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Share your thoughts, ideas and questions as you go through the Growth Mindset and Resilience Course.

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Just Stop It: I Can’t Take the Pain Anymore!

August 15, 2019

Just Stop It: I Can’t Take the Pain Anymore!

Do you remember this video?  [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow0lr63y4Mw] In this comic spoof, Bob Newhart, a comedian, plays the role of a therapist whose advice was to simply “stop” doing the behavior that each of his clients came to him complaining about.

When I first saw this video, I laughed until I cried. I thought how great would this be if we could just have people “stop” doing the behavior that caused them and others pain and suffering.    I even tried it out on myself and a few of the students I work with….  Of course, it didn’t work… It only created more aggravation among all of us.

As humans, we don’t choose to “just stop” the behaviors that cause us pain and suffering.  Rather than stopping the harmful behaviors, Brene Brown explains that we often make it worse by choosing behaviors that numb our pain or allow us to escape from our pain.  And as Professor Brown suggests, we can’t selectively numb, so we end up numbing what brings us joy as much as we numb what causes us pain.  And when whatever we did to numb or escape our pain wears off or ends, we awaken to find that our pain and suffering is still present.

Every day, I awaken to feelings of pain and suffering; I also awaken to feelings of great joy and happiness.  They exist in my life side by side, ebbing and flowing throughout the day.  Almost every day, I sit across from students who are also in pain (emotionally and physically), and they also see the joy in their life.

Antonio Damasio (a neuroscientist at University of Southern California) suggests that human emotion plays a role in how they behave, whether they are aware of it or not.  In other words, our emotions play a role in regulating how we make decisions, whether we are aware of our emotions or not.  If we can learn how to turn toward our emotions with kindness and grace (and we can learn how to do this – just ask Jon Kabat-Zinn and Kristin Neff), then we can become more aware of our feelings and sensations, offer self-compassion for our experience, instead of avoiding them and having them run our lives without our knowing.

Yes, this training process is unpleasant and it isn’t fast, but with the guidance of professionally trained teachers, it is doable. It is a process of training attention to my life as it is, noticing sensations, breathing to soothe the physiological exacerbations of those lived experiences, and gently inquiring into what I am experiencing. And as I begin to inquire into the experience I am having … not in some morbid, sadistic manner – but with kindness, curiosity, compassion, and patience, I can then loosen the hold the pain has on me so that I can make empowered choices that are in alignment with what I want to co-create in the world with others.  This decision to move away from “just stopping it” to exploring what “it” really is anyway and what “it” has to teach me and how I might transmute “it” opens up new possibilities to see something that I couldn’t see before.

The powerful part of this practice is that asI learn to be with my own pain and suffering, I can also be with others.  I can listen to what I couldn’t hear before.  I can notice defensiveness or anger arising and ask what is behind it, feeling what I am feeling, while I listen to another describe how my behavior created something that was other than empowering for them.  This creates new opportunities for new choices and new possibilities for us to move forward creating something different than we had experienced before.  How empowering and inspiring is that?

I am still learning this practice of being with my own pain and with others’ pain in inquiry and with compassion, but there is the benefit.  Being able to be with my own pain and others’ (albeit emotional or physical) allows us to also enjoy the positive aspects of our lives.  It also allows us to see solutions and different ways to approach alleviating the pain – if at all possible.  If I just numb my pain and invite others to do the same (or worse, ignore it), there is no solution in that.  Nothing changes… business as usual…Yuck!

We are in a lot of pain (emotional and physical) in this country that I love so dearly.  As a woman wearing white skin, I am horrified by the atrocities that are caused in the name of the color of my skin.  And I am heart-broken that I can’t fix that pain and suffering.  I can’t “just stop” the behavior that is tearing us apart. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do anything.

There are so many people in indescribable pain who want to be heard.  I can’t become a part of the solution until I learn about that which underlies the problem. My job is to train myself to be able to turn toward my own pain and the pain of others with kindness, without judgment, and with large doses of compassion, so I can hear them in their pain and be with mine as well.  And this is done with a genuine desire to alleviate their pain without harm to anyone.  This is a path to my becoming a part of the problem-solving team,especially when my behavior or someone who looks like me has caused the pain.  My colleagues, friends, and family reading this know I don’t do this well all the time. Sometimes my own pain is so loud, I can’t hear theirs. Sometimes my own pain becomes so loud, I have to care for myself before I can listen. This is a part of the process as well.  I am still learning and practicing.

Many humans experience significant pain at the hands of others who are in pain – and they may experience that pain just because of the color of their skin, their gender, their religion, their sexual orientation, their disability, I can go on and on and on… My grandparents moved to this country because they believed that here, in this country, everyone, regardless of what they looked like would be heard and would be given a genuine opportunity to thrive, to live in peace, prosperity, and happiness.  I never got to meet my grandparents, but I am holding onto their belief.  And every day, I am asking how I need to be, which I believe will inform what I need to do to make it a reality.

