Preconceptions and biases often interfere with productive discussions and interpersonal interactions. In this episode, Donna Mejia joins us to discuss strategies that she has developed to address these preconceptions and to humanize classroom interactions. Donna is the Chancellor’s Scholar in Residence at the Renee Crown Wellness Institute and an Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is the author of a chapter in Picture a Professor, edited by Jessamyn Neuhaus.
John: Preconceptions and biases often interfere with productive discussions and interpersonal interactions. In this episode, we discuss strategies that one professor has developed to address these preconceptions and to humanize classroom interactions in her classes.
John: Thanks for joining us for Tea for Teaching, an informal discussion of innovative and effective practices in teaching and learning.
Rebecca: This podcast series is hosted by John Kane, an economist…
John: …and Rebecca Mushtare, a graphic designer…
Rebecca: …and features guests doing important research and advocacy work to make higher education more inclusive and supportive of all learners.
Rebecca: Our guest today is Donna Mejia. Donna is the Chancellor’s Scholar in Residence at the Renee Crown Wellness Institute and an Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is the author of a chapter in Picture a Professor, edited by Jessamyn Neuhaus. Welcome, Donna.
Donna: Thank you. Thank you very much for having me. It’s nice to be here.
John: Today’s teas are: …Are you drinking tea?
Donna: I am drinking tea. It’s quite lovely. I have a rose tea with some vanilla in it.
Rebecca: That sounds quite nice.
Donna: Yeah. What are you drinking?
Rebecca: I have… double checked the name on it this time, John, because I failed recently. This is an All India black tea blend. That’s what it’s called, it’s the official name.
Donna: That’s hardcore.
Rebecca:[LAUGHTER ] But, it’s good.
John: All India, okay…
Rebecca: [LAUGHTER] All of India, I don’t know [LAUGHTER]…
John:…[LAUGHTER] which makes it a more inclusive tea, I suppose.
Rebecca: That’s one way of looking at it, from a brand of tea that has very imperial names as well. [LAUGHTER]
John: Well, I’m speaking of imperialism, I have an Irish Breakfast tea, which may very well have come from India.
Donna: Well, there you go.
Rebecca: So we’ve invited you here today to discuss your chapter in Picture a Professor. The title of your Chapter is “The Superpowers of Visual Ambiguity: Transfiguring my Experience of Colorism and Multiheritage Identity for Educational Good.” Could you tell us a little bit about the chapter to introduce everyone to it?
Donna: Thank you, I’ll be happy to. The chapter is really about my lifelong experience as someone who is visually ambiguous to most when it comes to trying to categorize my ethnicity, and a Creole Choctaw woman with at least six bloodlines running through my veins. And I noticed that in addition to being a woman in education… in higher education, students frequently challenge the authority of women in the classroom and they test us in ways that they do not test their male professors… but I have the intersectional complexity of also being challenged as unsettling for people who didn’t know how to categorize me. They weren’t sure if I exhibit loyalty to black heritage, to white heritage, to any other part of my heritage, if they could even guess what it was. And because of that, I realized that many people had a very difficult time proceeding in personal interactions with me in the classroom, because they weren’t sure what camp I fell into. So rather than seeing me as just an educator, the cultural programming of needing to know who I was prevented them from feeling safe in my classrooms. And it was biases that they were unaware of. And so I really started working with my students to, at the outset of the course, create some pedagogical tools that would allow us all to humanize each other, and not rely on categories, and assumptions of those categories, to determine what our interactions will look like. So, I am working at a predominately white institution. And so even sometimes, the one African-American student in the classroom wouldn’t know how to position themselves to me, because they weren’t sure how black I was in my identity. And so they were afraid to sometimes bring their own lived experiences forward in our conversations. And I just felt that the ambiguity of my parents which left everybody questioning: “Who is she? What is she going to say if I really, really am honest here? Am I gonna offend her, I can’t tell.” And so I decided to have some fun with it, and try and get rid of the fear factor and make it possible for us to all humanize each other. So the chapter is the summary of about three pedagogical tools. I have many, but those were the three that I came back to over and over again, and they’re lovely in their impact, and far reaching beyond just my classrooms.
