Meet Your New Graduate Student Government Board Members!

Did you know DU’s Graduate Student Government has 4 new members? We’re excited to introduce you to your new president, vice president, director of inclusive excellence, and director of communications! Check out who they are and what they plan to do in their newly appointed positions. Like all of you, they are grad students experiencing the ups and downs of postgraduate education. Be sure to read the advice that each of them have to share with you all!

Ariel Zarate

GSG Position: President; Major: 1st year master’s student enrolled in a dual degree program with the Josef Korbel School of International Studies and the Graduate School of Social Work.

Why did you apply and what do you hope to accomplish? I enjoy being challenged and felt this was a great opportunity to develop valuable leadership and diplomacy skills while working on campus initiatives in which I have already been involved. I hope to continue to build upon GSG’s currently existing programs as well as facilitate partnerships between schools. I want to break out of the he existing silo structure and create spaces for mutual learning outside of the classroom. Additionally, I aim to advance diversity and inclusion initiatives across campus, again using collaboration and integrated learning and development methods.

What are you studying/researching? I am currently researching mental health interventions in conflict settings focusing on community based interventions targeting and developed by women.

What has been your biggest challenge and what’s your advice for your fellow DU grad students? My biggest challenge has been balancing external opportunities and graduate work. My interests are broad and I often find myself wanting to pursue more. I am currently working toward this goal so the best advice I can think of is to be organized and to research something you are passionate about. I have greatly enjoyed my research thus far because the scope of work drives my graduate school and professional career ambitions.

Michael Fiorini

GSG Position: Vice President; Major: 1st year PsyD in the Graduate School of Professional Psychology’s (GSPP) Clinical Psychology Program

Why did you apply and what do you hope to accomplish? I’ve been involved in GSG as a senator for GSPP for the past year and during that time have helped spearhead initiatives for inclusiveness in GSPP and at DU more broadly. I think we are in great position to better integrate DU’s different schools and departments for cohesiveness, community, and greater collaboration; I aim to be integral to that process. I look forward to facilitating our GSG representative transition and continuing the work we’ve already done regarding grad student campus integration. Pet projects include: continued access for grad students to DU facilities and benefits like our fitness center and RTD passes.

What are you studying/researching? I practice as a psychotherapist in training for the DU community and neighborhood, as well as for a program rehabilitating criminals on parole from around the state. Academically I work for a research group studying the cognitive effects of traumatic brain injury in athletes. 

What has been your biggest challenge what’s your advice for your fellow DU grad students? I think my biggest challenge as a grad student is our visibility, funding, and agency as a presence on campus. Given how much we contribute to the University, I think there is a lot of room for improving our general standing in campus affairs. Probably the best thing you can do is to be confident in your abilities. If you have believe in yourself and trust in your ability, when you hear about a new study being conducted you’ll be more willing and able to participate. As far as publishing independent work, it might feel like it’s a difficult thing to do at first. It’s possible you’ll get rejected or asked to edit your work before consideration, but don’t let that get you down. If you keep at it and find out about relevant journals or publishers, eventually you will find one that will be interested if the work itself is solid. You’re helping them out just as much as they’re helping you!

Amanda Meise

GSG Position: Director of Inclusive Excellence; Major: 3rd year PhD student in Communication Studies

Why did you apply and what do you hope to accomplish? This position is in direct relation to graduate research and aspirations. I have spent the past two years exploring Inclusive Excellence (IE), assessing campus climate, and working on several campus initiatives to help bring the goals of IE to fruition. I hope that this position will enable me to continue to expand the reach of my dialogues, understanding and contribution to moving DU as a community towards becoming the Inclusively Excellent space it strives to be. I hope to create a campus-wide dialogue about what IE means, the state of the current institutional climate, and how we can work collectively with the community to raise awareness of IE.

What are you studying/researching? My research includes topics of sexual violence, critical race studies, new materialist feminism, dialogue and IE. I work with Dr. Joshua Hanan in Communication Studies and Dr. Frank Tuitt who is the Senior Advisor to the Chancellor and Provost on Inclusive Excellence. In my dissertation I will be considering how communication scholars can add to the growing body of research on Inclusive Excellence at predominantly white institutions (PWIs).

