Last fall, we were able to build a robust virtual IMPACT community, as we got to know one another through our postage stamp (Zoom) existence. Our mindfulness practices, that we used during every class session, functioned as the glue of our community. One of our students wrote “Contemplative practices have been a crucial aspect of my learning experience as they help to ground me before class starts, to focus my attention on my breathing and my thoughts and has helped to initiate mindfulness before diving into the deeper topics of our classes.”
Many of the students shared similar reflections about the contemplative practices that we engaged with throughout the semester. Students felt less stressed and were able to be more present. Some had already been introduced to Mindfulness practices prior, in high school, in yoga or therapy sessions and had integrated these practices into their daily lives. Over the course of the semester students would offer and lead their personal practices for our classroom community.
With the support of Chris Felton, CESL’s community partnership coordinator, we developed virtual relationships with our community organizations. For over twelve years IMPACT students have been active in frontline service and they fostered meaningful relationships with members of various organizations in Amherst. In addition to adjusting to remote learning from home, students also navigated the experience of virtual community engagement. As a result of the pandemic, students community placements either started near the end of the semester or during winter break. While students were eager to begin their community engagement work, they spent time exploring power, privilege, and oppression on a deeper level.
Despite constraints, remote learning offered new opportunities: we were able to introduce our first- year students to the larger CESL community through virtual events. In the first event students from all of CESL’s programs learned about and reflected on their relationship to settler colonialism. Our students also participated in the Five College Holyoke Bound event where they learned about the city’s history, the community identified issues and activism, and how local organizers confronted issues of policing and racism in the school district. IMPACT Students joined a Boltwood Seminar and learned about issues of Disability after watching the documentary Crip Camp. Lastly, our class explored “the Simultaneity of our Social Identities'' and “Intersectionality” with students from the Foundation of Critical Service-Learning class.
Students had this to say about their time in IMPACT last semester:
“All of the topics we discussed were interesting and I truly feel like I learned subject matter that is important for life.”
“A lot that I have learned I have taken to heart, and I have already begun activism at home.”
With these comments Terrell and I are looking forward to continuing to build community, to talk about critical service-learning, to expand our thinking about the topic of leadership while continuing to explore social justice issues. This semester, we will pay attention to political, national, and global developments.
IMPACT students are excited and ready to come to UMass, to settle in Melville, their residence for the spring semester: they are ready to finally be “on campus”. Terrell and I will be remote this semester and as our class will serve over Zoom; However, we know it is possible for us to be “real”, spontaneous and present, to learn with each other and about each other with compassion and respect. We will deepen our meditation practices exploring energy and the chakras, in addition to learning through dialogue.