John: In the chapter, you talk about a few situations where your racial identity was challenged by others, either by black individuals or by white individuals. Could you just tell us a little bit about some of those examples of the challenges that you were faced with there.
Donna: Great question. Interestingly, I remember my first job out of college was an administrative post for a university and I was sent as a representative to recruit in African-American communities, and a parent in the audience contacted the university angry that they would send a white woman to speak to the black community, not knowing that I grew up identifying as black. I’m also Choctaw, indigenous, as a woman. And many times, the departments on the campus that I work with, just didn’t know to loop me in on announcements or events that were happening, because they had no idea that I was also an indigenous bloodline. Probably the most dramatic thing that happened was in South Africa, when a little boy who could not have been more than, say, eight years old, ran up to a car window, and started to scream at me and tell me I was a devil, and that I had no right to live and that I was the enemy of all black people and just screaming at me at a red light while sitting there waiting for the traffic light to change. And then another dramatic incident… last one… I was in Taiwan, in one of the outdoor markets and a group of Chinese women started forming a group behind me yelling at me in Chinese. And at the time, I was not fluent enough to understand what was being said, I was with a host. And I asked the host, “What’s going on?” …and she kept trying to urge me for ward: “Come on, just keep walking, just keep walking.” And I said “I think they’re yelling at me,” and so I said, “Please tell me, what are they upset about? What have I done?” She said, “They want you to remove your wig. They don’t like your fake hair.” And I said “My hair is not fake, I grew this.[LAUGHTER] This is my hair.” And when I turned to face them, and to smile and say, “Oh friends, this is my hair,” they ran up to me and began to try and pull what they thought was a wig off. And so my scalp was getting clawed at and my hair pulled, and security had to run over and escort me out of the market for my safety. So I just feel that it’s less dramatic than it used to be. I would say in recent years, it’s calmed down quite a bit as Inter-ethnic and multi-heritage unions increased around the planet and there are more folks that look like me. I’m far from the only one. I just, I think, have a bit of a neon sign because I wear my hair in its own natural texture, I don’t chemically alter it, I don’t change the color. I have blue eyes, I have honey blonde hair, and I wear it in natural dreadlocks down my back. And so many people just don’t know what to do with that. There’s just too many cultural symbols in a mashup and colliding in their consciousness that they don’t know how to configure in an understanding.
Rebecca: At the start of our conversation, you mentioned having a little fun with this idea in terms of developing pedagogical tools, and one that you’ve talked about as the assumption index. Can you talk a little bit about what this tool is and how you use it in your classes to address implicit bias?
Donna: Thank you. The assumption index is a tool that aims to get at the heart of what we presume to be true about a topic before we have even cracked the book open. So how does it interfere with our learning, we’re trying to get to the heart of that. And I developed this approach at the beginning of the class after being in the classroom and discussing African dance traditions with students. And having many of them describe Africa as a country as opposed to a continent. And realizing that there were distortions in our understandings., I had to rewind frequently, and say, “oh, let’s get back to that assumption. It’s not a country, let’s go from there.” So it really is a set of questions, it can range from 8 questions to 20. I can customize it every time I go into a different topic or a different classroom, and try to get to the heart of what we presume to be true. And so for example, in a dance class, I would say, “Who taught you that dance? How were you introduced to this particular tradition? Where’s this tradition done? Are there movements that are allowed on female bodies that may differ for male bodies? Is there a gender assignment in how the dance was performed? Where is this dance not done? What is the role of observers? Are they involved or not involved? What kinds of dance have you been told not to do?” And so people get a little closer to understanding the value system that they’re coming in with and the reference point they have for normalcy in these traditions. And so, as we start to discuss the results of their assumption index, we get to those beautiful, honest differences of how we’ve all been indoctrinated, and then that gives us a better starting point for analysis. And I feel that in all of the human sciences, a positionality statement is a requirement, is considered good methodology. In some of the hard or other natural sciences, for example, a biologist does not have to give a positionality statement before they write up the results from their laboratory. They don’t have to say, “Hi, my name is so and so. I have this many kids, I was raised in the Midwest. And here are my religious influences and my economic background.” In the human sciences, we know that we are not blank slates, all of us come in with social programming, and most of it absorbed in very subconscious and subtle ways. And so the ability to render that visible before we assume to give ourselves agency in analyzing a topic for me has become critical, very important.