What has been your biggest challenge what’s your advice for your fellow DU grad students? My biggest challenge as a grad student has been time management within the quarter system and finding the time for self-care. My advice would be to find a faculty member to mentor you through the process of submissions and revisions.

Gabe Conley

GSG Position: Director of Communications; Major: 1st year master’s student in Morgridge College of Education’s Higher Education Program

Why did you apply? I strongly believe in the power of student voices and the Director of Communications position gives me the opportunity to bridge the gap between graduate students and their relationship at DU. I am exited the help spread awareness and promote campus-wide events here at DU.

Why did you apply and what do you hope to accomplish? I hope to develop a better understanding of DU’s campus structure and climate to find possible solutions for establishing a close-knit graduate community. I also aspire to enhance a deep knowledge about my role in order to be an effective Director for Communications. I am currently doing research on retention issues on college campuses and solutions for closing the achievement gap between majority and minority student populations.

What has been your biggest challenge what’s your advice for your fellow DU grad students? My biggest challenge as a graduate student is commuting and getting hungry after being on campus all day! I would recommend that all grad students use the citation management software RefWorks to store all your references. It’s free through the DU library and comes quite in handy and saves you the time and energy. The library periodically offers workshops on Refworks which are also super helpful!

DU English PhD Student Wins 92 Y “Discovery” / Boston Review Poetry Prize

 

Photo credit: Benjamin Finan

PhD student Diana Nguyen’s hard work is starting to pay off. Not only did she win the 92 Y “Discovery”/Boston Review poetry prize, but she also won Omnidawn’s 2016 Open Book Poetry Contest and is finishing all the edits for her upcoming book which will be published in April 2018! While we eagerly await her book release we’re excited to share with you Diana’s thoughts about her work, winning the 92 Y Discovery prize, and experiences as DU a grad student.

Researcher- Diana Khoi Nguyen is a 2nd year PhD student in the English Department’s Creative Writing Track.

Current Writing- I recently completed a manuscript of poems, Ghost Of, which won Omnidawn’s 2016 Open Book Poetry Contest and will be published in April 2018. My “Discovery” poems are included in this manuscript; the manuscript explores personal and family histories, trauma, and grief. It also touches briefly upon my parents’ flight from Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon.

At DU, I’ve worked with professors Bin Ramke and Eleni Sikelianos (who are both poets), and have also been inspired by my time with professors Eric Gould and Selah Saterstrom. For my dissertation, which will comprise the bulk of my next manuscript, I hope to explore the exodus of Vietnamese refugees from Vietnam at the end of the War; this project aims to examine refugees and children of refugees in various diaspora communities of the U.S., Cambodia, Australia, France, and elsewhere. I will be traveling to these communities to conduct interviews and listen to other families’ histories and stories.

Winning the 92 Y “Discovery” / Boston Review Poetry Prize- My submission was a collection of multimedia poetry that works through my grief process; poetry that also explores spaces in which I consider the past, present, and future—for myself, and for my family. This work emerged after the death of my brother who died in 2014 at the age of 24. Two of my poems, Overture and Gyotaku, are currently featured on the Boston Review’s website.

Biggest Challenge- It has been difficult to find a way to be inclusive in my personal grief, and create bridges to others (family, friends, strangers) via my work—in a way that feels new to me. As if anything could be new these days…

Advice for DU Grad Students- I urge everyone to find what it is they care most deeply about—and excavate that thing in all the ways they can imagine (and haven’t yet conceived of). Don’t worry about publishing—pursue what is the core of you, get lost in the search/discovery, and publication will follow later.

Here’s one of Diana’s poems that will be included in her forthcoming collection. An audio of a live reading is available at the end.

GHOST OF

1

The night before their youngest child is born, a man and woman watch Oliver Twist (1948), name their only son Oliver. The family rejoices and for several years indulge their newest member, even though they are industrious refugees who previously celebrated nothing, even though they also have two daughters.