My role in creating this opportunity is to allow space for students, colleagues, friends, and family to show up as human – not creating excuses – but rather, giving permission to be human.  As such, I must practice taking care of my own emotion in a way that allows me to hear theirs.  I strongly believe that THIS is the place where we will find something different than what we have currently created.

How can we, each day, embrace the challenge of being human without marginalizing or normalizingthe pain experienced by those who are different than us?  How can we learn to regulate our own pain so that we can hear and be with the pain of others as we do our work?

If you are reading this post and saying, “it is not my job to be with other’s pain,” then I encourage you to “just stop it.” Each one of us has a role in healing this country.  If we learn to allow the space to be with our own pain and allow others to be with theirs with compassion and grace, then we just might learn something different from each other, we just might hear and see a shred of the solution. We might also discover how to be with what brings us alive and gives us joy as we co-create something different than what we have today.


Marilee Bresciani Ludvik is Professor of Postsecondary Educational Leadership at San Diego State University.  She can be reached at mbrescia@mail.sdsu.edu




Addressing the “Lack of” Epidemic on American College Campuses

June 23, 2019

Addressing the “Lack of” Epidemic on American College Campuses

Marilee Bresciani Ludvik PhD

There is a growing epidemic on American college campuses.  Walk onto any college campus in the United States of America and you will encounter its symptomology almost immediately.  Within moments of greeting any human being and asking how they are experiencing their work, they will tell you they could do more or do better if only they had moreresources.  Chat with them long enough and you will discover the shared list alludes to their experiencing a lack of sleep,money for all sorts of things including their ability to pay their own bills, a lack of time to reflect, and a lack of systemic structures to support collaborative workin order to arrive at meaningful solutions needed to resolve social injustices, environmental violence, and to stimulate economic viability.  You will also hear the “lack of” conversation infiltrate any other dialogue that seeks to address the many other challenges we face as a nation and as global citizens.

The “lack of” resources dialogue on American college campuses is nothing new.  The “lack of” mentality afflicts all American higher education community members.  Over time, faculty, staff, administrators, and students (even the most positive among them) will turn their focus towards identifying with limitations that are steeped in the “not enough” quagmire. The “lack of” resources mentality is an epidemic that spikes alongside the tyranny of the urgent; its costs measured in the killing of human ingenuity, resilience, and vitality.

If this kind of “lack of” resources had an identifiable virus associated with it, the Center for Disease Control would register it as a plague that requires inoculation.  They might quarantine the area given how quickly the infection spreads.  No one would be able to step back on campus unless they were equipped with the appropriate infectious disease armored suit. If the extent of the human harm caused by the “lack of” resources was a result of Mother Nature’s actions, the government would issue a state of emergency and immediately allocate millions or perhaps billions of dollars of aid to those afflicted, send experts to design preventions for potential future reoccurrence, and commit to rebuilding the infrastructure so that well-being for all in the area could be- restored.

While the epidemic of “lack of” resources to do the job well is apparent in almost every aspect of each organization, the urgent response is not.


Is it because there is no evidence that we have a “lack of” resources?  Is evidence that human lives have been harmed as a result of our “lack of” problem nonexistent?  If there is evidence of a “lack of” resources, why have the metrics to improve time to degree and graduation rates within an environment of “not enough” been increased?  If there is a “lack of” resources, are ALL the members of our communities who secure more money for specific efforts within the institution getting a percentage of what they brought in as payment for their success?  And if so, why is the organization continuing to engage in activities that aren’t aligned with revenue flow?  If we do have a “lack of” resources, why are there so many constituents so deeply invested in ensuring that change occurs slowly or not at all?

If we don’t have a “lack of” resources, why is most everyone within the Academy acting as if we do?  Is the “lack of” mentality a plague with some unseen contagion influencing our way of thinking and being? And if it is, what is the treatment or the cure?

What if there is no “lack of” resources within higher education?  What if we are simply not organized in a way that has caused us to avoid investing in and subsequently leveraging the most precious resources of all – the human beings themselves?  What if we are ignoring investing in the internal resources of the human beings within the organization so that their skills and abilities can be identified and skillfully matched with wider community desired outcomes?  What if investing in the cultivation of human flourishing was the antidote to the “lack of” resources plague that has infected every college campus?

As leaders of every hierarchical level of the Academy, we do have a choice.  Do you want to continue to perpetuate the dialogue of “not enough” or do you want to have a different dialogue, which would then require correspondingly different actions?  The organizational transformation process that would invest in human flourishing by cultivating internal human resources is not a mystery.  What is a mystery is why we continue to celebrate and reinforce a “lack of” organizational mentality and daily choose to live within “not enough”; all the while witnessing (or contributing to) the violence to humanity that results.