John: And how does this work in terms of student reactions, has it made them more open and helped reduce some of their biases?
Donna: It has, because it has helped negate guilt. They’re able to discuss their differences with curiosity, with some humor. There’s a lot of head shaking and nodding and smiling, and sometimes people getting up and even hugging each other, saying “Oh, that happened to me too. That’s what my dad did, or that’s what my mom did.” And so there’s a little bit of commiserating, but also identifying that no one is wrong, no one is being dishonest. No one is being harmful in their intentions, that we’ve all planted our pins in different places, and then turn to look at the same issue. And so we try to take those different vantage points as a superpower. Like, “What does this look like from your vantage point and your identity and your background? How is this subject situated to your lived experience?” …and each person is allowed to give that perspective with others reserving judgment. And then we can then neutralize those assumptions and talk about it from the tradition’s own perspective. We change the agency and move it to the subject matter. And like “What’s the phenomenology of the participants in this tradition? What are they experiencing as opposed to what we are reading and projecting onto their experiences?”
John: And you mentioned how this works in the human sciences. But you also suggest in your chapter that this could be applied just as easily in a physics class, for example. Could you talk a little bit about how this might be adapted in other disciplines?
Donna: Absolutely. I think an assumption index helps us to understand the biases that exist in even the questions that occurred to us in our studies, the things that we’re willing to investigate. For example, if a physicist is part of a design team, studying an exoplanet, and looking for life on another planet, if they have a worldview, that permit intelligence in other life forms, the kind of approach they’ll have to discovering another life form may differ than if they feel that we’re just a random soup of chemical reactions that happen to be intelligent. And so neither one nor the other may be good or bad in this conversation, but for purposes of an example, it does change the kinds of considerations, thought parameters, and questions that occur to us. And so I feel that at all levels, some type of an assumption index, or some type of positionality statement would serve all knowledge generation and all shared relational analysis. I think it would just serve us to bring a more honest framework. I was just visiting yesterday with a group of climate scientists and researchers. And we were talking about the concept of positionality. It was something that was never covered in their own methodologies. And they were fascinated and hungry and excited about it, because it helped them to understand that we are not completely objective. And it takes pressure off from them, to feel as if they have to walk into a community and be all knowing when they’re conducting a study. And it’s okay to employ some intellectual humility, to build relationships, to start to welcome some participatory research so that we are informed and our assumptions of what we come in with, for example, a scientific study on climate can be much more marginal and in relationship with the communities in which the scientific study is being done. We are no longer treating people as subjects or communities or identities as subjects and instead, we are inviting them into the intellectual generation process for academia. I think that’s a problem that happened in the past that was kind of enshrined by anthropology… that people would run out to a community that they considered exotic and unfamiliar, do some films, make some observations, and then run back to academia, create these studies, show films to each other, and discuss it amongst the intellectual elite. And nowhere in there did you have the voice of the actual participants from the study. And I’ve seen so many examples of it as I research dance traditions from around the world. The documentation was done exclusively in U.S. and Eurocentric communities. And so it really helps us to relocate wonder and awe. Then they can let cultural differences be a point of fascination inform our methodologies and our analyses, rather than feeling as if we have to come in understanding and knowing everything. It’s just an outdated mode of education that is worthy of retirement.
Rebecca: I really love this strategy, because it’s not that complicated [LAUGHTER] to really put into action. And it really sets the stage for interesting conversations and in a way to enter into a topic area. So for people that are interested in trying something like this on their own… So you create an index. Do you have students complete it for homework and then you talk about it? do you do it in class? Can you talk a little bit about what the actual kind of practical nature of implementing it looks like in your class?