The eldest daughter resembles her brother until she wakes up one morning from a dream in which he was a tyrant. Soon after, her hips widen, one lone hair grows in her armpit. Sometimes the daughter feels like a son and sometimes the son feels like a shadow—like hosiery, alienable—he says to his first grade teacher: “You can’t draw inside the body. So why try to draw what’s inside the body at all?”

2

If one has no brother, then one used to have a brother. There is, you see, no shortage of gain and loss.

Let’s admit without embellishment what we do with each other. When the daughter begins to walk, it is apparent that she ambles pigeon-toed. A doctor tells her alarmed parents that no surgery is needed, just some rollerskating. Each day after work, the father helps his daughter stay upright on her skates.

If you have a father, then you also have a son.

A child has difficulty weaning from nursing bottle to glass of milk. Concise in her expression of impatience, the mother pours a gallon of milk over the girl’s head.

A tiger came across a donkey and having never seen a donkey before, mistook it for a god.

After everyone has gone to bed, an eldest child hoists her younger brother over her shoulders, then a sheet over his shoulders, and they sway as one into the middle sister’s room.

Who is weak and who is weaker and what does relativity have to do with it?

3

Let me tell you a story about refugees. A mother and her dead son sit in the back seat of his car. It’s intact, in their garage, and he is buckled in; she brushes the hair behind his ear. This is the old country and this is the new country and the air in the car is the checkpoint between them.

Let me tell you a story about seat belts. While driving her children to the local pool, a mother enumerates to her children their failures.There was a mother, she says, who put her children in a car, sewing their seat belts so they couldn’t unbuckle them, who drove them off a seaside cliff.

A boy on a unicycle goes round and round a lighthouse, dodging tourists, ridicule, and awe. He doesn’t go up, he doesn’t fall down.

Son, says the mother, meaning child not her husband. Son, says the father, whose name is Son. Sister, says the son, lying in a coffin. To hell with family, says the rest of the family.

4

A brother is a brother when he has at least one sibling. The brother believes he is not a brother but one in name only.

When the brother meets a couple his parents’ age, he takes the time to tell them he’s an only child and an orphan. The three of them agree that one must not be without family, that there must be at least two in a family, that three is even better. They embrace and the couple encourages the brother, the brother waiting for the other shoe to drop. Whose shoe? His or the couple’s?

Five pairs of shoes dangle from the pole of a traffic light. Over time, birds make a nest in each hollow, each separate space.

Put yourself in someone else’s bird nest.

5

“Your hat is Mexican … ?” asks a sailor in Côte d’Azur.

“No, it’s Moroccan.”

“Are you from Japan?” asks a Moroccan shopkeeper in Marseille.

“No, I’m American.”

Is belonging and fulfillment possible without family? No. Is it possible with family? No.

You cannot connect if you keep answering no.
 You cannot keep your brother alive if you keep your mouth shut. You cannot keep your brother alive.

At camp, some counselors take the kids on an excursion into the woods, leading them in a game of hide-and-seek. One boy, a deaf child who was also going blind, hid so well that they couldn’t find him and he didn’t find his way back. He had done everything right—

Nabokov says, “The lost glove is happy.”

Is the lost brother happy?

6

A man lies in an open grave after a body is taken out of it. This practice is said to lengthen life expectancy. The brother imagines his bed is a nest in which his body is removed.

There’s a story about a man galloping by another man who asks, “Where are you going?”

“Ask my hearse,” says the man.

“I was never lost in the jungle,” says a father, “just looking for a way out.”

“Ghost Of” retrieved from The Poetics of Haunting in Asian American Poetry. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Graduate Citings: Tales from the Field – Xochilt

profile-picture-xochilt-alamilloThis week we’re happy to share with you the work of GSSW alumnae Xochilt Alamillo. Xochilt received her master’s degree in 2016 and is now working as a school-based therapist at Aurora Mental Health. While at DU, Xochilt’s scholarship brought attention to social justice issues surrounding health services for disadvantaged communities and as a grad student she helped develop the HIV, Alcohol, and other Drugs Needs Assessment with a community of Mexican American Indians in Washington.

Researcher: Xochilt Alamillo, alumnae from the Graduate School of Social Work master’s degree program.

