As we join together to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King we are given an opportunity to reflect on our own commitment to community connection, advancing the ideals of social and racial justice, and centering anti-racism and equity in all of our pursuits. We remember the tenets that Dr. King stood for and his unwavering pledge to advance the values of equality, nonviolence, and respect for human dignity. We categorically condemn all forms of racial violence and believe strongly in Dr. King’s statement that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  This year, with our recent political, social and economic landscape, it may feel particularly important to commemorate Dr. King and the principles he stood for. With this in mind, we encourage you to utilize the upcoming university holiday to seek activities that are meaningful to you and offer healing and rejuvenation. In the spirit of the MLK Day of Service “A day on, not a day off” we hope you will embrace this sentiment and seek to serve and connect with communities, foster a spirit of engagement, and renew a pledge for unity and purpose. There are a variety of local events and activities highlighting the MLK holiday, a sampling of opportunities and resources are listed below.

January 10, 2021—This past summer I was visiting a place well known for its natural beauty. An area frequently visited by tourists enjoying the sights and wonders. The town’s economy is closely tied to the flow of outsiders, like me, and our purchases at restaurants, hotels, boutiques, and outfitters. I was there to enjoy the scenery, watch wildlife, and witness the profusion of wildflowers. Experiences widely distributed in promotional materials. Over the few days I was in town, I did enjoy the scenery, spent hours watching wildlife, and took lots of pictures of red, yellow, blue, and purple flowers. The trip was fantastic in that sense.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the stark contrast between the publicized and actual experience of hospitality. I was not ready for the profusion of “no trespassing” and “private property” signs. There was simply no way to experience the fullness of the area outside of the “authorized” tourist zones. There are plenty of good and defensible reasons to “post” one’s property. For instance, if there is some dangerous activity or landform that it is better for the inexperienced to avoid. My contrasting experience with the publicized message of welcome and the practical message of private spaces of exclusion started me thinking about education through a similar messaging. For many students, especially brown, Black, and Indigenous learners, schools try to welcome all, but in practice the “no trespassing” signs are everywhere. They tell students how to talk, how to walk, how to think, how to be fully human. Unlike the signs that where visibly tacked to fence posts, trees, and metal poles, the “private property” signs in education constitute the hidden curriculum; the unstated norms of behavior, thinking, and being.

As I reflected on these real signs of exclusion and segregation, I remembered another set of signs that dot the landscape; “open space”. These signs announce that all are welcome and invited into the presence of a communal resource, to share and appreciate. Even in open space there are rules and limitations, dos and don’ts, but they are typically designed to limit the kind of damage that is destructive to community. Imagine what schools or classrooms would look like or the experiences of students if the message was framed in “open-space” signage. The private signs of schools communicate a deficit model of humanness, an assumption that students need control and structure. They can’t be trusted with choice and exploration. In contrast, open space is asset based. It presumes good intentions and the capacity of students to make worthwhile decisions for themselves. It doesn’t assume that students will always act with right intentions; making mistakes is part of what being human means and it is a source of learning.

One experience with the “no trespassing” signs was particularly revealing and inviting for me, an educator dedicated to the creation of transformative learning spaces. Since the purpose of my vacation was nature study, I was constantly on the lookout for places where I could park my truck, sit, and watch. One day as I approached a bridge over a river, I noticed a baby tree swallow sticking its head out of a hole in a dead cottonwood tree. It just so happened that the tree was located in an ever so small gap between the fenced-off property and the riverbank. A minute piece of open space, free from prohibitions. I could sit and watch without violating the “no trespassing” signs.

