Colleges and universities reflect the values and priorities of our society, yet they are also a means of either perpetuating or transforming the systems and ideological frameworks in which they exist. The extreme examples of racism, oppression, and violence erupting on campuses today, as well as the growing awareness of subtle forms of bias which permeate American society, highlight the need to focus on these institutions and our responsibility to provide powerful and positive ways forward.
For 20 years, the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society has taken up the challenge to use the transformational power of contemplative approaches to engage higher education institutions in finding courage to face these problems, inspiration to act with compassion towards them, wisdom to confront injustice, and resilience to work for lasting change. Over the years, the Center has become a leader in illuminating the bridges between contemplative approaches and social justice efforts.
The convergence of contemplative practices and efforts towards social justice through higher education was richly explored at Building Just Communities, our 7th annual (and largest ever!) Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education conference, held at Howard University in Washington, D.C., this past October.
With the grounds of historic Howard serving as a quiet touchstone, we came together to practice, to share our work, and to experience Just Community within our growing and evolving field of teachers, scholars, and learners. In our welcome to attendees, we stated, “We hope this year’s conference will mark a watershed in the recognition and application of the powerful role of contemplative approaches to address and redress social injustice and the ways in which they can foster and sustain just communities for all.” Through the course of several days of mutual and diverse practices, deepening conversations, and critical collective reflections, we believe that we succeeded in our intention and look forward to developing and sustaining communities throughout Academia committed to these values.
With over 280 participants, the conference gathered an amazing and diverse group of faculty, students, and staff. The gathering celebrated the ways in which contemplative practices are being used to redress oppression, cultivate deep personal and social awareness, stimulate inquiry into meaning, and foster compassion toward others. Over 60 presentations and 40 posters provided inspired examples of the ways in which contemplative approaches are currently being used to address racial and social justice. Presentations ranged from “Creating the Beloved Community through Faculty of Color Retreats” to “Reversing Spiritual/Somatic Bypassing of Racism,” to “Compassion, Contemplative Practice, and Ethics in STEM.” This vibrant collection from an amazing array of institutions, disciplines and positions was beautifully held and supported by Howard University, one of the first historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the nation.
We would love to hear from those of you who attended the Howard conference about ways you’ve continued reflecting on the experience, and perhaps even begun to bring some of the experiences of the conference into your work in the classroom and beyond. You can leave a comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In many ways, this conference opens doors to new ways of fostering the deep and ongoing work of redressing racial and social oppression. The impact of the work at Howard will continue to inform our 2016 ACMHE conference and all our future events. We look forward to your voices and contributions as we enter the next phase of this work.