Donna: We do it upfront, first day in class. And then we use it as a get-to-know-you conversation afterwards. But I also teach the second tool in the kit that’s offered in Picture a Professor, and that’s called “fumble forward.” So we set some ground rules for the conversation. F umble forward is one of those tools. And it’s a social contract. When someone is about to ask a question in which they may not have the right terminology or the most up-to-date terminologies, if they haven’t located their firm opinions on something yet, or they just think that what they’re going to say has the potential to be harmful or offensive, they can preface their question or their comment by saying, “Hey, y’all, I’m about to fumble with my words.” And that’s short code for the entire community to answer back “fumble forward.” And that’s a contract that we’ve all agreed to, we know what it means. It means that for the next five minutes, we are going to reserve judgment, we are going to allow confusion, we’re going to lean in together. And that means maybe a little bit of verbal surgery and mutual exploration. And it means that we’re not going to leave the class and talk trash about that person, because they had conceded “I’m not sure how I want to say this, but I have a question. I’m trying to locate it.” And I really want students to feel that there’s a safe arena for them to experiment with not knowing. Faculty as well. I use fumble forward questions with questions raised all the time. But before we discuss the assumption index, we practice fumble forward so that as our differences start to come up in that first get-to-know-you speed dating conversation on the first day, if someone says, “Oh, I’m different from how you were raised, fumble forward,” and everyone will say, “Yes, fumble forward,” and they’ll say something like, “Yeah, I was not allowed to do that, it was against my religion.” And then we get into some really interesting exchanges. Your curiosity leads the way. And kindness has been instituted as running the space as opposed to finger pointing weirdness and eye rolling. So I really wanted to bring the curiosity back. Fumble forward allows us to do that.
Rebecca: We’ve got some tools here. We’ve got our assumption index, we’ve got fumble forward, and I believe modeling mutuality is also on the list of things. [LAUGHTER] Can you talk a little bit about that tool as well?
Donna: Yes, I have a pledge that I put on my syllabus so that students have in writing that everything I’m asking them, then I asked myself as well. I think the power differentials in the classroom need to be addressed and called out, because there’s nothing wrong with expectations that really invite improvement and strength and experimentation out of students. But I think many educators forget how intimidating those things can be if they are not articulated or elucidated clearly. They just feel like an unspoken social contract that is held over a student’s head and I wanted to get past that. So I have a syllabus pledge that basically says things such as “Your dignity is important to me, and in return, I need your courage and your open thinking and your active involvement, do we have a deal?” Or I will concede what I have learned openly and tell you what I have not yet learned. And I will give you citations and sources for everything that I do know. Because I believe that the intellectual humility has to be modeled. We don’t need more arrogant go-getters in society. We know where that has gotten this in our current state. It is much better for us to help people to understand how to build relationships, how to understand our interdependence, how to truly embrace, I think, the excitement of building one’s cultural competency in those interactions. And without that kind of practice, they’ll get out there into the world and just create the same harms and perpetuate the same weirdnesses that have us in our very polarized society. And so my effort as an educator is to say, “Choose your topic, we can talk about physics, we can talk about dance, we can talk about biology, we can talk about history, but before we talk about anything, let’s look at what we presume to be true and let’s create mutual respect in how we’re going to unfold this exchange. Those simple things have completely changed my co-working environments, my classrooms, and my family interactions. And I have had the delight of having students return from school breaks in time to say that they used fumble forward at the Thanksgiving table. That it’s that rippling, out and about, because it’s easily accessible, it makes sense and provides us an edge whenever we’re about to collapse into weirdness, like “This is about to get painful. This is about to get weird.” …and instead of panicking, backing off and shutting the room down, people are able to lean in and say, “Ah, I have tools for staying at this edge. I have tools for keeping negotiations going. I have a tool that allows me to listen well.”
Rebecca: That sounds like the toolbox that should be in every first-year seminar.[LAUGHTER]
Donna:[LAUGHTER] I hope it goes far and wide, to be honest with you.
