — a recent analysis from the Mayo Clinic found that 44 percent of college students suffer from symptoms of depression and anxiety. Even more unnerving, 75 percent of those students are reluctant to seek help; a reflection of our persisting cultural ignorance of mental health and emotional intelligence. 

In no other context, do the 5Cs leave such fundamental concepts unquestioned, left to be decided by social influences. We must develop and explore our own emotional intelligence as critically as we explore everything else if we are to use it to help the world.

Rowan Gray CM ’26 is from Sharon, Massachusetts. He wants you to know that all Oxford commas in this piece were violently deleted by his copy editors.

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