misc-joy

Explorations by Kenley Neufeld

mindfulness

Diversity and Equity in a Community College

By on May 26, 2018

What does it mean to address equity and diversity in a community college setting? More specifically, as an academic administrator at Santa Barbara City College? I recently had the opportunity to reflect upon this very question and the topic feels important enough to share more broadly.

Why is diversity and equity important?

Addressing diversity and equity is important because almost 60% of the students at Santa Barbara City College, where I am employed, are students of color. I suspect this is a common statistic for many of our California community colleges. It is important because the research clearly indicates that students of color are less successful in completion and retention. It is important because we don’t always know who the students are in our classrooms and what personal and systemic barriers may exist in their lives – whether that be race, gender, economic, or lack of educational experience in the family. It is important because the majority of faculty and staff may not be members of the student equity populations and yet they will be called upon to support and teach these students. It is important because we all have blind spots, and unconscious biases, that inform the services and programs of the institution. And as an academic administrator, and campus leaders, we need to have the most understanding and the clarity for addressing diversity and equity issues.

What can we do?

First, addressing diversity and equity always begins with oneself. Do we have awareness of what we bring to the institution? I am a middle class, white, cisgender, able-bodied, neurotypical male with a graduate degree. I am a father to an autistic young person with a developmental disability. And my mother came out as gay in her forties. All this informs the way I think, understand, and view the world. My worldview is also built upon a mindfulness practice that includes training on equanimity, understanding and compassion. This background helps me serve and be an advocate of diversity and equity but it also means there are inherent biases present. Personal awareness means that any employee can be a voice and advocate for diversity and equity issues. I see myself as a learner who must continually engage with my biases, both known and unknown. On occasion, this has been quite a surprise. For me, this means trying to be humble, listen to understand, acknowledge my ignorance, and use my place of privilege to support change and advocate for others. This is the exploration and conversation that I would encourage and pursue in this position – to help transform those already present in the institution to be more equity-minded and to help others to be learners.

Second, addressing diversity and equity requires us to look at the data. We have made great strides, but the systemic issues still remain. We have offered a great deal of employee education on our campus over the past 5-6 years. A lot of data has been presented, discussed, and open forums have been offered. This brought forward the opportunity to create the Student Equity Committee and the Equity Plan. These are big changes. And yet, our institution has moved at what feels like a very slow pace. I know these are large issues, and I also know how challenging it can be to influence change. This year as dean, I began to make data more accessible to departments who offer online courses. My office generated a report for each department and sent it to the chairs along with some very specific questions for exploring the data. We have the capacity to continue to expand this effort by getting the information directly into the hands of those who have the ability to impact student learning.

Third, in the area of faculty hiring – both adjunct and contract. Working with our department chairs and managers to transform the job announcement and the interview experience can expand the colleges opportunity to create an employee base that is diverse, inclusive, and equity-minded. Our Equal Employment Opportunity Committee is taking leadership with this and I’m honored to be on the team. Through this effort, we will automatically influence our student experience and hopefully student success.

These are three ideas, and perhaps another is to turn to those voices on campus who have experience and knowledge of diversity and equity issues. To turn to them and empower and support their efforts. I will be an advocate.

Waking Up

In conclusion, let me offer a short story from my perspective as a white, cisgender male. I remember my very first professional employment in 1994 and how they did a diversity workshop for all faculty and staff. It scared me just a little because I didn’t understand much of what was shared. But at the same time, it immediately became an interest for me to pursue because inequity seemed so clear. Since then, I have remained active in my professional and personal life by continuing to educate myself through training and workshops. For many of the last 5-6 years, I have served as a lead in bringing voices of equity and diversity to campus through work on the Professional Development Advisory Committee and the Equity Committee.

A couple years ago, I offered a deep listening workshop based on my experiences with meditation. In this workshop, we included a panel of student voices who came out of prison. During that session, I felt like many of the audience members “woke up” from something they hadn’t seen or heard before. It was a powerful experience. More recently, I put out an idea for our white employees who were interested in learning more about what it means to be a white ally. The response was very positive and a group of a dozen employees met over 8-10 weeks to read and study the book What it Means to be White by Robin DiAngelo where we explored the concepts of white privilege and white fragility.

We have much to learn as a collective community supporting our students on their path. And we have much to be inspired by for the caring and passion of our faculty, staff, and administrators.

Being Present for Our Students

By on May 12, 2018

Bed of Flowers

Being present for our students is a true gift we can offer and these experiences with students are one of the reasons why I’ve loved teaching and being part of an academic environment my entire professional career. As teachers, we have the capacity to change lives in ways that we may not always be fully aware of in the moment. I’m certain we’ve all experienced that moment when a student returns to share some action or word we said that had a deep impact. Our engagement with students can be a big responsibility that can be fostered in many ways: a kind word, a thoughtful smile, a note of encouragement, and even a criticism that comes from a place of wanting to push a student to learn something new.

For those who have taught classes in person, we may have an easier time being in touch with our students and the energy of the classroom. I may notice when a student is having a difficult day or week or even the entire semester. I can linger after class, arrive early, or have a student crying in our office. In those moments, my hope is I am able to practice with empathy and with understanding.

