Undergraduate Academic Affairs

August 12, 2022

An act of bridging

Ed Taylor

Photo of Ed Taylor talking via a computer.

Vice Provost and Dean Ed Taylor co-chaired the Mind & Life Institute’s summer conference this year.

This June I had the privilege and opportunity to co-chair the Mind and Life’s 2022 Summer Research Institute, convening for its 19th year. This weeklong immersive opportunity for conversations is indeed unique: People across disciplines engage in deep dialogue, integrated with first-person reflection and contemplative practices. It is in this space that we collectively foster rich and meaningful understandings of the mind and of society. We focus on the issues pressing upon us and imagine, and even name, the actions that might bring us toward the real-world outcomes we wish to see.

As part of this year’s programming, I held conversation with john a. powell, director of the Othering and Belonging Institute and professor of law, African American, and ethnic studies at University of California, Berkeley. The focus of our discussion was bridging as a tool for facilitating compassionate engagement. john a. powell poetically describes bridging as “the potential mutuality of vulnerability, a potential exploration that doesn’t have a clear goal.” In other words, bridging is what happens when we are listening to people in order to see them instead of listening in order to change them.

This June also brought about the return of the faculty field tour after a two year pandemic hiatus. UW faculty and colleagues from across disciplines joined one another in similar fashion to the Mind and Life Summer Institute. From different academic departments and areas of research, we sat together on a bus, traveling through Washington state, engaging in deep and meaningful conversations. We witnessed the land and the people who live here, from the hallways of our governing capitol building in Olympia, down to the Grand Coulee Dam where the Columbia River was once flooded and industry ended the traditional ways of the Colville Tribes. We traveled to the Yakima Farm Workers Clinic and met those who care for the health of the migrant farm workers who harvest the foods that sustain us all. We witnessed collectively. We witnessed with curiosity. As we traveled across highways and backroads, our intention was not to change minds. Our goal was not to serve a political interest. We traveled as an act of bridging. To really see the state and the people we serve, as a public research university.

One might ask why it matters, why bridging matters, for the undergraduate academic experience. What does it mean for those of us who lead, who teach, who support our undergraduates and programming, what does it mean for us to be actively engaged in the act of bridging? To be learning how to listen with compassion?

Last October I had a conversation on creating a compassionate university with Megan Kennedy, grant recipient of the Mind and Life Institute and director of the UW Resilience Lab. I asked her, “What is the role of compassion at a public research university”? Megan shared, “We can look at all sorts of research on the benefits of different resilience coping skills, the benefits of mindfulness, the benefits of compassion and self-compassion, the benefits of growth, and the mindset of gratitude. All of these things have a research basis, and they do belong in the research-1 institution.” Compassion is how we build resilience, hence it is compassion that is at the heart of the Resilience Lab’s work at the UW.

We collectively strive to be an ever more compassionate institution. With goals stretching beyond our work to have undergraduates feel supported through their academic experience. We do so to support students on their pathway toward being thoughtful and engaged citizens of the world. We work together to create and sustain a culture that nurtures students. We do this so they achieve academic success and excellence, and — perhaps more importantly — so they graduate understanding and having experienced compassion, deep understanding of issues that matter, and they have developed a sense of service and leadership to carry forward and make a positive impact in the world. We are holding ourselves accountable to a student population of bridgers, interdependent and transdisciplinary, bridgers to address the crisis and challenges of our times.

As john a. powell shared at the summer conference, “we have to develop a practice of connecting. A practice of actually seeing each others’ humanity and realizing their humanity and our humanity are actually profoundly interconnected.” To root our work with compassion, across our differences, across our communities. I can imagine no greater purpose for a public research university, and for our work here at Undergraduate Academic Affairs.

I hope that you, too, have enjoyed your summer months. I look forward to our upcoming academic year and all the bridging we will do together.