Through my binoculars I saw that three or four swallows occupied the nest. And in no time the parents returned, flight after flight, with food for their growing brood. As I sat, watched, and listened, other signs of life’s profusion were brought to my attention. Higher up in the old cottonwood, four baby king birds were busy vying for the attention of their parents, who were flying back and forth between their hunting grounds and the gaping mouths of their children. Just a short distance away the cry of young kestrel was letting its parents know where it was, and that food was required. And finally, across the river, a pair of American dippers were belly deep in the shallows searching for aquatic insects. When necessary, they plunged into the current to capture prey. At the end of every dive they shook off the water and flew to a nest hidden in the overhanging bank. Over the next few days I made regular trips to this oasis of life. It was magical. It was unexpected. It was delightful.

I tell this story because I’m left with such an indelible memory of nature’s passion for life beyond human imposed constraints. But I also tell this story because it offers me much to think about when it comes to education and the ways I structure learning. I’m invited to consider how often I limit learning by fencing off the content, emotions, and hard conversations; posting private property signs keeping my students away. Even when my intentions are right and justified, the “no trespassing” signs in my syllabus, content, or pedagogy convey a message of limitation to my students. I’m encouraged to consider the value of posting “open-space” signs that redefined the student/teacher relationship as collaborative, not restrictive.

The vibrancy of life I witnessed near that bridge was short-lived. In a few days the baby birds fledged and were gone. I’m reminded that learning is not something that can be controlled. When the conditions are right, it happens at a frantic pace and is short-lived. I need to be vigilant and ready for those times in the classroom when I’m called upon to desperately search for and offer my students the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual nourishment they long for. I need to dive deep into the content, shake off what is unnecessary, and bring to all of us the best of myself, the content, and the mystery of learning.

My best moments of teaching and learning are not bound by the structure and pacing of my syllabus or lesson plans. They exist in the gaps. The spaces between the spaces defined by my “no trespassing” and “private property” signs. I’m wondering now, how often do I leave the narrowest gap for students to fully explore their intellectual, emotional, and spiritual world? I invite you too to consider where “no trespassing” signs exist in your teaching and to ask if they are required and important for keeping students safe? And when should you remove those sings and replace them with the invitation to “open space”? Look for the gaps in your teaching. The unexpected places where students shine and thrive. That is the place to begin the work of sitting, watching, listening, and being present to the very real learning going on around you.

Why when God’s world is so big, did you fall asleep in a prison of all places? – Rumi

Dec, 28 2020 — I’ve been thinking about mystery recently. It has caught me by surprise and I’m not 100% sure why. Not that mystery is unimportant. Rather it is essential to many aspects of my life. So, it startles me to be thinking so much about mystery lately. I look to nature as my first teacher about mystery. As a child I remember watching birds flying on delicate feathers, tadpoles maturing into frogs, and dragonfly nymphs splitting open to allow fully formed adults to emerge. My heart, more than my head, asked, how could this be happening? What mystery was going on that I couldn’t see, yet was so evident and powerful in the formation of life? More recently, the close visual-proximity of Saturn and Jupiter has invited me to contemplate the mysterious movement of the planets, stars, and constellations. The science of astronomy has tools, theories, and mathematical formulas to describe the push and pull of cosmic forces. It knows how the immense spaces and elemental energies of the universe act in relationship to each other. Yet for all its power and knowledge, it is not science that draws me to the birds and the stars, it is wonder and awe. What is it that seems to bind the feather and the rings of Saturn into the same frame of knowing and being? Why do the vast physical differences and distances between the two contribute to their closeness? What is the knowing in mystery that rests at the edge of my mind and reason?

I have not been as close to nature as I was in past years. Other demands and commitments have warranted my attention. They act like gravitational forces diverting my intentions into new orbital patterns. The birds in my feeder and the cosmic dance of Saturn and Jupiter has reminded me to slow down and pay attention. To ponder Rumi’s question, why is it that I have fallen asleep in the prison of necessity even though the world is so big and so much more diverse and mysterious? Nature is my first teacher, but it is not my only teacher. As an educator, I’m reminded that the classroom is also central to my experience of mystery. And like my relationship to nature, I feel that recently I have not paid enough attention to it in my teaching. I know what this about. The transition from face to face to online instruction was too quick, a matter of days. My attention was focused on getting comfortable with the functional elements of Zoom and mastering a Learning Management System (LMS), while minimally advancing my goals of reflection, transformation, and transcendence.