Current Research: I am currently interning at the Aurora Mental Health Center as a school-based therapist, where I provide therapy services to youth of color and their families at Aurora Central High School. As a student at DU I had the privilege of working with various faculty on and off campus on different research projects, most of which involved direct work with the Latino community. Most recently, I assisted Dr. Ramona Beltran, in the Graduate School of Social Work, on an HIV, Alcohol, and other Drugs Needs Assessment with a community of Mexican American Indians in Washington.

I also served as a Family Coach on a randomized control trial team at DU that collaborates with the University of Oregon, and originates from Harvard University. Filming Interactions to Nurture Development (FIND) is a video coaching program that aims to strengthen positive interactions between caregivers and children. It uses select clips of adults engaging with children to reinforce the kinds of responses that are the foundation of healthy development. In this position, I had the opportunity to conduct home visits with families in the program and coach them using this intervention.

It was also my great honor to serve as the Navigation Chair for DU’s Latina/o Graduate Association in 2016. As an organization we collaborated to bring a Dia de los Muertos event to campus, a La Raza Writing Group series, as well as the amazing spoken word duo, Sister Outsider. Most importantly, we helped to provide a safe space for Latinos on campus.

Collaborators: In regard to research, I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Ramona Beltran on a couple of projects. Her scholarship focuses on intersections of trauma, environmental elements, and other determinants of health among indigenous communities. I have learned a great deal from her as an indigenous woman and as a scholar.

I also had the pleasure of working with Dr. Omar Gudiño, in the department of psychology on a project to explore what encourages or discourages Latino parents from seeking mental health services for their children. The impact of his work within the Latino community, and youth specifically, is truly inspiring.

Initial Inspiration: I am passionate about working with my Latino community, especially youth. I have three young children and I am inspired by them daily to go out and do what I can to contribute to our community.

Biggest Challenge: Saying no! I loved being involved at DU and there were so many interesting projects I wanted to be a part of, but I just didn’t have enough time or energy to do everything.

Research Advice: For students who might be in a program, such as mine, that does not necessarily require research the way that a PhD program might, I would advise to get yourself out there and get to know faculty and other students as much as you can. If you are interested in research, don’t be afraid to let people know that you are interested in working on projects with them, or that you have an idea for one. You would be surprised at how much people are willing to help and include you.

Ask a Vet: Army Vet Discusses What Brought Him to DU

Josef Korbel master’s student and Army vet, Chris Mamaux, has some advice for his fellow DU veterans: No excuses. Crush it. He will be sharing more about what drives him and what it was like transitioning from active military to graduate school at DUSVA’s Ask A Veteran Anything event today from 12-1. Here’s a little snippet of his he’s learned over the years and what motivated him to explore the first-hand effects of non-functioning states across the Middle East/South Asia:

How long were you on active duty? I served 5 years of active duty for the U.S. Army, working in the Parachute and Stryker Infantry units.

Where did you serve? I served in a variety of different locales including:

  • Georgia– I received my initial and advanced Infantry training, as well as Airborne School, commonly known as Jump School in the Peach State.
  • North Carolina– Next I moved to North Carolina where I served in a line Company within the 82nd Airborne Division’s 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
  • Texas– Then my travels took me to Texas where I served in a line Troop within the 3d Cavalry Regiment’s Sabre Squadron.
  • Afghanistan– Finally, I was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), to Logar Province, Afghanistan. Here I conducted a variety of missions including partner operations with an Afghan National Army brigade and securing and escorting the ballots for the RC (regional command) East in the 2014 election. Missions ranged from the mundane to the unique during our time there, and culminated into a massive effort in the fall of 2014. During this time we worked to strategically degrade the ability of the Taliban to continue to stage attacks in and around Kabul by surging into a district in the south of Logar which had not seen US/Coalition forces since 2011.

What was the hardest part about transitioning to civilian life? Everything moves at an incredibly fast pace in the military, even when you are playing the “hurry up and wait game.” Leaving that environment and getting back into the “real world” can feel like being dropped from warp speed. The pitfall to avoid in that instance is letting yourself get too comfortable with the slower pace and losing sight of what you need to do in order to achieve your personal and professional goals.

