As a professor of Media Studies, I often meet students who express concern about the impact of digital media on their personal lives—for example, their ability to concentrate or to form healthy, authentic relationships. Less often, but occasionally, students voice concern about the torrent of images and less-than-trustworthy “news” they encounter online, and its impact on their ability to engage effectively as citizens. In fact, helping students make connections between the personal and collective dimensions of digital culture is one of the most important, and most difficult, responsibilities I face in the classroom.
It is often said that we teach what we need to learn. Nowhere in my teaching career have I found this to be more the case than in my creation and implementation of a new course for our university’s curriculum titled, Sociology of the Body.
In my role as the Contemplative Life Advisor at Hampshire College, I support students to practice, develop and integrate meditation, mindfulness, and related principles of awareness and compassion into their lives. This includes reflecting on key systemic forms of suffering, particularly oppression, climate disruption and other environmental damage, and potential remedies/right actions of social justice and sustainability.
In my PhD capstone methods course, I was introduced to photovoice, a visual research methodology that is used to visually capture another’s perspective by commissioning individuals to go out and capture their own lives in a meaningful, visual way. Photovoice is an emancipatory method at its roots, used to help highlight the voices of those who are often silenced in society—victims of domestic violence (Frohmann, 2005), those with a disability (Thoutenhoofd, 1997), people of color (Douglas, 1998), LGBTQ-identified individuals (Santurri, 2014), the elderly (Baker & Wang, 2006), and more.
When people first hear terms like “mindfulness” or “contemplative,” it is common for images of cross-legged silent meditation or perhaps uttering “Om” to be conjured in the listener’s mind. This is a stereotype of course, and like others, it is constructed from things that actually happen (i.e. seeing someone cross-legged and meditating and/or chanting) and then extrapolated into a caricature of reality.
Oppression causes deep wounds, both individually and collectively. It results in deeply held grief and sadness, much of which emerges when we discuss issues of oppression in social justice classrooms. Part of healing as individuals and as communities is to acknowledge those wounds and begin to heal that grief. Doing so will take time and many different paths, but pretending that it isn't present in our classrooms only makes it stronger.