• Systemic Failure

    June 23, 2021

    To the UNC Board of Trustees,

    I am writing in support of the statement released by the Carolina Black Caucus and an op-ed from UNC study body president, Lamar Richards and in opposition to the inaction of the UNC BOT to convey tenure to Ms. Hannah-Jones, the Knight Chair of Race of Investigative Reporting at UNC-CH.

    I joined the UNC faculty in 1997 as a tenure-track assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and have thus completed 23 years of service to the university. During this time, I have seen many changes come to the university, including scandals and challenges to the mission and integrity of the institution. However, the current actions of the BOT are perhaps one of the most egregious violations of the values that undergird UNC-CH that I have witnessed.

    The protections of tenure create a place in democracy for the exchange of bold ideas, for the debate of opposing viewpoints, and for the creation of innovative solutions to deep societal challenges. The university, particularly in a divided society, is not the place for silencing voices. Recognition of the needed mix of viewpoints that create a thriving program and the leading voices through which knowledge and change will emerge, when needed, is field driven. For this reason, the decision by the BOT to ignore the favorable tenure vote by faculty in the School of Journalism and Dean King is deeply troubling.

    Given the racial tensions that plague the campus, the BOT’s decision sends a clear message regarding the role of non-academic politics in university governance that interfere with an indefatigable commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion at Carolina. The implications for retaining faculty, including but not limited to faculty of color, on campus are already being realized and form a clear and present danger to the future of the institution. Rather than pride, many of our faculty, myself included, are ashamed of the actions of the institution we serve that may be seen as the passive promotion of an unfair and biased agenda. I strongly urge you to reconsider your decision, to support the faculty of the university, to protect the intellectual exchange of ideas in which education thrives, and to engender the acceptance of a diverse study and faculty body who will craft the future to come.

    Sincerely,

  • A Class Act

    This spring, I had the pleasure of teaching 62 UNC undergraduates in a course on adolescent development. Yes, we spent our time on zoom. Yes, there were pre-recorded lectures. Yes, there were dark screens and times when real life intruded on our enthusiasm for the topic. And, yes, this is a group of students that I will never forget. Not because of the challenges of this spring. But because of their triumphs.

    To call them resilient is an understatement. They experienced family death, emergency surgeries, friends whose psychiatric crises ended in hospitalization and even suicide. They juggled jobs at risk to their own health and caring for young children in the face of spousal deployment. And they experienced the birth of a new child, the success of accceptance to graduate programs in their chosen fields and securing that first post-graduation job, and the rush of victory on the playing field.

    Yet, in the midst of all this life, they accomplished something truly impressive within the virtual classroom. Connection. They offered themselves and their stories to connect the dots left blank between the research studies outlined in our textbook regarding their diversity journeys – in learning about and understanding their own and others race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation. And they listened to the stories of youth making their own way through the pandemic.

    In a semester-long project, these students conducted interviews with middle and high schoolers in schools in North Carolina and around the country to understand their take on life during COVID. Working together, our students applied lessons taken from the authentic voices of youth to identify and offer solutions for key challenges that schools are and will continue to face as youth return to the classroom.

    What they heard were lessons from the headlines and quieter stories yet to be told. For example….

    Although many youth are eager to return to school, some experience remote learning as a welcome break from the social and academic pressures of the traditional classroom.

    By removing some of the downtime in schools, some youth had more time to engage in religious practices and develop hobbies and skills while, at the same time, other youth struggled with boredom and isolation.

    While for some youth, the stress of online school (taxing motivation and attention) was greater than the stress of social isolation (thanks to social media), for others the opposite was true.

    In response to these stories and challenges, our students offered a broad range of prototyped solutions that include pairing social interaction and physical movement, creative approaches to mentoring and counseling services, injecting fun through zoom spirit days, and much more.

