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  • Jennifer Cable
  • Monti Datta
  • Kathleen Skerrett

Since Fall 2018, we have been meeting as a Faculty Learning Community to engage Mindfulness practices together.  Our members include faculty from the Law School, Robins School of Business, Libraries, and all four divisions of the School of Arts & Sciences.  (We continue to recruit faculty from SPCS.)   In addition, we remain connected to a wider group of interested faculty through email.  Our gathering expresses our desire to grow as an inclusive, compassionate, and equity-minded community.  We share Mindfulness practice to support critical thinking and skillful engagement for ourselves and our students when we encounter difficult learning or difficult conversations.  We promote Mindfulness practice because we find that relationships of inclusion and lifelong learning do indeed “start within us.” Across the institution, we believe shared practice has the potential to help us pursue, with increased attention and care, the university’s mission “to prepare students for lives of purpose, thoughtful inquiry, and responsible leadership in a diverse world.”  With gratitude, we aspire to realize more fully the privileges of our vocations as teachers and scholars at the University of Richmond, and to more richly enjoy meaningful fellowship with each other, across our different disciplines and schools. 

Our proposal for the third Mindfulness FLC Plus, in particular, focuses our attention  on ”responsible leadership in a diverse world” while reflecting our desire to continue to grow as a community in practice.  Yet first, let us consider our work over the past year:

In 2019-20  our community grew, welcoming more faculty colleagues and staff members who joined us in our work.  We also began to work collaboratively with other initiatives and models on campus, including the Office of the Provost in their support of George Mumford’s incredible visit, and including senior leadership joining a meeting of our FLC+ to share highlights and goals of UR’s new center for Well-being. We also supported multiple faculty and staff who were working toward achieving their Koru Mindfulness teacher certification. While that work continues, several of the group have submitted materials for certification, and the first of our group to achieve certification is now completing the inaugural program to become a “trainer-of-trainers!”

National Healthy Minds Surveys show that student respondents report high rates of anxiety and depression.  Significant numbers of UR undergraduates and Law students meet criteria for moderate to severe depression and/or general anxiety disorder.[1]  Even higher percentages report that negative mental health has compromised their recent academic performance.  Our students experience stress that is counter-productive of learning, and the sources of stress are unevenly distributed among student populations, with minority students suffering most.  Further, less than half of student respondents meet criteria for positive mental health on The Flourishing Scale.  These aggregate data points represent personal stories of distress among many of the people we teach, and, as faculty members, we believe that commitment to inclusion and thriving requires proactive response.  

And our proactive response is exactly what we propose for our Mindfulness FLC Plus for 2020-21, whereby we will embrace new directions and encourage new conversation. Early on in the spring 2020 semester, our campus was rocked by incidents of racial hatred, sending shockwaves across campus and impacting every community member. Our new FLC+ will provide an intentional community to bring the practice of Mindfulness to the challenging discussions of race and identity. We will seek to hold campus gatherings which will create safe spaces for faculty, staff, and students, coming together in community contemplation and care. Our FLC+ will engage members of the summer book club, reading Ruth King’s Mindful of Race, organized by one of our FLC+ leaders, Monti Datta. We hope that students will also engage with our work this year, joining us in meetings, in sit-ins, in pop-up meditation sessions, and in other events across our campus community that will allow us to fully open our hearts to discussions of race and identity.

We imagine additional opportunities to reach our community through partnering with other UR programs, such as the Office of the Chaplaincy, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Common Ground and others.

It starts within us.  We believe our proposed Mindfulness FLC Plus community advances the university’s strategic commitment to inclusive and thriving community and academic excellence  As faculty, we desire to grow in our own abilities to practice gentle yet authentic relationships with each other.  In the larger institutional context in which our human community is formed, we are aware that systemic and historical factors produce chronic distress, which in turn aggravates injurious relations that are plainly hard to redress.  For ourselves and our community, therefore, we desire to become more insightful and skilled in redressing the injurious effects of injustice and racial animus. Our proposed FLC+, building upon the momentum of both the 2018-19 Mindfulness FLC, and the Mindfulness FLC+ of 2019-20, will allow us to use Mindfulness to help our community begin to heal from the wounds resulting from the acts of racial hatred of only a few months ago.

[1] University of Richmond participates in the national Healthy Minds Survey.  Longitudinal data is available in confidential settings.  The public national data summary is made available herein.