There’s No “New Normal” Yet

Is it just me, or did August 1 hit really hard this year?

Welcome to the Fall semester, which is here whether we’re ready or not. (*leaves computer to go outside and shriek*).

OK, now I’m ready.

We know this fall will likely involve challenges and unpredictability, even if those may differ somewhat from the challenges and unpredictabilties of the last 18 months. One thing is certain, though: as much as we hear about going “back to normal,” that horse has left the barn. “Normal”-as unsustainable as it was for many of our students and ourselves-is gone, one of the many empty spaces left in the wake of the ongoing pandemic.

So if “normal” is gone, what is it we’re about to start on, then? A “new normal,” as we’ve heard and seen all over public discourse and media? Maybe, though my fear is that any assurances of certainty or routine are contingent, at best. Yet we aren’t completely powerless in this moment of uncertainty and flux. Susan Ambrose and her colleagues observe in How Learning Works:

“learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum but in a course and classroom context where intellectual pursuits interface with socioemotional issues…we have a great deal of control over the climate we shape, and can leverage climate in the service of learning.”

In other words, we may not be able to control what’s happening in the world outside our campus, but we can control the climate inside the learning spaces that we both shape and share with our students. As Mays Imad wrote last fall, we can create “learning sanctuaries” for our students (and ourselves):

We know that students learn best when their whole beings are considered — both the cognitive and the affective. Similarly, teachers will thrive — and by extension students will, too — when we honor each other’s humanity, recognize and celebrate our work, and empower each other to enact a politics of self-care.

For the first day of classes, then, whether that’s Monday or Tuesday, consider the ways in which your students will know (not just be told, but know) they are welcome at Grand View and, particularly, in our class. How might we help them know that they belong? Remember that many of our students (especially our new students) may well be experiencing “belonging uncertainty.” What do we do to begin alleviating that uncertainty? And how can we do so in authentic and meaningful (as opposed to forced and contrived) ways?

Here are some good ideas for the specific context of the first day of class about setting the right tone, welcoming and engaging students, and cultivating a culture of belonging right from the start:


This semester, CETL is pleased to sponsor a faculty/staff reading group, which will be facilitated by Rev. Erin Gingrich, one of our part-time faculty colleagues teaching in the Honors Program. We’ll be reading My Grandmother’s Hands, by Resmaa Menakem (books will be provided by CETL), and meeting weekly in an effort to dive deeply into rich and complex discussion of some difficult issues. A full description of this opportunity is below. If you wish to participate, please email Kevin Gannon before the end of the day on the 27th (Friday); space is limited, so act quickly if you’d like to participate. Once the group is constituted, we’ll set our weekly meeting time

“Healing Racialized Trauma in Our Hearts and Bodies”

Collegial Study of Resmaa Menakem’s book, My Grandmother’s Hands: Healing Racialized Trauma in Our Hearts and Bodies with Rev. Erin Gingrich

In the introduction to the New York Times Best-Selling book, My Grandmother’s Hands: Healing Racialized Trauma in Our Hearts and Bodies, Resmaa Menakem writes,

“For the past three decades, we’ve earnestly tried to address white body supremacy in America with reason, principles, and ideas– using dialogue, forums, discussions, education, and mental training. But the widespread destruction of black bodies continues. We’ve tried to teach our brains to think better about race. But white body supremacy doesn’t live in our thinking brains. It lives and breathes in our bodies. 

The purpose of this collegial group is to recognize the racialized “wordless stories” that live in our bodies. We can then begin to interrupt and relate to these sensations differently, creating space in our nervous systems and bodies for change.

Weekly group sessions will be a time to clarify our understanding of assigned reading or films, practice mindfulness, develop or deepen our ‘felt sense’ of embodiment, and share our experience. We will support each other in developing our tools and understanding of embodiment and gain tools for recognizing and addressing white supremacy lodged in our bodies, in others, in society and history. Participants will have the opportunity to gain or deepen their understanding of mindfulness, embodiment, the physiology of trauma, racialized trauma, and how to apply this learning to our lives, vocations, and wider communities.

80-90 minutes weekly; first week of September – second week in December (No meeting the week of Thanksgiving)

Facilitator: Rev. Erin Gingrich

White, married mama of two young boys. Unitarian Universalist minister whose most persistent theological questions are about being human. 20 years moving meditation practice informed by 5 Rhythms, Soul Motion, contact improv, authentic movement, Continuum Montage, improv theater, Dance New England dance camp, massage school training, and seated meditation. Most alive when being real, talking about the elephants in all the rooms and closets, and moving her body –aka dance, but also hiking and yoga.

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