    I’m proud of the work they have done and look forward to sharing it with teachers from schools who supported us. I said as much to them in our in-class mini-graduation moment in which we sent many seniors off into the world. And I also shared my own sense of connection with them.

    There is something about enduring together – about witnessing one another’s humanity during times of struggle and challenge – that bonds us to one another. I remember vividly the moment I encountered one of my students in the stairwell as I rushed down to check in with my class after seeing the planes of 9/11 hit the twin towers. He was, I learned, in the ROTC program and wore his uniform. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

    The full lives of our students that lie beyond the classroom are poignant reminders that what connects us – teachers and students – is not what we share in that classroom but what we share outside of it. Our basic humanity. And so, the pandemic, repeats this lesson.

    To the students of UNC’s Psychology 471 this spring, I will never forget you. It’s been an honor…….

  • As Finals Approach

    I have been struck by the resilience in the students, staff and faculty during the past three challenging semesters. Yet, pandemic burnout leaves many of us hollow as we approach the most demanding period of the academic calendar. The end of the academic year is not only when final exams take place but it is when many year long commitments end, life transitions take place, and uncertainty and accomplishment go hand-in-hand. Many universities offer self-care advice on websites to help support members of campus at all levels during this time. Of all the lessons we can impart to our students, how to practice self-care during times of stress is perhaps one of the most important.

    Encouraging self-care in a way that does not add to the unreasonable to do list (self-care as value-added not an untimely stressor) is a reasonable goal for the month ahead. And linking the benefits of self-care to the goals of the month ahead is one form of encouragement. When we take care of our bodies, minds, souls, and relationships, we perform better, enjoy the journey more deeply, and celebrate with more energy.

    During this time of pandemic burnout and societal tensions, self-care may also include acknowledging that the sprint turned into a marathon. And we have done our best. Noting what you are proud of this past year is centering. Realizing what you did accomplish in the face of challenge is important when life is hard, when school and our jobs are hard, and when living in a pandemic is hard. Be bouyed by your success.

    And reasonable in your expectations. Divide your to do list into activities that are essential, value-based, and expendable. View the essentials list with a skeptic eye – negotiate deadlines, accept something less than excellence, and verify others’ expectations to pare this list down to the barebones. This trimmed-down version stays on the list. What to-do list items bring you joy and align with your values? Do you value social connection? Be sure you make time to connect with others each day, even briefly. Be sure you to do list includes one thing that aligns with your values to see you through. And the rest, set it aside for another day. You have my permission. All you need is yours.

    Be sure to check out other tools for self-care (including our self-care through self-massage videos) to find the right mix for you. Or, if you are a UNC student, check out upcoming wellness workshops we offer through Kenan-Flagler or the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience.

  • Spring 2021

    Welcome back to UNC-CH students, even though we resume in remote mode. It’s been a week, with historic events punctuating the long-distance shuffling of classes during a later than usual kick-off to the year. This semester, I am more heavily engaged in undergraduate instruction than in recent years and what I am finding in the hearts and minds of these young adults is heartening. Resilience, gratitude, respect, purpose – it’s all there. Sure, there is isolation, fatigue, frustration, and fear for what it all means. But the combination is heady. It is the stuff of hope. And the fuel to put hands to work in making a difference. I know there is concern about the role of colleges and (for some) college students in the spread of the pandemic, particularly for those living in college towns. Recognizing these concerns, the failied and successful attempts of institutions to respond, the responsible acts of some and irresponsible acts of others – in other words, taking that all into account – I get it. Yet, I believe. I believe in these students. I trust in their vision of the world they want to build. I have faith that the lesssons of the pandemic and surging racial tensions of the past year will not be lost to the past as they craft our future. And if I can play even a small role in constructing the bridge that takes them from here to there, I’m all in.

  • ‘Tis the season, even in hard times.

    In lieu of a full blog post, this week I direct parents to the following piece in National Geographic Family for what gratitude researchers have to share with parents. (Link available in blog post – click title to follow.)