Keeping On In Challenging Times

Contributed by Deb Breen

(2 minute read)

As someone not born or raised in the US, I am often mystified by political and cultural approaches here that don’t resonate with my own sense of the world. But, like so many Americans, I understood the January 6 attacks on the Capitol for what they were: a violent, illegitimate response to legitimate democratic processes. Even as family and friends outside of the US reach out to ask, “Are you safe?”, I wonder how this political unrest affects us all – as faculty as well as the many staff that support the teaching and learning environments at Boston University.

Research tells us that continued uncertainty—including our particular context where the physical health of millions and the political health of the nation is endangered—takes a toll on our cognitive capacities as well as our physical and emotional stamina. We offer here some suggestions from teaching and learning resources to manage the stress of these times and find the energy to contribute to necessary change.

First, reflection: Just as we ask students to process experiences and thoughts by journaling or other creative practices, take some time to reflect on your concerns, whether that be through writing, painting, or through embodied contemplation such as meditation, walking, or other exercise. Alaskan Native peoples’ ways of thinking connect reflection and the outdoors (or a view through a window, at least!) with encouragement to “let go of your thoughts [. . .] and pay attention to the land you are standing on” as a means for necessary renewal. See Stop Talking, p. vi for more on this simple reflective exercise.

Inclusive pedagogy, particularly the frameworks of trauma-informed teaching, gives us some useful pointers for recognizing the impacts of stress, not only within our classrooms, but also for ourselves and our colleagues. Dr. Jessica Kent’s informative overview from the Lightning Talks topic of “Building the Inclusive Classroom” provides suggestions to support both students and ourselves within these challenging times.

Describing Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement Practices gives us four principles for pedagogy that produces positive change: relational, integral, organic, and generative.  Each of these is essential, but for now, let’s focus on “relational”: finding or creating opportunities to build and deepen connections with those around us. Look for systems of support within your departments and programs or suggest they be set up if they don’t currently exist. See the presentation by Drs. Laurie Craigen and Thom Field for creative suggestions for community-building with both faculty and students.

As Professor Ibram X. Kendi notes in his founder’s statement for the BU Center for Antiracist Research, we “must believe change is possible in order to bring about change.” (Among the many avenues of possible change, Dr. Paula Austin’s talk on examining our own disciplines highlights one aspect of necessary reflection in the academy.) As faculty work to create spaces for transformational student learning, let’s also aim to support each other on the complementary journey of contributing to transformational change in our institution and society. In the coming weeks, please take care of yourselves as much as you care for your students—and be assured of our support as you continue on this journey!

Additional resources

Teaching through a Pandemic: Cognitive Load, Mental Health and Learning under Stress from the University of Denver, Office of Teaching & Learning.

Teaching with Current Events in Your Classroom: Responding to the Insurrection at the US Capitol, from Facing History and Ourselves.

Wellness Resources for BU Faculty & Staff