The mystery of the classroom invites me to break free of the prison I fell asleep in, the cell made from the iron bars of instructional necessity. Mystery creates space for me to think about the possibilities, not the limitations of online education. In The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, Dorthee Soelle’s goal is, “to erase the distinction between a mystical interior and a political exterior” (p. 3). As a theologian, she naturally views the “history of mysticism as a history of the love for God” (p. 2). Throughout her text she shows how a relationship with the divine—that which is greater than self and self-knowing—leads to political action that is liberating for self and others. By love she means mystery and never fully knowing the other, being open constantly to surprise, and unfulfilled longing. Love as mystery fuels curiosity, excitement, and vulnerability in teaching; all the more so in online instruction. I’m particularly intrigued by the ways my inner commitments to transformation can energize my instruction in ways visible to students. As Soelle would say, the synthesis of my interior and exterior in service of the mystery of online teaching and learning.

The social justice educator, Jay Gillen (2014), like Soelle, argues that love is key to forming student/teacher relationships that hold the possibility of liberation and freedom. In Educating for Insurgency: The Roles of Young People in Schools of Poverty he notes that transformative relationships grounded in love require work and patience. It is often the case that in their early stage, relationships can feel like they are going nowhere. He invites educators to think about student resistance to deep relationships of learning as a form of love he calls “courtship”. Gillen sees mystery in the courtship ritual of hesitancy and pushback as students try out the strength of the teacher/student relationship. He argues that relationships premised on change—learning—are formed through the “symbolic creation of an obstacle [which] acknowledges the mystery of communication between different kinds” (p. 148). In the mystical way that love operates in the classroom, rebuff and hesitancy are the first moves. Gillen invites me to see my struggles in online instruction as a normal part of true learning relationships with content, learning platforms, students, and myself.

As I approach my next series of online courses. I realize that Rumi’s question, with slight modification, speaks powerfully to me; “why when the [classroom] is so big / did [I] fall asleep in a prison / of all places?” Why have I fallen asleep to the potential of online classrooms to transform me as well as my students? Why do I so dearly and intentionally strive for mystery in face to face teaching but somehow barred it from entry into my online instruction? The key to my liberation, as Soelle and Gillen point out, is embracing the mystery of instructional love. I am now asking, how might the metaphor of courtship, the pushing away and pulling toward “communication of different kinds” inform my online teaching? In what ways do students court relationships with content and with me that I’m not seeing? How am I blind to mystery in the classroom and therefore missing the signals that indicate student love for the content we are all in relationship with?

Gerardo Muñoz, a social studies teacher at Denver Center for International Studies at Baker and Morgridge alum, was named the 2021 Colorado Teacher of the Year today in a surprise announcement by Dr. Katy Anthes, Colorado’s Commissioner of Education, in true COVID-19 era fashion: on a Zoom celebration. Muñoz received his Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction from the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver.

Muñoz began teaching social studies in 2000 and has been with his current school since 2007. A tireless champion of anti-oppression awareness and training, he is the recipient of many awards including the Grogan Family and Jared Polis Foundation Teacher Recognition Award in 2006, the University of Denver Summit Award in 2009, and the Denver Public Schools Mile High Teacher Award in 2012.

Muñoz will compete for the National Teacher of the Year Award and will be honored with other state Teachers of the Year at a White House ceremony.