Let’s cure this epidemic.  There are plenty of organizational behavior theories and prescencing practices (such as the mindful compassion practices found on this site) that can guide our way into organizational transformation; the ones that seem most relevant for discovering how to combat “not enough” mentality and live social justice are within our grasp.  We just have to commit to exploring them and then putting them into place one moment after another, all while embodying compassion for ourselves and each other as we fail, learn, and engage again.






Update on Our Work at Rushing to Yoga Foundation



May 23, 2019

Dear Colleagues,

How are you?  I trust this email finds you as well as can be.

We just wanted to let you know how much we appreciate your interest in the Positively Transforming Minds Curriculum.  We are honored to be joined by those of you who seek to integrate mindful compassion practices into higher education.  Thank YOU!

Many of you have already accessed the free book from the website https://rushingtoyoga.org/positively-transforming-minds-the-book/

And now, we want to share 5 other exciting updates with you.

  • As requested by our colleagues in Cameroon, the curriculum is currently being translated into French. Yes!!!! We hope to have that posted for your free download by mid-October 2019.
  • Available NOW (at your request) are the audios of the Positively Transforming Minds curriculum to utilize in your in- and out-of-class settings. You can access those for free here – https://rushingtoyoga.org/positively-transforming-minds-curriculum/
  • We are continuing our work with UNESCO and are honored to do so. Stay tuned for more research to come.  For now, we would love your opinion.  If you haven’t already done so, please take a moment to complete this brief questionnaire found at


  • Finally, we have more curriculum coming for you to adopt and adapt in your in- and out-of-class settings. If you need any assistance with curriculum design or evaluation/assessment design, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at rushingtoyoga@gmail.com
  • While we have concluded our Spring 2019 webinar series ( see https://rushingtoyoga.org/689-2/),we are in the midst of planning the fall 2019 series and welcome your engagement. Please email us at us at rushingtoyoga@gmail.comif you would like to contribute your expertise in a 20 minute webinar or share your insights via our blog https://rushingtoyoga.org/blog/

Thank you again for joining us on this journey and please don’t hesitate to let us know how we can be in service to you and your vision.

In joy,

Marilee and Carol





Looking Below the Surface to Improve


April 29, 2018

Looking Below the Surface to Close Achievement Gaps and

Improve Career Readiness Skills


Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.




While institutions have been investing in efforts to close achievement gaps, they still remain.  With a growing emphasis on data analytics, some institutions may discover additional interventions that will benefit students while others may simply reinforce past behavior and potentially increase achievement gaps. This manuscript utilizes emerging neuroscience to introduce malleable learning dispositions that align with desired career readiness skills.  In addition, this manuscript shares inquiry methodology that can help institutions ensure they are not creating more harm with the use of their data analytic strategies and potentially improving career readiness skills for all students.





There has been a great deal of emphasis on using data analytics to close achievement gaps among varying identity groups and intersecting of identity groups as defined by persistence, graduation rates, and time-to-degree.  For some institutions, applying just in time academic and student support initiatives predicted as necessary by data analytics has been fruitful.  For other institutions, this approach may be less welcomed as it may not account for institutional leaders’ desire to understand individual students’ needs or to critically examine how well the institution is transforming its alleged historical deficit mindset.   Furthermore, using historically predictive analytics without an understanding of how those analytics intersect with students’ attainment of desired career readiness skills could potentially increase achievement gaps as opposed to decreasing them.    With increasing emphasis on preparing career readiness competencies such as social emotional intelligence, self-awareness, global citizenship, compassion, pro-social behavior, and lifelong learning skills and abilities, this manuscript seeks to offer a different lens through which to collect data in order to close achievement gaps while also ensuring optimal career readiness preparation.


In 2016 and 2017, a synthesis of learning and development research was published by the Institute of Educational Sciences and the National Academies of Sciences respectively.   In 2018, the National Academies of Sciences released another synthesis of research in a book entitled How People Learn II: The Science and Practice of Learning.  Within these manuscripts and this book, decades of research reported how malleable desired career readiness skills are and subsequently provided some ways in which they could be cultivated and assessed within in- and out-of-class educational settings.  What was also made clear in this book is that culture and context play an important role in understanding how people learn. “Learning does not happen in the same way for all people because cultural influences pervade development from the beginning of life” (p.22).  And while many scholars have been exploring the influence of internal and external influences on learning, the research is still in a nascent stage.