John: Well, one thing we can say is that Jessamyn Neuhaus, the editor of the book, has picked up on this and we’ve been doing I think four maybe five reading groups with her and some of her colleagues from SUNY-Plattsburgh. And on several occasions, she has used fumble forward as a way of addressing difficult issues when people weren’t quite sure how to state something or how to raise something. And so it is spreading and it is having an impact.
Donna: I am beyond thrilled to hear that. And I get reports back all the time, surprising areas. Someone from social psychology contacted me and said, a student in my class said I’d like to share a tool I learned from a woman named Donna Mejia called fumble forward and the instructor knows me and has been well aware of the tool. And she said her heart just warmed and melted and that the whole room felt celebratory for her. So if it’s the one big idea that I was able to give the planet. Hell yeah, I think that’s worth celebrating, that we learned how to talk to each other, with more ease, a little more kindness, and with less fear. I may not be remembered as a choreographer, I may not be remembered as a writer, but if someone 300 years from now says “fumble forward,” and everyone in the room knows what it means. I have made a lasting contribution to humanity that gives me honor and pride and I can take my last breath smiling.
Rebecca: And it’s definitely worth smiling for. I really love how it’s not really simple, because none of these things are actually simple.[LAUGHTER] But it’s such an easy tool to learn. And then one of those things that clearly takes time to perfect.
Donna: It takes practice…
Donna: …But it provides, perhaps, the foundation to be courageous in their practice. And at the heart of it, I’ve expanded fumble forward into everything from a semester-long course, to a three-day immersion workshop for industry, to K-12 educators finding out what it looks like in K-12 classrooms. It’s being expanded. So the tool leads me, I may have originated the phrase, but the tool itself is taking on a life of its own. And I’d love to see it in many communities.
John: Fumble forward is a wonderful approach when you have a group of cooperative people in the classroom who are all very open and you’ve got a nice sense of belonging. But I can imagine there would be circumstances where that may break down, where someone may come in and regularly engage in microaggressions, or explicit forms of racist behavior, for example. What happens then?
Donna: There is an issue with fumble forward that I have to emphasize in that it’s not intended to be an escape route and it’s not a foolproof tool. As you talked about things being very complex, fumble forward offers the possibility of continuing when an interaction is starting to get strange or become harmful; it finds a reset point. But I have also observed that when people feel they may be outmatched in communication skills or in an environment where they feel they are outnumbered, the folks simply don’t want to address an issue, they will avoid it, their chosen strategy is to completely avoid engagement. So fumble forward is sometimes about trying and then acknowledging that the space to continue doesn’t exist, and choosing a different part of the toolkit. So I would like to say I think communication is always about trying, about leaving the door open and ajar to a possibility. But I’ve also done quite a bit of study around harmful individuals that quite honestly may have pathological levels of communication dysfunction, or may thrive or enjoy inflicting pain, and being tormenting in the kind of words they slang around. So I think we’ve all encountered those high-conflict individuals. And so fumble forward again, is about giving them the possibility to choose differently. But if at times` they’re not willing to make that choice then a boundary is needed. And safety is more important than everything. With individuals that have significantly unseen distortions in their perceptions, or are under the undue influence of harmful ideologies, and oppressive ideologies. My experience is, as a teacher, number one to interrupt harm when it is occuring in the classroom, to hit a pause button and say, “Excuse me, I’m going to interrupt and I need for everyone to take a moment. What was just said has the potential to be incredibly harmful, if not very harmful. I’d like for everyone to take a piece of paper out and take five minutes and capture your thoughts. And then I’m going to ask if you’re willing to share that paper with me and hand it to me as you leave the classroom today. I’d like to make sure I take in everyone’s responses. And then I will address what has unfolded and we will share in our space today so we can have a strategy for figuring out how to situate it in our understanding and share with each other. And so, for example, that’s one tool that I would employ, but to not let people quite honestly enact harm on others in my presence, not on my watch. That’s different from someone saying, “I don’t understand,” or “I disagree.” To me, that is part of classroom dialogue, and has to be protected. So if someone is devaluing another, or if someone is routinely aggressive and tries to basically devalue or dismiss the lived experience or the insights of another, that’s where I would say, “Okay, tell you what, everybody, we’re going to Google this, let’s get some facts first, and then we’ll proceed. And then I want you to capture your thoughts.” I just try not to let it become a slinging mudfest, that we have tools to help people organize their thinking, sequence their thinking, prioritize their talking points, and then even move around the classroom. I think it’s helpful to resituate people from their physical locations to say, “Okay, and folks that would like to discuss this from a ‘yes’ perspective, you’re welcome to come sit over here. Let’s talk to each other for a little bit and get your talking points together. For those of you that disagree with this point, I invite you to come over here by me, and let’s go ahead and rate some talking points, and then start to facilitate exchange, as opposed to individuals feeling like they are vulnerable and on their own in those spaces, trying to navigate hatred.