Dr. David Hessl, project PI at the University of California at Davis, and site PI’s Dr. Karen Riley, Dean and Professor at the Morgridge College of Education, University of Denver, Dr. Elisabeth Berry-Kravis at Rush University, Drs. Richard Gershon and Aaron Kaat at Northwestern University, and Dr. Craig Erickson from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital were awarded the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute Of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health grant of $3,921,088. Dr. Jeanine Coleman Associate Clinical Professor in the Teaching and Learning Sciences department at the Morgridge College of Education, is co-principal investigator. Drs. Korrie Allen, Douglas Clements and Julie Sarama will also be engaged in the project at the DU site. The grant will span five years, October 2020 – September 2025.

A multi-university team has been evaluating the utility and sensitivity of the National Institutes of Health Toolbox – Cognitive Battery (NIHTB-CB). Standardized cognitive and educational assessments of individuals with intellectual disability (ID) provide crucial information for parents, researchers, and educators. Understanding the unique developmental strengths and challenges of an individual with ID is imperative to determining appropriate educational placements, developing intervention plans, and measuring growth. Unfortunately, there is a paucity of research regarding administrative procedures that yield valid standardized assessment results with this population, which this project serves to rectify.

In addition to evaluating the NIHTB-CB as an appropriate assessment for ID in general, the results demonstrate the sensitivity of the battery to known syndrome-specific cognitive phenotypes. A critical remaining question is the degree to which the battery is sensitive to change, especially to effects of intervention as such the team is currently collecting longitudinal data on all participants so that they can create typical trajectories and so that change can accurately be measured. Studies of the performance of the battery in older adults with ID are needed, especially focusing on those experiencing cognitive decline or dementia. Overall, the present validation study represents an important step toward providing an objective, scalable, and standardized method for successfully measuring cognition and tracking cognitive changes in ID. This award is the second for this team of researchers and extends the initial study.

Dr. Riley said “The importance of this type of research cannot be overstated. We need to have effective tools to measure the groundbreaking interventions that are currently being developed and implemented. The individuals with ID deserve our best work in this area, as it could literally be life changing for them and their families.”

Pictured above: Dr. Karen Riley (top left), Dr. Jeanine Coleman (top right), Dr. Doug Clements (bottom left), Dr. Julie Sarama (bottom right).

Dr. Norma Hafenstein, Daniel L. Ritchie Endowed Chair for Gifted Education and Full Clinical Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the Morgridge College of Education, University of Denver, was awarded the United States Department of Education’s Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education 2020 Grant Program grant of $2,845,155. Dr. Kristina Hesbol, Assistant Professor in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program at the Morgridge College of Education, is co-principal investigator. Dr. Robert Reichardt, Senior Associate at APA Consulting, serves as project evaluator. The grant will span over five years, October 2020 – September 2025, to implement I-REECCH: Impacting Rural Education through Expanding Culturally responsive curriculum, Computer science training, and Higher order thinking skills.

The goal of I-REECCH is to significantly increase identification of and services to underrepresented gifted and talented student populations in rural Colorado. This includes students eligible for free and reduced lunch, English language learners and students who identify as Hispanic or Native American. Classroom practices will be improved through increasing rural faculty ability and implementation of culturally responsive pedagogy, computational thinking, higher order thinking skill development, and talent and giftedness recognition. All students in I-REECCH elementary schools will participate in a computer science/computational thinking module by the end of fifth grade.

Dr. Hafenstein stated, “Consider the Spanish speaking little boy who has taught himself to read in English…clearly a demonstration of ability! How do we recognize his giftedness and talent? How do we serve his strengths so that he may reach his potential? As educators, our purpose is to improve the lives of children and families. We recognize the disproportionality of gifted and talented student identification and service. This Javits award supports collaboration with rural partners for cooperative tangible action in identification of and service to rural Colorado gifted and talented students learning English, who are Hispanic or Native American, or who are under-resourced. We look forward to partnering with rural educators in implementing this important work.”