While there is no question that socio-cultural groupings of students and the intersection of socio-cultural groupings of students is illuminating achievement gaps across the country, there are many complications to identifying ways to improve learning and development based on socio-cultural groupings and the predictive metrics that accompany those conversations.  To quote from How People Learn II (NAS, 2018) “Research on genetic differences among population groups has established that there are not scientifically meaningful genetic differences among groups commonly identified as belonging to different races (Smedley and Smedley, 2005). It has long been recognized by social scientists that race is a social construction and that criteria for inclusion in a racial category or definition of particular groups as racial ones have varied over time (see, e.g., Figueroa, 1991; Kemmelmeier and Chavez, 2014; Lopez, 2006)” (p.24).  Furthermore, perspectives on what constitutes culture and how it relates to learning and development have changed over time thus further complicating data analytics.


Having said this, there are a number of studies that illustrate how culture plays a role in basic cognitive processes that help learners understand and organize the world, such as attention, memory and perception of self and others, as well as the cognitive processes that shape learning (Chua et al., 2005; Cole, 1995; Rogoff and Chavajay, 1995; Markus and Kitayama, 1991; Nisbett et al., 2001; Gelfand et al., 2011; Kitayama and Cohen, 2007; Kronenfeld et al., 2011; Medin and Bang, 2014; Segall et al, 1966).  Furthermore, students’ environmental experiences and personal choices change certain portions of their brains necessary for learning and development.  And since there is clear evidence that human beings have a wide variety of diverse environmental experiences and personal choices and that not all human beings have the same opportunities to learn and develop, neurodiversity is a fact that educators must contend with simply based on the variety of lived experiences each student has already had prior to matriculating to each institution.


Given that neurodiversity exists and its presence may not be easily identifiable by social groupings, how might we consider allowing for malleable learning dispositions (e.g., desired career readiness skills) that could be culturally constructed in order to ensure the closing of achievement gaps while also optimizing career readiness learning and development? To respond to this, let us consider the iceberg analogy of learning dispositions presented in Kuh et al (2018) and adapted here.  In Figure 1 below,  you see a list of several learning dispositions listed, underneath the surface of the water, where researchers have affirmed that educational environments can contribute to improving.  The understanding from cognitive, social, and emotional neuroscientists is that these dispositions are indeed malleable and the assumption is that it is our responsibility to cultivate these toward positive goal-oriented behavior such as degree attainment.  Furthermore, many of these learning dispositions map directly onto desired career-readiness skills expressed by employers.


Figure 1. Iceberg Analogy of Learning Dispositions




Figure 1 illustrates that many of our efforts to identify achievement gaps within our institutions rests in large part on the measurements of indicators listed above the water line.  Measurement tools such as tests, standardized exams, time-to-degree, and persistence are easy to gather measures.  And many current data analytic practices are seeking to understand students’ behavior as it correlates with or predicts these indicators.  That kind of data may be useful to many institutions, however, it neglects to account for a great deal of underlying conditions or learning dispositions that are known to contribute to easy to identify learning. These learning dispositions also tightly align with employer desired career readiness skills. How do we get at better understanding those, particularly given neurodiversity?


Figure 1 is presented in an iceberg analogy to showcase a portion of Otto Scharmer’s (2009) organizational behavior change Theory U.  In Scharmer’s organizational behavior change theory, leaders must conduct their own deep dive into understanding why their performance metrics are the way they are.  The deep dive process, illustrated in Figure 2, requires an understanding of patterns of past behavior, which data analytics can shed light upon.   However, understanding past patterns of behavior is not simply gathering data to identify a pattern, rather, according to Scharmer, the intention is to unearth the identification of deep-seated beliefs, values, mental models, and systemic structures to explain what informs the creation of those identified patterns of behavior.  Analyzing the systemic structures that contribute to the patterns of behavior involves awareness of the values, assumptions, and mental models that have shaped these behavior patterns.  As you can see by the model, this requires refraining from acting upon the easy to identify performance indicator data and instead, leveraging leaders’ increasing awareness brought about by intentional reflection to examine ways of being and doing that have caused their organizations’ past failures.  It is an exploration of the systems of belief, values, and attitudes that have informed policies, practices, and behavioral expectations which reside underneath the obvious question as to why the performance indicators might look the way they do.



Figure 2. Otto Scharmer’s Iceberg Model


Returning to Figure 1, if organizational leaders begin collecting data on how known malleable learning dispositions is cultivated in every individual and then compare those strategies within and across groupings and sub-groupings of individuals using pre- and post- assessment measures along with first-person direct self-report experience, then perhaps we can begin to better understand how organizational and individual context and culture influence easy to identity above the surface data.  Engaging in this kind of inquiry requires an investment of time to collaborate, design, and pilot evidence-based strategies known to cultivate learning dispositions.  It also requires evidence that can be meaningfully compared across groups. Thoughtfully  administered pre- and post- assessment measures across varying learning and development opportunities analyzed by various groupings and sub-groupings of students along with gathering individual students’ voices of their learning experience can signal to leaders what is working for whom, under what conditions, and why.  This kind of inquiry is likely not possible for many institutions under the current systemic structural assumptions that one size fits all and the assertion that assessing students’ learning and development is a waste of time.  It also may not be possible unless organizational leaders are really willing to think critically at how educational opportunities are designed and delivered and how those who contribute to expected learning and development are hired, on-boarded, provided with professional development to adopt and adapt learning science design and evaluation, and required to do this kind of work as a part of their employment contract.


