The Compassionate Campus Initiative (CCI) is comprised of individuals with a special concern for making Rhodes College a kinder and more mindful community. First convened in the autumn of 2015 through the efforts of President Bill Troutt, the CCI began as a small group of faculty and staff members whose personal and professional interests embraced the practices of compassion and contemplative studies.
In our first meetings, President Troutt invited the group to imagine ways we could make Rhodes a more compassionate campus. We first considered what a compassionate campus might look like. These initial gatherings resulted in the following statement outlining the broad contours of such a vision:
- A compassionate campus is where everyone feels welcomed and valued, even to the extent of feeling a palpable atmosphere of kindness and hospitality.
- A compassionate campus is where one feels free to talk about compassion and kindness, and there is a continuing conversation about the nature of compassion.
- A compassionate campus is one where people listen well and feel comfortable to speak their minds, observing wholesome speech.
- A compassionate campus is where we give careful and deliberate attention to identifying suffering in the college community and seeking to address it.
- A compassionate campus is one where we discuss the role of compassion in service and service-learning courses.
- A compassionate campus is one where there are opportunities for learning the skills that comprise compassion.
- A compassionate campus is a mindful campus.
- A compassionate campus is a relaxed campus.
- A compassionate campus evolves gradually through the efforts of many and not by administrative decree.
- A compassionate campus is one where acts of compassion are identified and praised.
- A compassionate campus is one where the classroom is a hospitable environment.
- A compassionate campus is one where people take joy in the success of others.
- A compassionate campus is one where individuals are free to take moments during the day to reflect on the most important things in life.
Subsequent meetings of the CCI have been held about twice a month to discuss specific ways of achieving these ideals. As the conversations evolved, specific areas of interest have been identified and work has begun. Currently, the CCI is actively involved in the following projects:
Creating a Space for Mindful Reflection
The CCI is working to make Bellingrath Chapel a space dedicated to contemplation, prayer, and meditation for all members of the Rhodes community.
The CCI is committed to bringing speakers to campus to create greater awareness of its ideals and to stimulate discussion and action among members of the Rhodes community. Our inaugural speaker was Mr. Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Mohandas K. Gandhi. Mr. Gandhi spoke on “Consciousness, Compassion, and Commitment: Ingredients for a Peaceful Society” on 16 February 2016.
You can view Mr. Gandhi's talk here.
The speaker for 2017 was Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine. Dr. Kabat-Zinn spoke to a capacity audience about the role of meditation in developing skills of greater compassion and empathy.
You can view Dr. Kabat-Zinn's talk here.
Cultivating Compassion in Academic Communities
During the Spring 2017 semester, the CCI hosted a daylong conference on fostering compassion in schools and colleges. The symposium addressed both the pedagogy of compassion and how educational institutions can be more compassionate environments. Presenters included representatives from Centre College, the Jed Foundation, Emory University, the iChange Collaborative, Yale School of Medicine, Lausanne Collegiate School, Georgia State University, the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center College of Medicine, as well as faculty from Rhodes.
Once each semester, student associates of the CCI sponsor a free community supper for everyone affiliated with the college. Participants are invited to share a meal and discuss issues of vital concern to the campus. In addition, student associates sponsor a weekly mindful lunch in the Burrow Refectory.
The CCI is overseeing the development of new courses specifically designed to teach contemplative studies and cultivate compassion. Such courses will include topics such as:
- compassion in action: service and activism
- mindfulness practices
- caring for the planet: the connection to environment and conservation
- suffering: seeing it and responding to it
- the science of mindfulness and compassion
- compassion for self and others
- gratitude and entitlement
- generosity and hospitality
- exemplars of mindfulness and compassion
- compassion in the light of race, gender, sexual orientation, and other aspects of identity that may be at greater risk for suffering
Introduction to Contemplative Practices
The mind is a great ally but a terrible master. In this experiential course, we will explore a number of simple but powerful meditative techniques to help make the mind a friend rather than a tyrant. Students will learn skills to increase awareness, cultivate compassion for self and others, reduce stress, and live more wholesome lives.
Instructors: Rob Dove, Eric Gottlieb, Dhammika Muesse, Mark Muess, and guests
Broadening the Conversation
The CCI is interested in inviting other members of the campus into the greater conversation about compassion and mindful living. We are now seeking ways to include students, staff, faculty, and friends of the College in the discussion. For more information, contact Professor Mark W. Muesse at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more about the Compassionate Campus Initiative from the Commercial Appeal.