I-REECCH will partner with Fort Morgan School District, Santa Fe Trails Board of Cooperative Educational Services and schools in rural southwest Colorado. Advisory Board members include Dr. Rebecca McKinney, Director of Gifted Education at the Colorado Department of Education; Dr. Terrence Blackman, Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics at the Medgar Evers College in the City University of New York; Dr. Joy Esquierdo, Associate Professor, Department of Bilingual and Literacy Studies and Director of the Center for Bilingual Studies at The University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley, and Dr. Muhammad Khalifa, Professor of Educational Administration and Executive Director of Urban Education Initiatives at The Ohio State University. Dr. Kimberly Schmidt and Dr. Brette Garner, both professors at the Morgridge College of Education, will serve as faculty consultants and content advisors.

What in the mind of a professional stage or screen actor sets them apart from a typical, non-acting person? A new study published by professors Dr. Denis Dumas and Dr. Peter Organisciak in the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver — in collaboration with Michael Doherty, a professional actor affiliated with Actor’s Equity Association — set out to answer that question.

In this study, more than 20 psychological tests focused on creative thinking, personality, and motivations were administered to three different groups of participants: professional actors, undergraduate student acting majors, and adults who were not actors. The participants’ responses to these measures were entered into a machine learning model, the goal of which was to identify the actors just on their psychological characteristics. As it turned out, the model was able to identify actors with a 92% accuracy solely on their psychological data, a stronger finding than the researchers ever expected.

Key psychological characteristics identified the actors from the non-actors in this study. In particular, both professional and student actors were identified based on their higher levels of openness to new experiences, extraverted assertiveness, and their elaborative capacity to expand on a creative idea. At a finer grain level, the professional actors were further distinguished from the undergraduate students based on their higher levels of original thinking, neurotic volatility, and their more regular engagement in literary activities such as writing and reading scripts.

“In the future, the findings from this study may be useful for individuals who are considering a career in acting to determine whether or not their psychological characteristics match with the demands of the profession,” Dumas says. “Within university education, this study may help acting coaches and directors to tailor their instruction and feedback to the specific attributes their students may yet need to develop.”

This study also shows how much can be accomplished when research is produced through interdisciplinary collaborations where a member of the community being studied (a professional actor in this case) is deeply involved in the research.

Pictured above: A scene from “Something Wicked: Shakespeare’s Macbeth” a production of DU’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts, which ran from Oct. 31 through Nov. 10 last year.

Earlier this year, Chalkbeat Colorado brought its annual Legislative Preview to the Morgridge College of Education where panelists discussed Colorado education policies and topics expected to arise in the January legislative session.

On Thursday, Oct. 15, Chalkbeat journalists circled back with legislators and educators to revisit these topics in an online event co-hosted by the Morgridge College of Education.

Returning panel members included:

  • Erica Meltzer, moderator and Chalkbeat Colorado bureau chief
  • State Rep. James Coleman, D-Denver
  • State Sen. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument

And new panel members included:

  • Mark Sass, State Director for Teach Plus Colorado and a high school social studies teacher in the Adams 12 Five Star School District
  • Taylor Davis, CEA fellow and music teacher in the North Park School District in Jackson County

Over 140 attendees joined as panelists discussed education challenges around remote learning and education access that have surfaced with the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenges discussed included equitable access to education and resources, what school leaders and policymakers should prioritize, school evaluation and accountability systems, standardized testing, and more.

Watch the full livestream of the event below or on our Facebook.

On Sept. 1, 2020, the Morgridge College of Education received the 2020 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, the oldest and largest diversity-focused publication in higher education. As a recipient of the annual HEED Award — a national honor recognizing U.S. colleges and universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion — Morgridge College will be featured, along with 89 other recipients, in the November 2020 issue of INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine.

“We are appreciative of this recognition as it affirms our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and are humbled to be honored with the other HEED recipients,” said Dean Karen Riley. “We know however, that we still have a lot of work to do in advancing DEI, and are committed to an active approach to working for social justice.”

This is the second year Morgridge College has been selected by INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. The college first received the award in the 2018-19 academic year.