There are a number of free, valid and reliable pre-and post-learning disposition/career readiness questionnaires and measures available to assess desired skills.  We refer to these as equity indicators because neuroscientists have reported that these are malleable skills but we don’t yet know how individual students’ lived experiences may have already cultivated these or whether they need to be cultivated within their higher education experience.  What we do know is that they are related to desired career-readiness skills and students’ ability to demonstrate what they do know and have learned.


As such, the time-consuming portion of this diving underneath the surface inquiry process is gathering meaningful student voice. Embedded reflective journal prompts, digital narratives, 360-degree evaluations, and thoughtfully constructed reflective student portfolios provide a wealth of data about students’ internal processes of meaning making.  While this type of inquiry is  time-consuming and that there is no such thing as more time, without organizational leaders gaining a deeper understanding of what is working well for whom via the use of pre-and post- learning disposition measures (e.g., equity measures), we can’t know where to allocate the precious resource of time and to whom and when.  Gathering pre-and post-learning disposition data along with first-person self-direct report of experience could ground dialogue for priority decisions around who needs something different than what we have been providing in order to succeed.  This is equity.


Figure 3 summarizes the context of this invitation to higher education administrators.  Neurodiversity exists; while there are some very real genetic and epigenetic differences in some students that influence their ability to learn and develop in expected ways, it remains a fact that not every human being is experiencing the same thing externally or internally in any given moment.  All of that is shaping each person’s ability to learn and develop even when the same opportunity for learning and development is provided.  Organizational and individual culture and context do matter when it comes to ensuring every student has an opportunity to achieve.  While we have historically offered one size fits allor one size fits this social group models to meet the increasing demand of access to education, we have plenty of evidence of not meeting expectations of employers for all students’ high achievement of career readiness skills. In order to fix this problem, we can look at historical data to see who is predicted to succeed in the one size fits all models in the hopes we can change students’ behavior or provide interventions that reinforce that historical behavior.  Or we can seek to better understand who our students are, how they are experiencing what we provide them, and do so in tandem with the measurement of the malleable learning and development skills employers want us to positively influence.  We can also understand how specific students acquisition of these skills is influencing their persistence, time-to-degree, cumulative GPA,  graduation rates and employability.  Without this type of evidence, we risk never searching below the easy to identify indicators in order to avoid reinforcing continued achievement gaps.



Figure 3. Educational Context for Equity




In closing, if  institutional leaders seek to ensure they are not perpetuating achievement gaps or inadvertently increasing them, and they also seek to assure the cultivation of malleable learning dispositions that ensure career readiness, then they may find it useful to respond to the following questions.


  • What malleable learning dispositions does our institution value?
  • How well do our valued learning dispositions map to our employers’ desired career readiness skills?
  • Where are we providing opportunities for these skills to be cultivated, how, and to whom specifically?
  • How are we gathering first-person direct self-report of these learning experiences from the students?
  • How are we collecting evidence that the desired learning disposition/career readiness skills were acquired?
  • How are we comparing this evidence gathered across social grouping and sub-groupings to identify how well the cultivation of these skills is allowing certain groupings and sub-groupings of students opportunities to achieve?
  • How is what we are learning from this evidence providing us with opportunities to re-think our mental models, beliefs, values, and behaviors around previously conceived notions for how all students succeed?
  • And how well are we using this data and dialogue to refine specific experiences so that all students have an opportunity to achieve at high levels?





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Decolonizing Higher Education Requires a Growth Mindset and Compassion

April 6, 2019

Decolonizing Higher Education Requires a Growth Mindset and Compassion

Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.

For as long as humans have dwelled on this planet, they have lived, worked, and survived together within groups.  There may be specific common characteristics across the human groupings and there may be characteristics unique to the groupings. Regardless of the groupings, a set of values emerges, often articulated by the dominant members of those groups and then those values are carried forward across generations of the groupings. These values actualize themselves in the form of ritualistic practices, rules, or norms for which the humans within that grouping live by.  These ritualistic practices, rules, and norms are often upheld and reinforced by the dominant members of the organization or by the ones who are given authority over the group. Violations of these rules and norms result in a continuum of reprimands for the violator.  The continuum of reprimands could include public or private shaming for the behavior, educational approaches/interventions, a variety of sanctions, an invitation to restore justice, imprisonment, or death.