What are you studying at DU? I am pursuing my interest in the nexus of development and security in Josef Korbel’s International Security master’s program. I am specifically interested in seeing the first-hand effects of non-functioning states across the Middle East/South Asia, and trying to understand how security provides the atmosphere for development. I suspect that, after certain thresholds have been met, this will in turn require less security down the road. My scholarship is not for a thesis, nor a substantial research paper per se, but it drives how I structure my courses as well as topics I choose for required papers/projects.

Do you have any recommendations for other veterans transitioning from active duty to university life? Any higher level academic setting is going to be a challenge, not just for you, for everyone. We’re all in the same boat, and yes, there will be times when elevated stress will be the norm – for a short while. The tasks you face will be different, but not harder than what you’ve accomplished in the military. This is your time to succeed in a different arena you also volunteered to enter. No excuses. Crush it.

*Don’t miss DUSVA’s Ask A Veteran Anything event this today from 12-1! Ten DU student veterans will be sharing their diverse experiences while serving our country and transition to civilian life.

Ask a Vet: Marine Corps Veteran and DU Student Shares His Journey

Happy Monday Pios! We are very excited to highlight the military and university experiences of master’s student Conner Swett. Conner is a first year master’s student in the International Security program at the Korbel School of International Studies. His research focus is on international development and security. He’ll be presenting on the Ask A Veteran Anything panel tomorrow at 12, but we wanted to get things started a little early and give you a sneak peak!

How long were you on active duty? I served in the Marine Corps for 9 years and 3 months, reaching the rank of Staff Sergeant.

Where did you serve? I was lucky to have served on 5 major continents including a position in the U.S. at the Pentagon! Here’s a breakdown of my travels:

  • Okinawa, Japan 2008 – 2009
  • Marine Corps Embassy Security Guard
    • Pretoria South Africa 2010 – 2011
    • Asuncion, Paraguay 2011 – 2012
    • Moscow, Russia 2012-2013
  • Office of the Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Headquarters Marine Corps, The Pentagon 2013 – 2016

What was the hardest part about transitioning to civilian life? I would say dropping everything and moving across to the country to attend graduate school was one of the hardest parts. I came to DU with a lot of unknowns. Once I was accepted I immediately put my stuff in storage, packed my car up, and attempted to drive from Washington to DC to Denver. Unfortunately, my car broke down on the way and I ended up taking a train and just barely made the first day of school this past winter quarter!

Another difficult aspect of transitioning to university life was not having the support staff that I had gotten so used to. I had become so comfortable with having offices for events in the area, financial/education, admin to help me with my pay, and a legal office to provide me free legal services. Oh and the lack of insurance and figuring that out. That was something I never had to think of before. (I am still pumped that I get gym access!)

What brought you to DU? I lived in South Africa for a year and fell in love with the area. Over the years, I have read more about the continent to stay aware of the political events, history, cultures of the individual countries. Those aspects instilled me with the desire to focus on international development that region. Korbel’s program International Security seemed like a perfect fit for that. Right now I’m taking my first development class this quarter and those I have met in the class have been amazing and have kept my interest in development going strong.

Do you have any recommendations for other veterans transitioning from active duty to university life?

  1. Reach out to the SVA. The SVA staff and members have gone through the same stuff you have and will have some advice. It also gives you a place to socialize with other veterans and you can discuss (or vent) on your transition and student life.
  2. Get involved with a club or group. Leaving the military can seem lonely and you can feel like there’s a lack of direction. You were a Marine, a soldier, or a sailor, that was who were and it can be a shock that that’s not you anymore. I was warned about it, but it wasn’t until a few months later that it hit me. Joining a club or group or getting involved in the community of the school is a great way to find that new role and mission to help out.
  3. Meet new people but don’t jump in with talking about the military. Sounds strange but it’s comparable to going to college and talking all about high school or going to a new unit and only talking about your past unit. It’s hard for other people to relate and build a connection with you and that’s what university life is about, meeting new people and expanding your perceptions. I found that I had a lot in common with people once I stopped talking solely about my Marine Corps life all the time, which really helped me adjust to my new life. Let’s be clear, I’m not ashamed or hiding that I’m Marine, I just don’t go waving it around.