“The HEED Award process consists of a comprehensive and rigorous application that includes questions relating to the recruitment and retention of students and employees — and best practices for both — continued leadership support for diversity, and other aspects of campus diversity and inclusion,” said Lenore Pearlstein, publisher of INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. “We take a detailed approach to reviewing each application in deciding who will be named a HEED Award recipient. Our standards are high, and we look for institutions where diversity and inclusion are woven into the work being done every day across their campus.”

Other recipients of the 2020 HEED Award are:

Adelphi University
Arkansas State University
Augustana College (IL)
Ball State University
Brown University
California State University, Fresno
California State University, Fullerton
California State University, Northridge
California State University San Marcos
Case Western Reserve University
Central Washington University
Clemson University
Columbia University in the City of New York
Cuyahoga Community College
Davenport University
East Carolina University
El Paso County Community College District
Florida State University
Framingham State University
Georgia Institute of Technology
Georgia State University
Grand Valley State University
Greenville Technical College
Hillsborough Community College
Indiana University Bloomington
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Kansas State University
Kent State University
Lawrence University
Lehigh University
Louisiana State University
Metropolitan State University of Denver
Miami University
Millersville University
Ohio University
Oklahoma State University
Oregon State University
Pikes Peak Community College
Regis College
Rochester Institute of Technology
Santa Rosa Junior College
Seminole State College of Florida
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Stetson University College of Law
SUNY Buffalo State College
SUNY Old Westbury
Swarthmore College
Texas A&M University
Texas Christian University
Texas Tech University
The University of Alabama at Birmingham
The University of Missouri-Saint Louis
The University of Texas at Austin
The University of Tulsa
Towson University
Union College, NY
University at Albany, State University of New York
University of Central Florida
University of Cincinnati
University of Colorado Boulder
University of Dayton
University of Georgia
University of Houston
University of Houston Law Center
University of Houston-Downtown
University of Illinois at Chicago
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Kentucky
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
University of Louisville
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
University of North Florida
University of North Texas
University of Oregon
University of Pittsburgh of the Commonwealth System of Higher Education
University of Rochester
University of South Florida
University of West Florida
Virginia Commonwealth University
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
West Chester University of Pennsylvania
West Virginia University
Western Michigan University
Whitworth University
William & Mary
William Marsh Rice University
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI)
Xavier University

For more information about the 2020 HEED Award, visit insightintodiversity.com.

Dr. Doug Clements, co-director of Marsico Institute (Marsico), has been named principal investigator on a new Institute of Education Sciences (IES) grant to more extensively study children’s learning using video and data from Marsico’s previous IES grant, Evaluating the Efficacy of Learning Trajectories in Early Mathematics. Co-principal investigators on this project are Drs. Julie Sarama, also co-director of Marsico, and Dr. Traci Kutaka, research associate for Marsico.

The earlier grant was a series of eight studies evaluating the efficacy of using a learning trajectories approach to mathematics instruction. These experiments showed that a learning trajectories approach fostered the development of early mathematics skills that are predictive of later school achievement.

This time around, Kutaka and her colleague Dr. Pavel Chernyavskiy from the University of Wyoming, have developed new questions and research designs. The team will dig deeper into one of these studies to determine precisely how kindergarten children’s problem-solving strategies vary across different types of arithmetic story problems and how they evolve over the course of successful teaching. The team also will use these analyses to construct two novel indicators of instructional efficacy: modal strategy sophistication and strategy breadth. These indicators will account for patterns of strategy use over time, application of strategies to increasingly complex arithmetic problem types, and instructor feedback.

According to Sarama, “New IES funding allows us to leverage hundreds of hours of video collected within a randomized design to better understand both children’s thinking and learning from scientifically-designed instruction and to benefit the field with new tools for future studies.”

