How many of our students have been and could be assisted on their journeys simply by our thoughtful questioning and attentive listening?
David Crowley talks with student Maria Gaughan about the formative power of small conversations as part of a series in which faculty members interview students about vocational exploration.
Last summer I accompanied a group of 20 college students on a vocation-focused overseas trip. Compounding my fear of losing either the students themselves or their voluminous documentation (so many COVID test results, health forms, and printed itineraries!) was the fact that I did not know most of these students; they were members of two COVID-disrupted cohorts of Assumption University’s SOPHIA program, a yearlong vocational discernment experience for sophomores that culminates in a trip to Rome. I had not served as a SOPHIA mentor for these students, and I had never met most of them through advising or a class, so they were strangers to me…and I was a stranger to them.
One student whose reputation had preceded her was rising senior Maria Gaughan. I had heard that Maria was an excellent student who was doing impressive research with one of my colleagues in the biology department. I was looking for allies on this trip and jumped at the chance to speak with Maria on the bus ride to the airport. This became the first of many fruitful conversations for us, but, as I have come to discover, I was just the latest of Maria’s formative conversation partners. Last fall, I invited her to join a student panel at our NetVUE regional gathering on mentoring in the sciences. At this event, she caught the attention of many participants, including the editor of this blog. What follows are excerpts of Maria’s reflections on seemingly small mentoring moments with big vocational impacts–what she calls “chats.”
The book examines activism by LGBTQ students at Christian colleges and universities. There’s a lot of research out there about how students who are LGBTQ struggle to reconcile their religion, sexuality and/or gender identity on their campus and experience various kinds of trauma on non-affirming Christian campuses. I wanted to understand how LGBTQ students become agents of social change. I examine why students join or form LGBTQ activist groups on their campuses, why they commit to activist groups and sometimes devote several years and many hours a week toward the cause of promoting LGBTQ inclusion on their campuses. I examine what kinds of changes LGBTQ students bring about on their campuses and the strategies and tactics they used to bring about change, and then I consider how students themselves are impacted by their participation and LGBTQ groups on their Christian college and university campuses. I myself attended a Baptist University (Samford University in Alabama) where I worked with other students to start an LGBTQ student group. So this project has personal roots.
Tell us a little bit about the course and how it came into existence.
I am part of a group at DeSales University that has been charged with facilitating a faculty-driven process for revising our general education curriculum. As that process has unfolded, we have come to believe that we need a capstone course and we are interested in giving students an opportunity to bring together the entirety of their experience, inside and outside the classroom. And the mission of our institution emphasizes more than just job preparation; the importance of holistic well-being, thriving rather than just surviving – those are also important components of a DeSales education. So another aspect to this capstone is that we want to give students a chance to reflect on their identity and purpose – the existential, big questions. So that’s where I started, where we started.
I was pondering that in the back of my mind and then we had these twin pandemics in 2020 with the killing of George Floyd and obviously COVID-19. And I found myself thinking that our students need a way to process what is happening. They are going to do that as part of their social networks and there are probably some courses where it might come up, and maybe some opportunities for programming that students could optionally choose to attend where these things might come up, but I felt like there needed to be something a little more intentional, a little more structured, something that involved the faculty in guiding students through that process.
A conversation with Nimisha Barton, historian, educator, and diversity practitioner. Nimisha Barton will lead a workshop for NetVUE members on October 27th on Bias, Privilege and Educational Freedom (see below for more details). As we finalized the details about her workshop, Nimisha generously agreed to be interviewed about her work and career trajectory and how … Continue reading “Rethinking and Unlearning: Imagining New Ways of Being in Community”
A conversation with Nimisha Barton, historian, educator, and diversity practitioner.
Nimisha Barton will lead a workshop for NetVUE members on October 27th on Bias, Privilege and Educational Freedom (see below for more details). As we finalized the details about her workshop, Nimisha generously agreed to be interviewed about her work and career trajectory and how her experiences in graduate school have informed her approach to mentoring. At the end, Nimisha suggests texts and other resources for educators who are committed to supporting undergraduates and unlearning the damaging messages into which we have all been socialized.
Describe the work you do now and how you engage with students, either as a consultant, teacher, mentor, etc.
I consult with colleges and universities helping faculty and staff around the country find ways to improve their relationships with their entire community. This may look like inclusive teaching workshops for faculty or inclusive leadership development trainings for students. At the end of the day, I seek to highlight existing norms and practices and suggest new ways of thinking that might enhance our relationships with one another. Often, this means thinking through how historical and sociopolitical realities have conditioned the ways we currently relate with one another and imagining new ways of being in community.
Jason Mahn (Augustana College, IL) interviews a former student in order to learn more about the callings to justice-work among students of color and how he and other white professors can better support them as they live out those callings.
A conversation with activist Dezi Gillon (Augustana College, ‘16).
Dezi Gillon (they/them) is a teaching artist and healer living on occupied Potawatomi territory—what is known today as Rogers Park, Chicago. In 2016, they graduated from Augustana College (Rock Island, Illinois) with Religion and Sociology majors, having participated in Interfaith Understanding, Black Student Union, AugiEquality, and Micah House, a residential intentional community. They went on to graduate from Union Theological Seminary (New York) with an MDiv in 2019 and are currently working with Alternatives Youth and Family Services as a restorative justice coach and educator. I interviewed my former student in order to learn more about the callings to justice-work among students of color and how I and other white professors can better support them as they live out those callings.
A conversation with Chris Arguedas, Director of the Intercultural Community Center at Occidental College.
I met Chris Arguedas at the NetVUE regional gathering hosted by Occidental College in January 2020, where we started a conversation about tending to the well-being of student activists. Chris generously agreed to share some of his thoughts about the particular challenges faced by student activists, especially students from minoritized communities, and his own sense of calling in the work that he does with students.
Describe the work you do at Occidental and the students you encounter and support.
First, I am there to listen. I often meet with students on a one-on-one basis, and I take these opportunities to learn from them and to build trust. Relationships built on trust are what propel the work of an Intercultural Center forward. My work is also to make students feel seen, in particular students who are underrepresented and racially minoritized in higher education, who often move through the world without being treated with respect. And, more specifically, I conduct training to mitigate institutional barriers at the college; I act as a liaison (and translator sometimes) between faculty, staff and students as it relates to issues of equity and social justice; and I co-create programming with students that recognizes and honors their identities and helps them step into their greatness.