Whenever a specific human grouping holds a value as an absolute truth to live by, that human grouping often wants other human groupings it comes across to adopt that value.  It is a sort of a, “this works so great for us, we have to tell you about and you just have to try it” kind of thing, but it can also be, “we had to jump through this hoop so you have to also” kind of a thing.  However, when that absolute truth is viewed  (whether real or perceived) as key to a particular human grouping’s survival, groups of humans will do whatever they need to do in order to keep that value alive, which may include doing whatever is necessary to extinguish any opposition to that real or perceived absolute truth.

This is not a new discovery for those of us who work in the education industry.  We witness the declaration of various groupings of human beings’ absolute truths to live by on one another every day.  This assertion of these truths among diverse groupings of human beings can take many forms.  For example, it can look like formalized academic debate with agreed upon rules for engagement, an assertation of unwritten rules that people are just supposed to know as in the process of getting tenure, a compassionate dialogue, or an emotionally vulnerable difficult conversation.  When one grouping’s absolute truth to live by is adopted above all other versions of human groupings’ absolute truths to live by, it can look and/or feel like a microaggression, a macroaggression, demands, oppression, harassment, hate speech, racism, sexism, or violence to name just a few.

Moving to agreement of what our common values are within higher education that inform our rules to live by can be difficult.   However, agreeing on our absolute truths to live by and describing what it looks like when we are living those out within a diverse community within higher education can be daunting.   As I have heard Jamie Washington, Past President of ACPA, proclaim on a number of occasions, “this is not a value free dialogue we are trying to have here”. Value laden discussion are messy. People’s feelings get hurt in value rich discussions. And people can understandably feel that the core of their identities are under attack, which means they may feel or experience emotional harm.  To critically examine the previous absolute truths that we have been consciously and unconsciously living by within higher education in order to explore, adapt, and adopt new absolute truths to live by so that allhuman beings feel heard, seen, and valued within this diverse community, then a growth mindset is in order.

Carol Dweck, Stanford University Professor and author of the book Mindset, defines a growth mindset as the understanding that skills, abilities, and intelligence can be cultivated.  With emerging neuroscience research, we know that there are many skillsets, once thought to be fixed, that are in fact malleable. Cultivating malleable neurocognitive skills such as openness, conscientiousness, empathy, compassion, emotion regulation, self-regulation, and a growth mindset may be crucial for our continued engagement in decolonization dialogue, design, assessment, and evidence-based informed actions within higher education.

What could this growth mindset look like for us as educators in the examination of and understandable challenge of previous absolute truths to live by so that we can collectively adopt new ones?  In their Bold Vision Forward Framework, the Association for College Personnel Administrators (ACPA, INC) has defined this explorative process as decolonization.  The definition of decolonization is “a long-term process of first recognizing and then divesting bureaucratic, cultural, linguistic, educational, and psychological power from colonizers” (p.11).  ACPA goes onto explain that “as a part of this process, it is essential to:

  • Be self-aware of our words and practice in order to develop and nurture a mindset different from the dominant paradigm,
  • Honor the land which has belonged to Indigenous people who were exterminated and/or removed against their will [we add here to also hold in reverence the continued existing pain and suffering of the land and the people], and
  • Not assume Indigenous people need fixing or need to adapt to the currently dominant culture” (p.12-15).

If you are reading this and don’t identify as a colonizer, I share this.  The family I was born into  migrated to Nebraska because the human grouping they belonged to in Eastern Europe were being oppressed  by another group who wanted their absolute truth to be adopted.   The family I was born into refused to adopt the other groupings’ absolute truth and resistance resulted in persecution and often, death.  So, they moved across the ocean and settled into a place where they worked for landowners who were descendants of people who stole the land from Indigenous people.  Eventually, my parents purchased land from descendants of people who stole the land from Indigenous people.  And then eventually, I purchased land from  descendants of people who stole the land from Indigenous people.  In a nutshell, to escape colonization, we bought into a colonized nation… as in literally bought into.  We didn’t buy into just the land we now call home, but we also bought into what we understood that it meant to be American.

One day when I came home from school, I told my father that people were asking where we came from. I saw a fearful and then angry face as he sternly said, “whenever anyone asks you that again, you tell them you are an American. You are an American.”  I heard him repeat this over and over again. I never asked him another question about what all that meant.  Around the dinner table in the evening is where we received our behavioral lessons. We learned how we were supposed to sit at a dinner table, hold utensils, dress, speak, use proper grammar, and we were told to never answer any questions about where we came from or what we believed in.  We were to work hard, get as much education as we could, go to church, pray our prayers, be generous with what we have, avoid becoming materialistic, fly under the radar at all times, and to stay very close to the family.  According to my father, these were the rules we had to learn in order to become successful.

