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How can we Educate in this Culture of Violence?

In this broiling summer of our discontent, the one question I cannot stop pondering is how can we educate amidst this unending violence?  The sheer madness of this proliferating escapade in mass and state sanctioned killing – Orlando; Baton Rouge; Minneapolis; Dallas; Brussels; South Sudan; Istanbul; Nice; Baton Rouge (again) – is only the most visible tip of an iceberg of violence that seems to wrap us in an numbing desensitization.  I cannot help but think that we all must be experiencing some level of (emotional) post-tramautic stress disorder.  Minus the post, of course. Because almost daily now we are confronted with some new horrific violence of which we must make sense.

I’m part of more than several professional education associations – ACPA: College Student Educators International; NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education; AERA; ASHE.  I do not envy the leadership of these organizations, who are vacillating and attempting to walk the fine line between acknowledging almost every disaster unfolding (ACPA’s response); to essentially attempting to carry on business as normal (NASPA and AERA’s response).

One way several college student educators are attempting to educate is by opening spaces of dialogue.  HigherEd Live has hosted more than several discussions this year focused on providing spaces for educating ourselves on supporting communities and students impacted by such tremendous violence; their next discussion will be July 27 focused on the intersection of LGBTQ+ and Latinx identities in the wake of Orlando.  Just this past Friday, NASPA hosted an online discussion with Shaun Harper and Lori Patton on how we can continue to educate our communities around issues of racial justice, including Black Lives Matter, following the murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile (the most well-known and current of Black and Brown lives taken by police this year).

I’ve built these dialogues into my own courses this summer.  In both my doctoral seminar on The College Student and master’s seminar on Student Services we have spent time discussing responses to, and attempts to proactively address, racial and sexual violence on campus.  There are great resources available to help us with these discussions, including the Journal of Critical Scholarship on Higher Education and Student Affairs Special Issue on Student Reflections on Racial Injustice; and ACPA’s recent monograph on addressing sexual violence on campus.

All of these dialogues are important.  We must continue to raise our own awareness about the ways violence perpetuates itself on our campuses; in our communities; and increasingly, how world violence influences our students and us as educators.  There must be much more of this dialogue occurring.

We need more, though

However, I also firmly believe that we are at a critical tipping point in our culture, society, and world, that requires more than mere acknowledgment of the violence around us.  We are going to need to engage with more than echo-chambers of people who agree with us about this violence and the solutions to the violence.  And I think we are going to have to start thinking about new pedagogical strategies to care for ourselves as educators, and our students.

I have no idea what this will look like, but I’m continuing to do my own work in this area, and I want to engage others interested in this work – and their ideas. Here are a few I’ve had myself.

Practicing Active Listening

When I was in my master’s program we took a class called “Helping Skills.”  I remember how we sometimes used to find it odd that we spend time in class practicing listening, but I see retrospectively the value of these exercises.

I’ve begun attempting to practice active listening by engaging with podcasts.  It turns out that in the phrenetic world of noise, just taking time to listen, undistracted, is quite difficult.  It is also incredibly important to practice active listening as part of preparing for engaged dialogue and conversation.

Some of these podcasts reveal my attempts to be an informed citizen: the BBC World News Hour or Democracy Now! I enjoy these podcasts because, unlike US mainstream media news sources, these news sources actually provide more in-depth interviewing around important global issues.  Often they highlight violence, but attempt to dissect that violence from more than dualistic perspectives, and beyond simplistic solutions.

I’ve also begun listening to a podcast called On Being, as well as the corollary podcast vignettes Becoming Wise and Creating our our Lives.  This leads to my second emerging practice.

Peace, Mindfulness, and Nonviolence Pedagogy

We spend almost no time in higher education and student affairs, or education in general, providing avenues for different pedagogical strategies.  We are now hyper-focused on outcomes, assessment, measurement, cost-effectiveness and return on investment.

What would it mean for us to have more dialogue and engagement around some different language: peace pedagogy; nonviolence education; love? Certainly there is some awareness in our field about these issues and topics, but I was somewhat shocked weeks ago when I participated in the first Higher Ed Live chat responding to Orlando and someone suggested we build love into the student affairs competency rubric.

Love is not a competency; it is a process. Love cannot be measured according to some rubric; it must be felt, fought for, and experienced.

This fall I’m going to teach our master’s seminar on Diverse College Students, and among other topics of social identities and campus climate assessments, we will be talking about mindful social justice practice, nonviolence philosophy, and love.  I’m unafraid of having these conversations with our emerging college student educators.

Where is our self-care institute? 

Lastly, I must question: where is our self-care institute? We have developed all kinds of professional development retreats and workshops around every topic imaginable – but none that I can see around self-care and true community.  What a profound idea it might be for us to provide a space for higher education and student affairs educators to come together not to learn about the latest assessment models or means of advancing one’s career, but in a space where we might simply commune; be with nature; heal our souls.  Isn’t caring for self the first step in caring for others?

What are your ideas? How do you think about educating in a culture of violence? 

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