“The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
—Thomas Merton, “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”
The quote above served as a guiding inspiration for Mount Saint Mary’s 2018 Critical Teaching in Action conference on “Health, Wellness & Social Justice.” More than 270 educators, students, social service workers and community leaders gathered on Mount Saint Mary’s Doheny Campus on March 24 for this biennial event created by the University’s Center for Cultural Fluency. The conference is designed to provide tools to those who work with youth, in order to incorporate innovative social justice teaching ideas into teachers’ classroom curricula.
This year’s conference focused on the intersection of health, wellness and social justice. The daylong event featured a variety of workshops, including sessions on healthy responses to the digital world; the arts as a tool for dealing with trauma; creating healthy relationships; and practicing self-care through actions like yoga, mindfulness and meditation.
“We centered this year’s conference on how we help educators answer two big questions,” says Julie Feldman-Abe, director of the University’s Center for Cultural Fluency and director of elementary education at the Mount. “How do we help youth handle the effects of stress and trauma, and enact practices for body, mind and spirit? And how can educators and those in caregiving fields attend to our own self-care?”
Mona Saint, MD, MPH, a physician at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing and a clinical instructor at UC San Diego School of Medicine, offered a keynote talk that discussed how stress can affect the brain and physiology — and offered tools and advice for healthy ways to counteract that stress. Her talk also addressed mental health, healthy eating and the importance of sleep, self-care and mindfulness.
“One of the definitions I like for mindfulness is ‘present-moment awareness without judgment,” Saint said. “It’s really a way to, no matter what the situation is, look at things from an up-in-the-sky observer level of what’s going on, to gain some perspective and to remove ourselves a bit from the highs and lows and stressors that we have to deal with on a daily level.”
Mount Saint Mary’s also bestowed its 2018 Cultural Fluency Award to Lorry Leigh Belhumeur ’80, for her nearly quarter-century of leadership at Western Youth Services, a mental health services provider for children, youth and families in Orange County. Belhumeur, a Mount alumna, has led the charge to redefine mental health solutions to deliver a system of integrated support — from prevention and early intervention to intensive services.
“The foundation of positive mental health in children, youth and families is uncovering their strengths and using them to heal,” Belhumeur said.
The conference also included a “Passport to Wellness” station staffed by Mount Saint Mary’s nursing students and faculty that provided personalized health assessments to attendees. And the day closed with a screening of “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope,” a documentary about how trauma and toxic stress levels in children can put them at a greater risk for disease, homelessness, prison time and early death. The film showcases trailblazers in pediatrics, education and social welfare who are using cutting-edge science and field-tested therapies to protect children from the insidious effects of toxic stress.
Mount Saint Mary’s 2018 Critical Teaching in Action conference, “Health, Wellness & Social Justice,” was sponsored by the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities and Better Together CA.