*Curious to learn more? Don’t miss DUSVA’s Ask A Veteran Anything event this Tuesday! (Also, there will be free lunch from Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill!)

Ask a Vet: US Army Vet Reflects on His Transition to University Life at DU

So much goes into the transition from active duty to civilian life for a veteran, especially when it comes to integration into a university. This Tuesday, 10 student veterans will be sharing their diverse experiences while serving our country and transition to civilian life at DUSVA’s Ask a Veteran Anything event. We hope you’ll be able to join DU faculty, staff, students and alums as they ask DU veteran students about their varied perspectives. Today we’re excited to highlight one of those student veterans, Dan Rouse. Dan Rouse is a graduate student enrolled in Daniels College of Business’ Executive MBA Program (EMBA).

How long were you on active duty? My total service in the U.S. Army comprised 27 years. I served 23 years as an officer, and 4 years as an enlisted soldier.

Dan in Tibet

Where did you serve? I guess all over is too broad, but I did cover some serious distance whilst serving in 5 of the 10 Army divisions. After Ranger School, I started out in Hawaii with the 25th Infantry Division. Next was the 101st Airborne in Kentucky. Following that I went back to Hawaii and did three years of POW/MIA investigations and recoveries. Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) kicked off and I did a year there. Then I went to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for a year at the Command and Staff College, before stationing at Fort Bliss, Texas, with the 1st Cavalry Division/1st Armored Division and followed by15 months in Iraq. Finally, I went back to Hawaii for 3 years of POW/MIA missions and then retired from the 82nd Airborne, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Overall I’ve worked in the United States, Australia, New Guinea, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, China, Tibet, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Kuwait, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates!

What was the hardest part about transitioning to civilian life? Actually, two things come to mind. The first, and most significant, was the loss of purpose. No matter “the suck,” when you’re in the military, you always had a sense of duty to a higher cause, whether it was to your comrades, your unit, or the basic oath to “Defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign or domestic.” You were a part of a distinct culture with its own values and norms. So the cultural dislocation was huge. You live your life as a member of it, but end as an employee moving on. It’s hard to get that same feeling from turning a profit, etc.

The second, for me anyway, was finding my next career. I did my time and could have had all the “security” t-shirts I wanted, but I had no desire to be a government contractor/beltway bandit or get a government job. When you put those restrictions on future choices, the prospects dim a little. As one recruiter candidly put it, “I’m looking for round pegs for round holes and you’re an oval.” I was either overqualified (meaning they didn’t think I’d stick around very long) or didn’t have the right background experience. Bluntly, too many civilian recruiters and HR folks considered me too expensive. HR computerized applicant tracking systems didn’t really digest military resumes very well – even when they’re “civilianized” by resume reviewers. These two components, along with many others, were what motivated me to pursue the EMBA program in Daniels; civilian credentials and networking as “mercenary” as it sounds.

Do you have any recommendations for other veterans transitioning from active duty to university life? Treat your education as you treated your service; you can’t just show up. You need to maintain the work ethic and discipline you had when you were in service and transition it to your studies. Build connections with your professors, alumni, peers, etc.; they may be the key connection to your next career. For undergraduates: you have life experience advantages that almost none of your peers do, so use them. “S2” your situation (most service members will know what “S2” is) and get the most out of your university experience (which doesn’t end at attending class or getting good grades).

*Curious to learn more? Don’t miss DUSVA’s Ask A Veteran Anything event this Tuesday!

Collaborative Classrooms, or the Art of Letting Go

– By Dr. Julia Roncoroni, Counseling Psychology, Morgridge College of Education

 My first day teaching college was awful. No, no, take note. I mean that. I knew the drill: you stand in front of the classroom, you pull up a digital presentation, you talk, and you command control. Students, well, they just stay quiet and listen. Except for I was bored, really, really bored. And I know students were too. I could not decide if it was my uncharming tone, the lack of animation in my slides, or the classroom lighting… but I was doing what teachers do, and students weren’t buying it.

