by Stacy Hoult-Saros

For years, faculty members at Valparaiso University have had the opportunity to take part in Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs) on topics ranging from curriculum development and “flipped” classrooms to cross-cultural teaching and working with international students.

When Cynthia Rutz, Director of Faculty Development for the Valparaiso Institute for Teaching and Learning (VITAL), reached out about offering an FLC related to our degree programs in Humane Education, I was excited about the possibility of sharing how humane ed can enrich post-secondary teaching across the full spectrum of disciplines and course delivery methods.

Last April, VITAL included a blurb on this FLC as part of a slate of four proposed topics shared with all faculty.

The language of the description will be more than familiar to humane educators: “Valpo is already known for preparing students to lead and serve. But could we do a better job getting students ready to solve the pressing challenges of our planet, to make choices that do the most good with the least harm to other people, animals, and the earth? This FLC will explore how we can educate our students to become better global citizens, creating a world that is just, healthy, and sustainable.”

I quickly got fellow community member and IHE M.Ed. grad Natalie Krivas on board as my co-facilitator, and we were thrilled when our FLC received more votes than any of the other proposals!

We immediately began work on the structure and learning objectives of this year-long experience, which would include a period of reading, discussion, and reflection in the fall, with a more “activist” phase to involve concrete action steps in the spring.

During the fall semester, a diverse group of faculty and some staff colleagues met every two weeks to read IHE President Zoe Weil’s latest book, The World Becomes What We Teach, relating it to our own teaching and campus citizenship.

FLC members came to the experience with a range of motivations: one colleague had experience working with local recycling initiatives; another had prepared a list of specific concerns related to staff treatment; and another was worried about Islamophobia at the local and national levels.

We agreed that the best way to focus our time, energy and expertise on these and related topics was to program a series of teach-ins in a fireplace lounge of our campus library, the Christopher Center for Library and Information Resources. In the current semester, students and colleagues have gathered each week (with many of us sitting on the floor!) to hear presentations on white supremacy and the Alt-Right; Islamophobia and Valpo’s Crusader mascot; and sustainability on campus.

The results so far have been inspiring.

Faculty and staff participants have been sustained and energized by the opportunity to think about putting compassion into action with other like-minded colleagues; students have begun to think about alternatives to our long-standing mascot; and a proposal for an environmental institute on campus has gained new momentum with broader participation from a variety of disciplines.

As we look forward to a fresh round of teach-ins once we return from spring break, Natalie and I are honored to be a part of a circle of committed individuals whose ideas and actions are bringing about real change on our campus.

Stacy Hoult-Saros is a graduate of IHE’s graduate certificate program. Stacy teaches Spanish and chairs the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Valparaiso University. She lives in Valparaiso with her husband, son, and two cats.

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