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Harnessing our Collective Resilience: Educators Discuss Burnout, Mental Health

Second installment in UC San Diego’s Equity in Mental Health event series equips faculty, lecturers and teaching assistants to transform their classrooms and research labs into “resilient spaces” that empower all students to thrive

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What factors are causing an increase in self-reported burnout, overwhelm and disengagement at colleges and universities across the country? How can educators create “resilient spaces” that will invite students and colleagues to re-engage with learning, and continue to grow and thrive?

These are some of the critical questions that were discussed by postdoctoral and graduate student researchers on Nov. 6, and faculty, lecturers and other instructors from across UC San Diego on Nov. 7, during two days of workshops entitled “Harnessing our Collective Resilience: Restructuring our Learning Spaces for the Success of All.”

“Although the pandemic has passed and campus has more or less returned to business as usual, people are still experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety and overwhelm,” said MarDestinee Perez, director of the Center for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion. “I think we recognize what we experienced was a collective trauma, and that if we want to get back to homeostasis, we need to engage through a humanistic and trauma-informed framework. I hope this workshop has given our faculty, researchers and other instructors theoretical and practical strategies to begin the work of collective healing and repair.”

Mays Imad
Mays Imad

Held at the Price Center, the workshops were led by neuroscientist Mays Imad, an associate professor at Connecticut College whose work reflects a deep commitment to equity and justice in and through education. Imad, who advocates for institutions to pay close attention to intergenerational trauma and to prioritize healing and well-being, led engaging and interactive discussions among attendees while sharing pivotal findings from her own research and experience in higher education.

The workshops were part of the ongoing Equity in Mental Health quarterly series, which debuted on campus in August with a highly successful launch geared toward UC San Diego staff members. The series’ fall quarter event was co-organized by the Center for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion—a unit of the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion—and the Teaching + Learning Commons Engaged Teaching Hub.

The goal of the series is to foster a sense of connection and belonging while boosting awareness of the mental health and wellness resources available at the university. It also is designed to equip participants to return to their respective areas of campus as ambassadors for equity in mental health.

During the Nov. 7 workshop, Becky R. Petitt, vice chancellor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, welcomed attendees as they enjoyed a catered lunch, thanking the University of California Office of the President for generously funding the Equity in Mental Health series before introducing Dr. Imad to the crowd.

Throughout her presentation, Imad argued for a culture shift in higher education and invited participants to explore potential solutions to the burnout epidemic plaguing institutions across the country. A central theme was the concept of creating “resilient spaces” in which colleagues and students, particularly those from historically underserved and marginalized backgrounds, can become equipped with the necessary skills, resources and support to navigate the various challenges they encounter, as well as to learn and grow from these experiences.

At multiple points, Imad paused and asked the attendees to form small groups at their tables to discuss concepts like intergenerational trauma and reparative humanism—which emphasizes the importance of healing the harms caused by historical injustices and systemic oppression—and how they can address or implement these concepts in their work.

Following each small group discussion, Imad asked for volunteers who were willing to share takeaways with the entire room. Among the ideas brought up were finding ways to help students better navigate the resources available to them on campus; working to challenge the entrenched inequalities that still may be present in the higher education system; and examining which unspoken “agreements” in higher education may be harmful.

Ultimately, participants walked away from the event with a collective sense of empowerment to make their courses more “burnout-proof,” to check in with students about their feelings about the course and being willing to make adjustments, including reducing the content if necessary, while still meeting learning objectives.

“You can think of resilience as the opposite of burnout,” Imad told them. “Resilience is our ability to bounce back when we experience adversity or we experience trauma. It’s really important to keep in mind that resilience is not one-size-fits-all.”

Future sessions will occur in Winter and Spring Quarters. Information about registration for future events will be posted to the Equity in Mental Health series website as details are finalized.

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