By Fiona Rutgers
The Science, Ethics, and Practice of Mindfulness” is the name of the theme Goucher is working to promote this semester.
But, what is mindfulness exactly? According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, a medical expert and professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Kabat-Zinn is considered to be an expert in the field, but even his definition leaves a lot of room for interpretation. There are hundreds of other definitions of mindfulness from many different perspectives, so how can Goucher tackle a topic like this?
The official webpage for this semester’s theme details Goucher’s plans to encourage students to embrace mindfulness. Many of Goucher’s featured speakers are giving talks related to mindfulness. From neuroscience to faith, these talks attempt to give a broad range of perspectives regarding mindfulness.
Two workshops are being planned for the semester, one for students and one for faculty. The student workshop, “Waking Up To Our Inner World to Best Serve the Outer World,” focuses on students involved with social justice work on campus and is led by Goucher alum La Sarmiento ‘86. Goucher is also encouraging students to participate in activities such as yoga and meditation, both commonly linked to mindfulness.
Several courses offered this semester are tied directly with the theme, although some fields are better suited than others. Professor Gina Shamshak, Associate Professor of Economics, described her attempt at addressing the theme within her introductory-level economics course.
“Is mindfulness something you can force?” she said while describing some of the reactions that students had to mindfulness activities in class. What she found was that many students resented mandatory activities meant to encourage mindfulness, like exercises in class.
You can experience some of this resentment yourself if you ask a first year student about Goucher’s previous summer reading. “The Power of Mindful Learning,” written by Dr. Ellen Langer, was meant to be an introduction to many incoming students to the concept of mindfulness. Many, however, were not happy with the choice.
“The book was awful,” Sarah Tancer ‘19 said.
“I enjoyed the concept and agreed with the arguments that were made in the book, however, I felt that the delivery was weak,” Willow Pinkerton ‘19 explained. “[The book] didn’t quite get to the core of what I believe mindfulness should entail.”
When asked about the theme overall, there were mixed reactions. Some, like Oliva Holender ‘19, were pleased with the choice.
“It [mindfulness] was part of my TBT therapy,” Holender said. “It’s a wonderful way to distress. I think it’s a wonderful idea.”
Others, however, were not as convinced.
“It’s not a topic that’s easily translated into many classes,” Dalton Middleton ‘19 said. “It’s a really really complex idea and I feel that the way it’s only been brought up has been about meditation.”
Members of the faculty ranged from cautious but supportive to enthusiastic.
“It think it’s a very popular buzzword floating around in pop culture today. It’s renaming something that we already knew, which is critical thinking and metacognition are really important when it comes to real education,” English professor Charlee Sterling explained. “I think maybe it would have been useful the way we enacting the theme or engaged with the theme was maybe more active and clear, especially for the students.”
Justin Brody, Assistant Professor of Math and Computer Science who often leads Goucher’s Meditation Club was particularly enthused.
“I’m very excited that our campus is coming together to look at various aspects of mindfulness practices,” Brody said. “These simple practices seem to be incredibly powerful, and I hope that the theme semester will be beneficial to our community.”