April 1, 2020 | Bringing It #35: A Few More Resources and Reflections on the Pandemic, and Two Posts about the Great Work Our Grantees Are Doing

Dear friends, 

We’re not sure if it seems this way to you, but trying to absorb all the advice and resources about COVID-19 and higher ed is starting to feel like drinking from a firehose. Not to mention all the hours on Zoom and all the guides about teaching online. Frankly we are in awe of the heroic speed, energy, and nimbleness with which faculty and staff have responded to the emergency through remote teaching and student support. This should put the lie once and for all to the canard about higher ed’s inability to adapt creatively.

A Few More Resources...

But we hope you’ll forgive us for offering a few more resources. These focus on civic engagement, student well-being, and teaching the whole person—commitments that are especially central to our work at BTtoP and especially vulnerable to COVID-19 and the student diaspora.

  • Our good friend Tessa Hicks Peterson of Pitzer College (a key partner in our PLACE Collaboratory) has created this wonderful guide to “Remote Community Engagement Activities” (distilled from her book Student Development and Social Justice). 
  • Our friends at Campus Compact have curated this valuable splash page on campus-community engagement, civic learning, and social change under conditions of COVID-19, with links to resources compiled by several of Compact’s regional affiliates.
  • Inside Higher Ed has just published this excellent column by Greta Anderson, “Coping With a Pandemic,” focused on best practices for supporting the emotional well-being and mental health of both students and faculty.
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education has had several helpful op-eds on student support and holistic teaching as faculty turn to remote teaching, often for the first time; we’ve found “10 Tips to Support Students in a Stressful Shift to Online Learning” and “How to Make Your Online Pivot Less Brutal” particularly helpful.

...and a Last Thought About Where We Are

Sooner or later (sooner, we hope), the coronavirus emergency will end. But we suspect that higher ed will not simply “return to normal.” Many colleges face the threat of closure; many students may be unable to return to campus. More broadly, the pandemic is probably not a stand-alone disaster, but an episode in a longer period of recurrent crises, one that already includes the Great Recession and the extreme weather of the past several years and that will include new pandemics and worsening climate.

If that’s true, it’s more urgent than ever that we bring our deepest commitments—to our students, to our democracy, to the transformative power of holistic education—to bear on the crises we will face. It will be an educational disaster if we let emergency management design our future for us. Let’s give our own answers to the questions, “What do teaching and learning look like in a time of crisis? How do we meet new crises with democratic, humane, compassionate purpose?” As useful as Zoom is, the answer won’t be, “We pivot to Zoom.”

And Now to Celebrate the Work of Our Community 

As you may know, BTtoP last year awarded 21 Multi-Institutional Innovation Grants (MIGs). These support collaborative projects that advance the core educational purposes to which BTtoP is committed.  Although our grants were relatively modest, we were blown away by the excellence, creativity, and range of the proposals we received. We could have awarded many more grants and regretted we lacked the resources to do so.

The projects that received MIGs have had a year to develop, and we wanted to share some of them with you. We plan to spotlight these grantees throughout the spring and summer. Here are two.

Grantee Spotlight: Drew University and the University of San Diego 

Professors Lisa Brenner and Chris Ceraso of Drew University and Evelyn Diaz Cruz of the University of San Diego are exploring best practices in applied theatre. Each institution teaches a community-based theatre course. (Interested in learning more? This video is a must watch!)...While practitioners recognize the transformative impact of this work, they may also feel marginalized by critics who question the artistic quality of their projects or unrecognized by administrators in terms of compensation and promotion. Their teaching and community projects need to be documented, debated, recognized, and shared in the kind of public forums that are too often absent in traditional venues of scholarship. And at the same time, applied theatre's engagement with vulnerable populations raises ethical questions around consent, reciprocity, agency, and authorship. This Multi-Institutional Innovation Grant has supported the bi-coastal collaborators to visit each other's campuses, to teach workshops, and to share pedagogical practices. They will present the fruits of their collaboration at this summer's Association for Theatre in Higher Education conference. In addition, Brenner, Ceraso, and Cruz are co-editors of “Applied Theatre: Working With Youth” (working title, forthcoming from Routledge Press). 

Grantee Spotlight: Siena College and Partners 

Ruth Kassel, Associate Director of Academic Integration at Siena College, had this to say about their MIG project: 

With 12 campuses in the Capital Region of New York, there is no shortage of opportunities for collaboration. This year, thanks to the support of BTtoP, we have been able to formalize our emerging regional connections through the creation of a CREST Fellowship (Capital Regional Engaged Scholar Teacher). We brought together 13 faculty fellows from seven campuses to participate in a modified learning community. Each fellow has developed and implemented at least one community engaged class, and smaller groups are working on issues such as students as partners in community engaged course design, making community engagement accessible, and developing interdisciplinary research with communities. These resources will be on our new website soon! We are already looking forward to developing our second cohort with full campus support and are piloting a summer cross-campus interdisciplinary research CREST Fellow program. We thank BTtoP for giving us the resources to develop the relationships needed to secure the sustainability of this growing program.

Ruth also shared some wonderful grant-related resources, including, The Sanctuary for Independent Media (which includes podcast interviews on community-engaged teaching and research) and the Free Speech Fest (a multi-day event promoting students and the overall campus community’s sense of citizenship surrounding free speech and media arts as communication activism).

Even now—especially now—great things are being done across the BTtoP community. We know that you will continue to advance such work, no matter the challenges, and we will continue to celebrate it.

With warm thanks, 

David, Caitlin, Mercedes, and Kate