Rebecca: I really appreciate that you’ve taken the time to underscore boundaries for us because [LAUGHTER] it’s so important. We can say we want to be inclusive and welcoming. But there’s boundaries to that because allowing people to say whatever they want is not actually inclusive. Despite that [LAUGHTER] sometimes that comes up in conversation. But that’s how we make it inclusive, it’s often not. So I really appreciate you talking about the boundaries, but also just walking us through some structures that we can put in place to facilitate something productive because sometimes we don’t always have those structures in our back pocket ready to go and it’s important that we remember to have those and remember what our toolkit is. And you’ve brought us a lot of great tools today.
John: And I really like also the way that you call attention to the problem right at the time, but then give everyone a chance to reflect and think about it and then come back in later, because often things like that can escalate very quickly. And it’s very easy to come up with responses that may not help build a community and may not address the problem, but it may lead to more division in the future. So, it sounds like a wonderful approach.
Donna: Thank you. It’s also hard sometimes locate articulate questions when you are triggered, if something hateful has been shared in a room on your watch, sometimes, trying to come up with a very insightful and progressively welcoming question [LAUGHTER] isn’t accessible. And so giving everyone a moment to think, to land to ground for me is important. But I also do try and say, “What questions will be asked at that situation?” So with someone who shows unbelievable biases and harmful biases in their statement, I would ask the question, “What do you presume to be true about this tradition that you’re commenting? What are your assumptions about it?” And then really take it back to what have they been taught? What are their values? What’s important to them? …and try not to have them feel like they’re under a microscope, but also to say “You put some stuff out there that will require you to be accountable for the harm that it created. So if you’re willing to take responsibility and radical ownership of your words, I also want to give you the opportunity to explain how you came to see anything you did.” And I try to facilitate that process.
Rebecca: I wish I had your class when I was a student. [LAUGHTER] Just thinking about all things that went bad as a student in different situations and how it could have been handled much better.
Donna: Me too, my classroom experiences growing up were frightening at times, unnerving, never comfortable. I can only think of maybe two teachers throughout my K-12 education that I felt I could be myself with. And one teacher in particular, I admired tremendously. And he pulled me aside one day, he called me into his office and said, “How do you do it?” I looked at him, I had no idea what he was talking about. I just said “What?” And he said, “How’d you write that paper?” And apparently, the paper that I turned in for him, he thought was way too psychologically advanced for my age. And he just presumed that I had cheated on a paper. And I had looked up to him so much. And to have him presume that I didn’t have the capacity, the cognitive capacity, to analyze like that made me realize that he’s dealing with his racism in his assumptions. And I patiently managed up and explained bullet point by bullet point, how I wrote the paper and how I proceeded in my analysis and why. And he left me alone for the rest of the class. But when I tried to get into the honors level of his subject matter, he declined to let me get into honors. And again, it was the kind of thing where I was the only black girl in the class. And those are the kinds of experiences where women or folks of color are constantly told you won’t need this information. Women don’t go into this field…or you won’t…or you’re a dancer, you won’t be writing papers the rest of your life. Those presumptions get in the way. And so I have learned to hunt them down first, so that it saves me a little bit more of my life force for other things than having to navigate them.