The Marsico team will carry out the study in two phases. In the initial phase, the team will watch and code videos of instructional sessions captured during the previously completed efficacy trial of a learning-trajectories approach. During phase two, the researchers will estimate hierarchical ordered logit models to produce patterns of strategy use over time – within and between instructional sessions – for particular story problem structures. These models will then inform the construction of two novel indicators of instructional efficacy.

“At the core of learning trajectories is research on children’s thinking. This study will extend this research, providing both researchers and practitioners with a new lens for noticing, understanding, and supporting this thinking and its development,” said Clements.

The project has been funded, in whole, by the Institute of Educational Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

This year, we held the Summer 2020 MCE Day of Celebration to celebrate our graduate students on Friday, Aug. 21 at 1 p.m. (Mountain Standard Time). While we couldn’t celebrate in person this year, we recorded a very special video to honor our students. Watch the video on our MCE Day of Celebration page.

Cecilia Orphan, PhD, assistant professor in the Morgridge College of Education’s Higher Education Department, was recently quoted in an article by Chalkbeat Colorado. The article, “Colorado hopes a new higher ed funding formula will make a difference for students. It might not be easy,” dives deep into the latest update to Colorado’s education funding formula, which uses seven criteria to judge community and state colleges and universities. Dr. Orphan and colleague Dr. Denisa Gándara, a Southern Methodist University assistant professor of higher education, both shared their worries about how competition created by the funding model affects students.

“Orphan said funding by outcomes in some states reduced coordination among schools because they were competing to attract certain groups of students. But she applauded Colorado higher education leaders for showing that they are willing to work together with state policymakers to rally around shared goals.

‘With the recent change to focus more explicitly on racial equity and first-generation students and students from Colorado, that is really exciting,’ she said.

At Morgridge College, social justice is at the core of our community, academics and student life. Our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion goes beyond theory. It is woven into the fabric of the College with a commitment to underserved populations in tangible, real-world ways. Whether it’s opening doors of opportunity, students blazing new trails of inclusive research, or faculty leading the nation-wide diversity conversation, Morgridge’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion makes an impact.

July, 17 2020 — I would like to state that we are living in sacred time. I acknowledge that this claim may feel out of synch with the compelling and urgent needs of the climate crisis, coronavirus, economic decline, and calls for social justice. Any one of these challenges of modern life on earth will require significant amounts of time, talent, and treasure. Taken as a constellation of tests they can fell overwhelming and paralyzing. I know because it is easier for me, these days, to slide into darker emotions and a sense of oppression then to act. I wonder how one person can embody enough agency to change the world in these times. Yet, we are living in a sacred time. A time of unusual opportunity to release the fullness of human flourishing. Sacred time provides a way of integrating the competing impulses of paralysis and action.

Sacred has religious connotations but according to Mariam-Webster it can mean anything or anyone “entitled to reverence and respect.” I think that our collected human experience is worthy of reverence and respect. The challenges are serious. They deserve intentionality and attentiveness not irreverence and disrespect. And the opportunities for meaningful, just, and inclusive changes in healthcare, education, economics, and policy as equally compelling. The possibilities are too rich to pass over, no matter how hard or frightening they may be. To be in sacred relationship, for me, means to act in new ways that build rather than break down connections with self and others. Social distancing does not require isolation from the needs of the earth, people, and institutions in this moment. They require reverence and respect.

I love teaching because it is my students who often show me ways of turning challenge into sacred action; darkness into light. Their words and deeds invite me to see the world with new eyes. To see agency when none seemed present before. For instance, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic I was talking to students about taking care of each other and how the university was approaching instructional changes. It was abundantly clear that something unusual was happening in our collected lives. Fear and anxiety were rising. One of my students made the observation: “All it takes is switching one letter to go from scared to sacred”. I was brought up short in my thinking and emotional response. Her comment offered a way to reframe my lived-experience. To be “scared” but also open to elements of the “sacred” as well. To give reverence and respect to the paradox of scared and sacred inhabiting the same space in my mind and heart.