Paulo Freire suggests that, in the traditional model of teaching, we view students as “empty vessels.” So we teach how we were taught, and we measure success accordingly: the more we fill the receptacles, the better professors we are. And students typically buy into the model. In fact, they are often baffled by the proposal that “this is [their] class and [they] decide what form it takes.” Many students go into courses thinking, “education happens to them.” If they sign up and show up for class, as professors, we will do something that will transform what/how much they know about a topic.

Yet, education is a deeply civic and moral exercise, an inherently political practice that enables students to expand on the possibilities of what it means to be critical citizens of their worlds. Capturing the spirit of Freire, Theodor Adorno claims, “Thinking is not the intellectual reproduction of what already exists anyway. As long as it doesn’t break off, thinking has a secure hold on possibility. Its insatiable aspect, its aversion to being quickly and easily satisfied, refuses the foolish wisdom of resignation… Open thinking points beyond itself.” The cycle of student dependency must be broken, but one of the most difficult steps in our journey as professors is to do away with the way we were taught.

Syllabus Design 

The syllabus is a key communication tool between a professor and his/her students. Many instructional resources will advise professors to ask themselves the following questions as they design the syllabus: (1) Who are the students? (2) What do I want students to be able to do? and (3) How will I measure students’ abilities? Little is said about what students want to learn and how they would like to measure their increased abilities.

Democratic education is emancipatory—students’ understanding of what they should learn and how is just as powerful as the teacher’s. In democratic education, students are empowered to collaboratively (with the professor) design and implement class materials, including the syllabus. The role of the teacher is not to decide what students will learn and how, but instead, facilitate an environment where the students can decide and make meaning of class content.

Classroom Activities

When I surveyed students in my first class at DU, in Fall 2016 (four years after I first taught college), about their class experiences, the response was unanimous: the most liberating aspect of their participation was selecting a topic for a mini-lecture and sharing the results of their research with their peers and the broader DU community. It is easier for students to grasp core psychological concepts and frameworks when they become active collaborators in the investigation of psychological theory, research, and practice. I invite students to participate in projects that allow them to select and present topics that are appealing to them personally. When we design curricula in a way that gives students freedom to decide what (and how) they want to learn, students gain knowledge and skills that go well past the content matter of the course.

Assessment

Faculty member have the “beauty” of getting it both ways—students think we are out to get them; my colleagues think students are out to get us. Whether you are taking or preparing/grading them, exams can be truly tedious.

We frequently play the ‘gotcha’ game: we use exams and other assignments as an instrument to oppress our students, to see how well they can adjust and not how well they can think critically to the service of their own learning.  We want to know, can students regurgitate this motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable bits of ‘reality’ that we have narrated to them?

Instead, we should ask, are students moving in the direction of being able to think creatively about their reality and participate in the transformation of their worlds in ways that fit their personal and cultural backgrounds and developmental levels? Assessment needs to be consistent, using multiple methods over time. These methods have to be, in part, determined by the expertise of the professor, but they also have to be defined by the expertise of the student-colleague. Making ourselves vulnerable is pivotal in deciding if learning has happened. As professors, we model this vulnerability and make space for students to engage. Students set their own personal baseline against which to contrast class outcomes and decide if learning has happened.

Conclusion   

Democratic education can take many different forms, but all forms have one common denominator: a commitment to go outside the box of standardized one-size-fits-all education, so that students can feel empowered and engaged as learners. If we wish to train well-informed citizens who are intrinsically motivated and prepared to confront society’s most pressing challenges, we must provide them with the skills and critical thinking opportunities they need to build a more equitable and socially just society.

Dr. Roncoroni is an Assistant Professor in Morgridge College of Education’s Counseling Psychology department. She received her PhD in Counseling Psychology from the University of Florida. She is a member of the American Psychological Association (APA). Dr. Roncoroni’s primary research interests include health disparities, customized culturally sensitive health promotion and health care, and the integration of health promotion in medicine. She is a yoga and Zumba instructor and enjoys traveling, cooking, and spending time with her family.