In October, 2015, at Howard University, our ACMHE Conference, “Building Just Communities” investigated the ways in which contemplative approaches inform and can transform our work responding to the many forms of racism, privilege and oppression affecting higher education and society in general. Since that event, we have continued and deepened that investigation, incorporating and exploring these themes in our events.
“The sessions made me think critically about our role at the intersection of contemplation and social action. I also appreciate that the conference was at Howard University – it made the topic come to life in a very meaningful way.”
– 2015 ACMHE Conference participant
We have fully incorporated the examination of racism, privilege and issues of oppression into the heart of our Summer Session on Contemplative Higher Education. Rose Sackey-Milligan (Program Officer, Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities) and Rhonda Magee (Professor of Law, University of San Francisco) will these themes directly in their workshops and presentations, and participants will have the opportunity to deepen their exploration during small-group workshops, group discussions, and contemplative practice sessions.
In mid-March, we partnered with Naropa University in Boulder, CO, to create a conference, “Mindfulness, MOOCs & Money in Higher Education: Contemplative Possibilities and Promise.” At the conference, one of the clear themes which arose was the many ways in which contemplative approaches can address problems of access, retention, and thriving of many students who have felt marginalized and unwelcome within higher education. Laura Rendón (Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy, University of Texas-San Antonio) gave an inspiring and powerful address examining the many ways contemplative approaches can be culturally appropriate for low-income and first-generation students and challenged the participants to recognize the many assets that these students bring to their institutions. Rhonda Magee discussed the challenges facing anti-racist efforts in higher education, like “color blindness” and embedded and unexamined white privilege. Daniel Barbezat (Professor of Economics, Amherst College and CMind’s Director) emphasized the importance of examining the ways in which contemplative approaches have overtly and subtly served to exclude large groups of teachers and students, and emphasized the important responsibility of white participants to be become more aware of and address their privilege in higher education and in the contemplative education movement, as a whole.
We have also partnered with the Fetzer Institute (whose mission is “helping build the spiritual foundation for a loving world”) to explore the features of successful community building. Through our work with Fetzer and other community leaders, we plan to develop a set of tools and resources that we will make available for other faculty, staff, and students who are interested in initiating or growing contemplative communities on their campuses. In addition, we will offer grants to support community initiatives based on contemplative approaches.
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Finally, our upcoming ACMHE Conference will be held at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (October 7-9, 2016), will carry the theme “Transforming Higher Education: Fostering Contemplative Inquiry, Community, and Social Action” and will further examine the following questions:
- How are contemplative practices supporting and sustaining communities within and beyond academia that reflect compelling visions of a more just, peaceful, sustainable, and compassionate world?
- How can contemplative practices affect our understanding of systemic forces that shape institutions of higher education and of society at large?
We hope that this conference will further deepen this inquiry and provide new and powerful ways forward.
Our vision of transformative change holds contemplative methods as inseparable from community building, anti-racism and anti-oppression work: as we develop ways of recognizing our inextricable interconnection with each other and our planet, we continually refine and deepen our ability to respond to these challenges.
Colleges and universities examine the values and priorities of society — they are a means of either perpetuating or transforming the systems and ideological frameworks in which they exist. We are working hard to support them in their transformative role and believe they can be powerful engines to create a more just and compassionate society.