Preventing Racial Bias in the Classroom: What One Researcher Hopes to Learn

Racial bias exists in many domains of our society, including the classroom where teachers’ hidden biases can lead to diminished expectations for students of color. Doris Chang, Ph.D. is Director of Clinical Training and Assistant Professor of Psychology at the New School for Social Research in New York City. She leads a research team that recently received a Mind & Life PEACE Grant to develop and pilot a Mindfulness-Based Critical Consciousness Training (MBCC-T) for teachers. The ten-week program will combine training in mindfulness and culturally-responsive pedagogy with the ultimate goal of enhancing teachers’ intercultural effectiveness. Below she shares her motivation for the project, and what she hopes to achieve.

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How Do We Know What’s True?

In May 2016 the Wall Street Journal published an interactive online tool called “Blue Feed, Red Feed” that allowed one to see the dueling social media feeds of liberal and conservative users during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. This side-by-side comparison revealed not just the wildly different ways that two groups can interpret phenomena, but how one group could view its interpretation to be indisputable and feel justified in disparaging another group for its “alternative facts.” The issues at stake here are crucial. Are there ways for us to become more open-minded to others’ positions, to expand our capacity to productively engage with people beyond our in-group? And just how do we determine what is true?

The Western scientific method gives us a systematic way to examine problems and find solutions whose validity can be tested. We can form a hypothesis and develop an experiment to test whether it is correct. We can conduct the experiment, look at what we find, and adjust our hypothesis to accommodate what we’ve learned. Then we can try it again. There are many instruments to help us do this work, like fMRI machines to tell us what’s going on in our brains when we perform certain mental tasks, or DNA tests to determine biological kinship. Read More

A Golden String: Mind & Life 2018

 “I’m imagining a golden string that is connecting
Everything but especially, beings where love has been.
I’ve imagined it again and again so often,
it isn’t even imagining, it is making it happen.”

-Devon Sproule

At the Mind & Life Institute, we greet 2018 ever more committed to our mission and its relevance to healing an increasingly polarized world. In 2017, we advanced several exciting new programs and initiatives against the backdrop of increasing turmoil and intolerance, including the tragedy that befell our home community of Charlottesville, Virginia. Recent events have reinforced our strategic imperative to be more inclusive, to expand our work beyond North America and Europe, and to support more research and conversations related to compassion and ethics. I am continually reminded of the potent power of connection to inspire us as individuals and organizations to be awake and to respond thoughtfully. Read More

A Conversation with Jim Austin and Susan Bauer-Wu

It was accident and curiosity that led Dr. James H. Austin to a moment of awakening one day in 1974, in the form of a red Japanese maple leaf. He was in Japan, meditating in a centuries-old Zen temple, when he entered into a not-quite-sleeping, not-quite-waking state.

Jim was relatively new to meditation, having begun only a few months before quite by accident. A distinguished neuroscientist specializing in pediatrics who held several academic appointments, Jim was in Japan for a sabbatical at the Kyoto University Medical School. On the flight over, he read a book given to him by a friend, “Zen in the Art of Archery”. Curious, he had sought out an English-speaking Zen teacher and began an intellectual inquiry and a personal meditation practice. Read More

Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives at Mind & Life

Historically, the Mind & Life community has been dominated by a select and largely racially and ethnically homogenous group of scientists, scholars, and practitioners from a handful of academic institutions. This homogeneity reinforces societal imbalances and biases, running counter to Mind & Life’s mission to alleviate suffering and to promote human flourishing. Furthermore, it diminishes the field’s capacity to adequately understand the human mind and investigate the mechanisms and impact of contemplative practices. Read More

Ubuntu/Botho Leadership: An Ocean that Rejects No River

The Mind & Life Institute Dialogue in Gaborone, Botswana this August brought together African humanitarian and spiritual leaders, scholars and healers into conversation with international neuroscientists about the African worldview of Ubuntu/Botho. Peter Bonanno, writer and learning designer on topics of spirituality and science, attended the Dialogue and shares his thoughts on the value of this worldview for leaders. Read More

The ever-evolving connection between culture and human biology.

An Interview with Carol Worthman, Ph.D.

Can you please give us a brief description of what you study?

What I study with my lab is the interaction of culture and biology as they shape differential mental and physical health. Currently, we have a few studies around the world examining these interactions. For instance, we have one in Vietnam where we’re looking at the impact of the introduction of television on adolescent sleep patterns and mental health. In another study, we’re examining the prevention of inter-generational transmission of HIV/ AIDS and fetal alcohol syndrome. In Nepal, we have an ongoing study that is following a sample of ex-child soldiers and looking at the long-term effects of involvement and recovery after the war. In a separate sample using a Nepali village population, we’re looking at the effects of caste, stressors and traumas, and what helps or exacerbates risks.

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Promoting Openness and Transparency in the Contemplative Sciences

For the past two decades, a small but growing number of scientists, philosophers, and scholars of religion have been building a unique community at the crossroads of their disciplines — a place where they can push the boundaries of traditional research to shine new light on fundamental questions about the human experience. What is this thing we call “mind”? Is it all about the brain, or does it extend into our bodies and even into the physical and interpersonal environments around us? Can we use contemplative practices like meditation to change our minds to be more aware, more engaged, more compassionate? And what could this mean for our physical health, our social relationships, our world?

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Interconnection, Inclusivity and Transdisciplinary Collaboration in Contemplative Research

Each year, the Mind & Life Institute hosts the Summer Research Institute to bring together scholars, researchers, professionals and practitioners from a variety of fields who share an interest in contemplative research. The purpose of this program is to bring students, recent graduates, junior faculty and postdocs into conversation with established investigators in order to create a context for a robust, interdisciplinary dialogue that is intellectually rigorous and open to new voices that will challenge, advance and transform research as we know it. Read More

Utilizing Mindfulness Practice to Facilitate the Transition to College

Part 6 in a weeklong series of blog posts written by undergraduate students from the 2017 spring-semester class, “Mindfulness & Compassion: Living Fully Personally and Professionally” at the University of Virginia.

Freshman year is a unique experience because everything about college and your life as a student is so new: new friends who may be very unlike your friends back home; 500-person classes, so much bigger than anything that you probably experienced in high school; and a new dorm room you are suddenly supposed to call home. At your old school, you likely had a sense that you knew what to expect from life, day to day. In fact, you had achieved a certain level of control and comfort within those surroundings. But now you have entered an entirely new world. When issues arise, they can feel like evidence that you are not coping well with the changes, or that you are not going to be able to hack it in this new place.

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