I never thought that this was colonization; but I did know that it was an assimilation process which we were involved in and I willingly engaged out of deep respect for my father and all that he and his family had been through to give me a shot at becoming educated.  Later, I would learn that assimilation is a process inherent in colonized societies.  What didn’t escape me is that apparently, the family I was born into left a country where the colonizers were forcing absolute truths in which they couldn’t assimilate and moved to a country whose absolute truths they could assimilate.  And in this country, I experienced the most violent form of a colonized mindset; the one that often acts from a place of, “I can hurt you and get away with it.” In other words, “I can steal your land and kill your people and no one will hold me to justice for doing that.”    Many people dismiss this dialogue here as if colonization was a past act and not a present mindset.

Well, perhaps we have mis-characterized it and perhaps we have not.  Consider for an instance that there may be other forms of a colonized mindset that may appear less violent, yet are effective at causing internal harm.  Could one of them be, if you just work harder, you will get your degree?  And if you fail, it will be because you didn’t work hard enough.  It is a belief I was required to buy into in order to complete my degree.  Yes, I worked hard to get my college degree, but if a family I barely know wouldn’t have covered the $1,000 tuition, room and board bill that I literally had no way of paying in my senior year, it wouldn’t have mattered how hard I worked.  My degree would have been stalled.  With the course transfer policies in place in most states,  there was no less expensive way I could have found to complete my degree in one year; than to accept the generosity of a family I barely knew who paid the bill so that I could finish my undergraduate degree.  And still, in my academic journey to becoming a tenured full professor with a PhD, I have encountered all kinds of “I can do this to you and get away with it” experiences that had nothing to do with the work I was doing and all to do with who I was as a human being and sadly, I know I am not alone.

Colonized thinking is the thinking that we were told to “buy into” in order to “make it” through college and in this profession.  The colonized mindset, along with other fixed mindsets such as the SAT score is the predictor of academic student success,  influence how we examine our policies and practices and deem them fair.  In essence, without our examining the fixed mindsets – termed as a decolonization process – we will never understand what is needed for all students to achieve at a high level.

As a person wearing white skin who once believed several mentors and professors who told me I had no place in this conversation because I am wearing white skin and because of my passage as a colonizer, I share some lessons thus far from my growth mindset journey.  I trust that you will receive these lessons with loving kindness and a commitment that growth mindset for me means leaning into learning more and continually revising my lessons learned so the resulting actions open up more possibilities for genuine connection with and loving kindness and empowerment of all human beings, rather than the preservation of a system’s previous way of doing.

As I share these lessons, I thank the leadership of ACPA’s Strategic Imperative for Racial Justice and Decolonization conversations (particularly Jamie Washington and Craig Elliott), my colleagues at San Diego State University (particularly Lisa Gates and Frank Harris III), my colleagues within NASPA (particularly  Larry Roper and Penny Rue), and all the students I serve for teaching me these lessons that I am still learning.