Rebecca: Well, I appreciate that you’re on the task of remaking our [LAUGHTER] education system…
Donna: There’s so much that’s very antiquated, and yet so much beauty that still exists. But we’re seeing that there is arguably some kind of a failure in our education system that is producing citizens who eschew critical thinking and who are susceptible to undue influence. And so I think, at the same time, we are just starting to get precision of language to be able to unpack some of the inequities in our nation, which is why critical race theory is under attack. It’s because we finally have precision tools to start to understand the legacy of colonialism that we’re living in and through and over, under, and on top of all those things. And I think our ability to exchange has to be protected. And at the same time, our sensitivity around difference has to be upgraded. And so my tools are intended to try and do both at the same time, so that they are not seen as mutually exclusive in the classroom. We don’t have to play it so safe that we can’t unpack things. And yet, we have to allow confusion and creativity to still be a part of our educational process. That’s an investment and it takes time. So I understand that these tools like, for example, taking an entire day on an assumption index out of the classroom, may seem unrealistic, but I promise that it’s an investment that saves you some knuckle headedness through the rest of the course.
Rebecca: So we always wrap up by asking this really big question which feels extra big given the conversation we’ve been having, “What’s next?” [LAUGHTER]
Donna: What’s next, the fumble forward tool is being shared nationally, internationally, with lots of speaking engagements and that’s been a joy. I am on assignment as a faculty fellow at a healing Institute, a health and wellness Institute. So I have been enjoying looking at the interdisciplinary-ness of how to bring these tools into different industries and fields of study. So what’s next for me, I’m involved with a medical study, bringing cultural dimensionality to assessment tools in interoception, which I hope will impact people who are dealing with chronic pain management, and, and cancer and a variety of things. So I’m dealing with the medical school and collaborating with Dr. Yoni Ashar, on giving cultural dimensionalization to assessment tools there. And I feel like I can look at just about anything and say, “Oh, here’s where we have some biases in this tool. And here’s where we have some possibilities to transform the tool.” And so I’m enjoying watching it expand beyond just my initial field of study. I’ve met with physicist, I’ve met with climate scientists, with law professors, I have met with the National Conference of Victim Assistance Workers and law enforcement, it goes on and on and on. And so at the moment, I’m just enjoying the growth of these conversations in the way that I always, at a soul level, hoped they would go. And beyond that, I love to see these healing initiatives root in communities. I love to see people with their identities feeling welcomed. So their whole personhood into all environments that they inhabit, and creating affirming communities for them. And I myself am playing around with integrating tools and mindfulness, I find that if I can start a classroom with a three-minute grounding practice or some mindfulness that does an awful lot for the room as well. So I’m just thinking about how to have educational arenas be humanized, and have more diplomacy. Of course, I’ve got my own fascinations and research and all that. But honestly, all of my energy is going into watching these tools grow and learning from them in watching people interacting with them. There have been some stunning remixes of the tool right back to me. For example, I had a student named Laura, instead of saying fumble forward one day, she raised her hand and before speaking on a particular question in the room, her face went flush and she paused. And the whole room was like uh oh, what’s about to happen? And instead of saying fumble forward, she said, with a very shaky voice, “I think what I’m about to say may be broken, and I’m hoping you can help me fix it.” And it just felt everyone’s heart melt across the room, because she was saying, “Oh, I know, this is messed up. I know, I’m off. But I’m lost and I need some help.” And that’s the kind of learning that shifts our entire life trajectory, not just the classroom for that day, but how we inhabit our lives, how we interact with our children, how we act with our elders, how we discuss politics, and want to see a change.
Rebecca: Well, thank you so much for sharing all of these with us. We really appreciate having the opportunity to talk to you and share all these tools with everyone.
Donna: Thank you so very much, and wishing you lots of juicy learning in your own life.
John: Thank you and we wish the same to you.
John: If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast service. To continue the conversation, join us on our Tea for Teaching Facebook page.
Rebecca: You can find show notes, transcripts and other materials on teaforteaching.com. Music by Michael Gary Brewer.