Stories of Innovation: A Mindful Path Toward Equity

By jenny sippel, Minneapolis College

“Consider sitting in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you think you do not have the time, then consider sitting for an hour.”

Seeing mindfulness for the first time

I was first introduced to mindfulness in 2005 by Nancy Boler during a lunchtime yoga class at Orchestra Hall. For me, it was a transformational experience. Mindful yoga shifted my yoga practice from something that was predominantly a mindlessly judgemental form of exercise, into a practice centered on compassion for self and others. The focus of the practice was not on toning the body, but on reducing suffering while practicing joyful curiosity. And while this was the beginning of a formal mindful practice, because hindsight is 20/20, it would be years before I came to know this.

Bringing mindfulness to work

It wasn’t too long before I started connecting a personal mindfulness practice with my professional environment. While visiting two educational spaces in Minneapolis, I got to see what dedicated spaces for mindfulness/meditation practice looked like in an educational setting. These visits inspired me to propose a similar idea to the Minneapolis College Library department where I worked, as we were looking to repurpose a space of our own.

“Room to Breathe” in the Minneapolis College Library

With the support of a Student Life financial contribution, we converted an old copy machine room by treating the windows, freshening up the paint, and adding some furnishings. We called it “Room to Breathe” and it now has a permanent sign directing people to it, symbolizing a commitment to that space and its purpose. The room is available whenever the library is open, and community members can use it for self-guided silent meditation, prayer, and guided mindfulness practice sessions.

Once we had the space up and running, I was excited to share this as a model for others as a breakout presentation session at the MN Library Association’s Annual Conference. From there, I gave presentations and workshops focused on Mindfulness in Libraries/Librarianship. First regionally, then at a national level, eventually contributing a chapter to the American Library Association book Recipes for Mindfulness in Your Library: Supporting Resilience and Community Engagement.

In my role as Center for Teaching and Learning Consultant from 2012-2015, I introduced opportunities for professional development around the theme of mindfulness in higher education in many forms:

  • Book clubs
  • Teaching circles
  • Newsletter blurbs
  • Breakout sessions during faculty development days

I started connecting with teachers who were already deeply engaging with mindfulness in the classroom, including Bayla McDougal and Jennifer Mason, who have offered tremendous mentoring to me, and through our collaborative efforts, we have organically formed a community of practice that both supports and sustains our ongoing contributions to the work.

Exploring intersections of mindfulness and equity – Shark Tank Open Innovation Funding

I wanted to expand mindfulness across the Minneapolis College campus to make it more accessible to employees, in the hopes it would have a positive impact on our campus climate. I also wanted to explore the intersections of mindfulness and equity work as I wondered if mindfulness practices could support equity work, and if so, how? I pitched the idea to Dr. Jay Williams, Diversity Officer of Minneapolis College and Faculty of Sociology, and with his support, we applied for Shark Tank Open Innovation Funding, sponsored by Minnesota State Educational Innovations. We pitched our idea to a panel of judges and ultimately received funding for the innovation.

We called it “MCTC: A Mindful Path To Equity” but then fairly quickly revised it to “MCTC: A Mindful Path Toward Equity” as an acknowledgement that this work does not have an arrival point as it is ongoing, indefinitely. Our vision for the innovation was to integrate mindfulness throughout the growingly robust Diversity, Equity & Inclusion division work throughout Minneapolis College. We wanted the programs to be accessible to all members of the community so we developed and offered free, valuable development opportunities in the following forms:

  • Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) with Equity focus (8-week in person training)
  • Introduction to Mindfulness and Equity (5 week online course)
  • Mindfulness & Equity Summit (1 day conference, program)
  • Exploring White Identity (half day workshop)

Every program included participation from faculty, staff, and students. All surveys and feedback gathered indicated the opportunities were well received, and there was a palpable energy and momentum gained from the innovation grant programs that would carry us into the next year and beyond.

Our “Mindful Path Toward Equity” work resulted in two “Pay It Forward Funding” grants, which replicate existing innovations on other Minnesota State campuses. One is at Rochester Community & Technical College and the other at Lake Superior College.

We also received an additional sustaining grant from Minnesota State Educational Innovations to help us:

  • Produce a video documenting our theme (currently in production)
  • Revise the online course and share it across the system
  • Host a 2nd Mindfulness & Equity Summit on Friday March 27, 2020 at Minneapolis College

Reflecting on the impact

Equity centered development such as reading a book, listening to a talk, or watching a video are great places to start, but these kinds of activities tend to keep us in our mind. Transformation is experienced when we engage with and challenge the habits of the mind and the patterns of thinking around issues of equity that come up for us, including staying with the discomfort that comes with that awareness.

Additional resources and other ways to engage in mindfulness practices

Questions? Contact jenny sippel.

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