Beginners’ Mind

This being present for students may come naturally for you, and for others it may take some effort. But I know we all have this capacity for empathy and understanding. In my life, I have found cultivating this for myself first has allowed me to extend this more easily to my students. It has been through 25-years of meditation practice, allowing for a deeper understanding of my mind, that I’ve been able to bring this directly into the classroom. And just like our students, a beginners’  mind in myself can keep things fresh and help me to discover new ways to work with students.

How does this all extend into my online classroom? Do I know my students in the same way I might as if we are spending three hours per week in person? Am I able to identify a student in need or crisis through the work posted online so that I might reach out and connect to the student? And, within a primarily written medium, how am I being present for my students? We can create the conditions in our online classes that allows us to know our students better and be tuned into their overall learning experience.

Creating the Conditions for Learning

It’s the humanizing work. It’s the touchy-feely stuff that can help the student feel connected to the course material, to me, and to the college as a whole. The classes I’ve taught online – library science, technology, social media and marketing – are not necessarily touchy-feely topics. But as the teacher, we set the tone. In the online environment we need to offer a little bit more of ourselves explicitly. With in-person  classes, students know I have a deep sense of humor, that I always wear black, that I like to pause in class and listen to student sharing, and that I like using the white board. These characteristics are part of my character. Online students don’t easily get this part of me, but these characteristics are critical for building a classroom relationship for our semester journey.

Creating a space where communication can be open and responsive to both student learning and student needs is key to building instructor-student relationships online. This means taking risks, and it certainly means taking more time. I write about myself, I share photos or videos so they know who I am as a person, and I incorporate personal life antidotes into the learning materials. More importantly, I create as many opportunities for students to interact with me so that I know who they are as humans. This can achieved through  discussion, writing assignments, or video posts. I encourage students to share content they find that is exciting for them. Anything we, as instructors, can do to bring regular, meaningful student interactions into our online class is valuable. And we can build on this foundation to create a learning environment that is grounded in communication and trust. Creating an online classroom that is similar to how I spend 3-hours a week engaging with my students in a classroom is what I try to cultivate. My goal as an online instructor is to foster these human connections to inspire learning. In the end, when I support, guide, and inspire my students, I am nourished by our deep connections as they experience life’s difficulties and joys.

Originally posted on @ONE: Online Network of Educators

Happy Teachers Change the World

By on June 3, 2017

This is an important text for teachers who wish to cultivate mindfulness in the classroom. It is a uniquely Plum Village approach and provides concrete examples from hundreds of teachers from around the world. I am honored to have had a very small part in the manifestation of this book through offering feedback along the way as well as a couple of antidotes. 

Happy Teachers Change the World

The book is released in June 6, 2017 and you can preorder now from Parallax Press

The Body and Sickness

By on March 27, 2013

The body is quite a wonder. Observing it from perfect health to sickness and then beginnings of health again has been a deep practice in mindfulness.

Hello body, I know you are there and I smile in amazement.

I first felt the emergence of sickness over two weeks ago. Some grumpiness in my emotions and a little tickle in my throat. It didn’t seem like much the first couple days but I knew something was happening in my body. It’s good to be attuned to my body.

The sickness came slowly and then in the second week it got worse and I spent three days in bed. What can you do aside from observe the body and take care of it wholeheartedly. When in that state of sickness, it definitely dominates everything. Thinking. Feeling. Touch.

Yesterday I managed to stay up all day and putter about the house. Feeling the body get better and also sensing its weakness. Its limits. Today is much the same in that I am up and about but feel the shortness of breath and the limits of the body as it continues to heal.

I miss my routine and my normal energy level (my coffee!!) but can’t push to fast or hard to get there. Soon I will be able to return to my daily run and my daily sitting meditation. For now, I honor my body and its need to rest.

My meditation on sickness of the body is best observed within the sickness. All we encounter is an opportunity for practice.

Finally, I am very grateful to Leslie who has cared for me these past days. Thank you.

Mindfulness and Social Media: Shifting Perspectives

By on February 24, 2013

One of the results from the past few weeks of mindfulness practice, first a few days at Deer Park and now a few days at the Wisdom 2.0 conference, has been a looking deeply at my social media presence. I love the technology and am relatively active on several networks. I heavily use Twitter and app.net. A moderate user of Google+ and Facebook. And a very light user of LinkedIn.

In all cases, I have practiced being mindful about the content I share and have the hope of cultivating positive relationships. It has served me well over the past 6-7 years of regular sharing. I have taught full semester courses and workshops on social media and it has therefore contribute directly to my livelihood. I have found new friends and I also believe has served as a platform to share the practice of mindfulness and meditation. This is all good and I love playing with the technology.

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Busylessness – Are you too Busy?

By on April 25, 2008

I’m exploring the joys of being busy and taking a close look at the commitments in my life. What does it mean to be busy? To have commitments? Is it possible to have to many? I’ve heard Thich Nhat Hanh talk about something called busylessness, or businesslessness, [the correct term is “businessless” invented by Master Linji – added 4/26/08] but I’m not exactly sure what that means. I think it is a word just for those of us in the West who strive all the time. Who pursue something outside of ourselves. We work so hard that sometimes we don’t allow space for openness, for rest. We don’t allow enough space for doing nothing. Let’s take my life as an example (since I’m the one writing). As I look beyond my permanent commitments of being a partner and a parent, I see myself involved with many volunteer activities. (more…)