  1. Acknowledge that we are living in and among the pain of oppression; the past is always in the present. And no amount of good-person-ness or good intentions will make that go away.  That doesn’t mean goodness is not appreciated; it means that we can’t expect to get pats on the back for demonstrating goodness.  There is simply too much work to do to restore past harms and heal.It can indeed take place with goodness, but good intentions alone are not going to help us all figure out a different way of being and doing that serves all human beings well.
  2. Love for all  human beings is at the center of this exploration and action; ithas to be. To quote Brene Brown from her 2018 book of Dare to Lead,we need to be in these conversations and resulting actions without armor and with a vulnerable, compassionate  heart.  However, the students I serve have told me countless times that being loving and vulnerable is not enough. Being loving may allow individual student empowerment, but across the organization, funding formulas undergirding policies and practices continue to prohibit individuals from succeeding. I firmly believe that being loving and vulnerable will open up doors to wisdom that can emerge, however, it must be tried on to see who it works for and how.
  3. Practice critiquing what is “not enough” in a way that invites movement toward understanding whatis enough for each human being and all the ways it can look depending on who is answering the question. It is easy to criticize, but it takes wisdom and courage to dive into the dialogue, create pilot programs and assess their effectiveness in a way that informs what we need next.  Questions such as those that follow allow us to discover the individual nature of human learning and development and also help us recognize when we are asking students and colleagues to make it work when it really doesn’t.  What does it look like for you when you feel you are being heard? What does it look like for you when you know you are being seen?  What does it look like for you when your identities matter in this place and time or in this difficult conversation?
  4. Accept that you are going to fail and learn from that failure in a way that informs what’s next. Barb Snyder, former Vice President of the University of Utah and University of Nebraska-Kearney, once told me that if you want to do this work, you have to accept that you are going to have the best day in your life and the worst day in your life and experience it all in the same day.  Since that piece of useful wisdom was adopted, I would add to it another piece of advice from Brene Brown’s 2018Dare to Lead book, “embrace the suck.” It hurts to fail and it hurts to not know how to fix it, but that is not an excuse not to engage in trying on something that may work well for at least one more human being. Ask, what about this failure worked for whom?  And what about this failure did not work for whom?  And why, if possible to discover.
  5. Inform the work that needs to be done with explicit honoring of the work that has been done. This is not to say, as ACPA leaders attest, that we can hide behind a statement about all the work that still needs to be done by focusing on what we have accomplished.We have accomplished a great deal. However, consider analyzing what is working well within the context of informing what’s next. Engaging in outcomes-based assessment where you involve the students’ voice and your colleagues’ voices in describing what it looked like when it was working for whom and what was happening when it worked and how did you know that, can be incredibly useful for validating what did go well while also informing what needs to be done next for whom.
  6. All identities matter and there is work to do to hold all identities with reverence while meeting the shame that arose, arises, or is still present from perhaps skillfully hiding in, behind, or simply hiding that identity or intersecting of identities.  In essence, shame can arise when the implicit is not made explicit or when identities are mis-appropriated and as a result, dialogue closes.   In the same context, it is important to recognize that not all of the human beings we serve within higher education want their identities brought forward.  Some religious and spiritual practices seek to embody a self-less presence.  In essence, identifying with the self at all is not welcomed or invited.  No-self is an identity that also must be honored and respected if we are to practice what it looks like when all identities matter.
  7. Whois saying what   I need to hold with reverent awareness and compassion that identities may be visibly present, mis-appropriated, or assumed. I need to learn from the pain that was created by how my words landed.  For me, receiving compassionate coaching or feedback from people who know my heart and expect me to get back into the dialogue to discover what is possible next is pertinent to cultivating a growth mindset.  As Jamie Washington says, this is not a performance of the political correctness in which we used to train people. When he states that who is saying what matters, he is talking about a genuine way to cultivate the self-awareness aspect of the growth mindset that begins with an individual, moves into social grouping(s), and then moves onto organizational functioning.
  8. Actively practice compassion and self-compassion. We keep telling the students we serve that if we knew how to serve each one of them in a way where they felt fully honored for who they are at all times, we would have written a book and been making money off of the consulting.  We remind them and ourselves that we are in this practice of living social justice as a way of being with them in all of this and that means I’m going to mess up and you are going to mess up.  If love for all human beings is at the center, as ACPA leaders remind us, then we can give each other space, time, and resources to care for ourselves so that we can return to the dialogue, dynamically discover, and subsequently act upon what we do and don’t know while holding the question,what does respect,  justice, and genuine care look like for you in this situation?  Are we resourced (internally and externally) to co-create that for everyone in every situation?  And if not, what would it look like to be able to co-create that?
  9. Actively practice self-compassion and give permission to others to do the same. This is repeated for emphasis here because I have so many, “oh s _ _ t” moments when I amin this;  as in, “oh s _ _ t, I just did that or said that or didn’t do that or didn’t say that” moments.  Without the mindfulness-based self-compassion practice, I wouldn’t know when to withdraw to re-fuel or re-source (e.g., re-building internal resources) so I can re-enter the dialogue.  Instead, I would be out lost in my story of “not enough,” which I have done in the past.  And that in and of itself is an “oh s_ _ t” painful memory moment.  One of my mentors continually reminds me to write out a stack of mindful self-compassion permissions slips to use for myself and to also hand out to others for their own personal use.
  10. Practice mindful compassion with mindful compassion. Mindfulness and compassion are grossly misunderstood terms and practices. Nonetheless, it is important to acknowledge that while they are powerful evidence-based practices to decrease stress and anxiety, decrease implicit bias, stereotype threat, and implicit racism, and increase a myriad of other positive outcomes, many of the practices are intended to invite one to detach from the identities that one holds as important so that we can connect with each other first as human beings.  This can leave a mindful compassion practitioner who cares deeply about being seen and honored for their identities with a feeling that mindful compassion is covert colonization. That is not its intention but it could be its felt outcome if not practiced with awareness that identities do matter to many and they are in the room.  The practice of mindful compassion requires an explicit statement of what common humanity is – an avenue to connect with self and others in a genuine way.  It is not the marginalization of identities.

In closing, it seems apparent that we don’t need any more evidence that what we have been doing for centuries within American higher education is working for everyone.  And even for those who it appears it has worked as in they have graduated within four-years, or been promoted to professor with tenure, the health and well-being costs for many have been enormous. I don’t know how to fix that or heal those who have been harmed.  As such, I welcome hearing the lessons have you discovered and how have you discovered them in your journey with a growth mindset to co-create a new set of absolute truths that will work for everyone within our higher education community.

Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D. serves a professor of postsecondary educational administration at San Diego State University. She can be reached at mbrescia@sdsu.edu