I can follow my student’s advice and move from a state of scared isolation by looking for and engaging in experiences worthy of reverence and respect. Treating the lives of Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples as sacred. Empowering students to fully engage their heart, mind, and hands in the sacred process of learning. Calling for justice when the sacred qualities of humanness are threatened by systems of power and oppression.

The psychiatrist, Dr. Sue Varma, who studies the impact of trauma and loneliness on mental health offers a practical framework for finding the sacred, the things that bring me alive, in the midst of being scared. She calls her structured response to isolation and suffering the four-M’s.  They include: mindfulness, mastery (not perfection) of anything creative, movement of any degree, and meaningful connection—particularly helping others. In this time of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter I can practice the four-M’s while following the guidelines of sheltering in place. Which M has the greatest appeal for you right now? Which M can help move your feelings of being scared to the possibility of seeing the sacred—worthy of reverence and respect—in your day? I’m particularly drawn to creative activities and movement. I’m sketching more images of nature and riding my bicycle to build resilience to the traumatic impacts of coronavirus. I’m questioning the ways my points of power and privilege are unconsciously supporting whiteness and the oppression of others, limiting their sacred potential.

What are the activities in your life that bring you alive right now? Maybe it is spending time with a child, watching them grow and change by the minute. Maybe it is the soft breathing of a pet resting by your chair or on your lap as you write. Maybe it is the opportunity to just rest, to slow down, to live into the fecund dormancy of social inaction. Maybe it is marching and calling for social justice. Perhaps what is worthy of your reverence and respect is the dismantling of power and privilege that favors the few over the diminishment of many. The poet David Whyte advises that: “sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet / confinement of your aloneness / to learn / anything or anyone / that does not bring you alive / is too small for you.”  As an extrovert who relies heavily on action and social connection, I need “the sweet confinement of my aloneness” to know what is sacred, what is truly worthy of my reverence and respect. I trust that by living this moment, even in its darkness, as sacred time I will emerge into the light with a clearer sense of how education and the ways I structure learning can become sacred time to all my students.

Dear Morgridge College of Education Students, Faculty and Staff,

The Morgridge College of Education stands against hate and racism. As a community of individuals committed to social justice we are dedicated to going beyond words to take action. Over the past few weeks, leaders across the College have worked collaboratively to continue existing efforts and to initiate new efforts to affect change within the College, the academy and the broader community. The following action items represent the overall areas of focus for the College. These have been identified as tangible, actionable steps toward building awareness of and dismantling systemic and institutional forms of racism. We will be working together throughout the summer to create more granular programming and action steps under each.

  1. We will continue to review and amend our recruitment processes to increase the diversity of our faculty, student and staff representation at MCE.
  2. We will continue college-wide training on issues related to systemic racism, institutional racism, and intersystems approaches to address these enduring forms of racism and discrimination that have marked the history of education in the U.S.
  3. We will collectively engage in Summer reading of How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, to be followed by programming and small group discussions throughout the upcoming academic year. We will be providing more information soon on how students can acquire a copy of the book from the College.
  4. We will provide additional support and training for faculty to re-examine their courses to ensure integration of inclusive and critical approaches to subject matter content and its application.
  5. We will work with COESA to develop student-based programming that addresses training and education on systemic and institutional forms of racism.
  6. We will continue leadership training for Chairs, Directors, and Deans on dismantling systems and policies that reproduce inequities in the College.

The list above is not exhaustive. We will add and update these action steps as we continue this important work. Further, we want to hear from you (e.g., what could we do differently, what more could we be doing, what shouldn’t we be doing, what needs to happen first before other actions). Consider sharing your thoughts using this anonymous survey by Friday, June 19.

Thank you,

Dean Karen Riley

Associate Dean Mark Engberg

Members of the Inclusive Excellence Committee

Members of the MCE Leadership Team

President and Vice President of the MCE COESA


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