“I got a real good feeling somethin’ bad gonna happen” ~  Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert

So for once, I’m actually having trouble formulating sentences because of all the info I’ve been sorting through for this post. Let’s see if I can unravel this tangled ball of yarn (I crochet…I had to use this analogy… 🙄).

Anyhoot, being back on campus this past semester reiterated to me how smartphone use and social media are in the forefront of most (or at least a LOT) teen’s lives. I’m pretty adamant about putting phones away while I’m lecturing…it may sound ‘old school’ but I think it’s rude. As I tell my sweetie students, I won’t be on my phone when you’re talking to me. However, my nagging doesn’t work and if I excused every student from class for using their phone that day, I wouldn’t have many left to lecture too. It makes me sad to think these bright young people can’t not look at their phone for 50 minutes.

I also got upset when I walked into class everyday and found 95% (yes, I kept track) of my students on their phones instead of interacting with one another. When I started teaching in the late 90’s before smartphones and social media, my classes would be buzzing when I walked in. In fact, it was sometimes difficult to shut them up! How I wish for those days again when students talked, connected, discussed and made friends…’real’ friends and not just a face on a screen. Even when I see my students in the ‘pit’ (a place where students gather on campus…you have to somewhat cool to get in it 😎 ), they are interacting WHILE using their phones as well. I see a lot of screen sharing “You have go to see this!” so even the face to face interaction centers around social media.

In December of 2020, I wrote a post saying how I was going to quit social media and honestly, I felt almost brave taking this step since I’d be giving up something I centered much of my life around. But the funny thing is that I don’t miss it at all. Nada.

When Mark Zuckerberg created ‘The Facebook’ in 2004 (originally called this before it morphed into just Facebook), it’s intention was to connect students across the campus of Harvard. It was for students in one location that would help those of similar ideas/interests find one another. That’s all. But as we know, it grew at a phenomenal rate and there are now 2 billion users worldwide. Although FB wasn’t the first social media platform (remember MySpace?), it began the trend of countless other SM sites to where 73.7% of all internet use is for social media. Wow.

So, we know the breadth of the use of SM but why is it coming under constant scrutiny and why do I worry about it so much in my student’s lives? Here we go (but first a disclaimer – SM can be a GREAT tool for connection too…we can’t forget the positives!):

A study done at Harvard found this:

“When an individual gets a notification, such as a like or mention, the brain receives a rush of dopamine and sends it along reward pathways, causing the individual to feel pleasure. Social media provides an endless amount of immediate rewards in the form of attention from others for relatively minimal effort. The brain rewires itself through this positive reinforcement, making people desire likes, retweets, and emoticon reactions.”

How Social Media Affects the Brain

Other recent studies found this:

“Social media facilitates an environment in which people are comparing their realistic offline selves to the flawless, filtered, and edited online versions of others, which can be detrimental to mental well-being and perception of self. Excessive social media use can not only cause unhappiness and a general dissatisfaction with life in users but also increase the risk of developing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Constantly comparing oneself to others can lead to feelings of self-consciousness or a need for perfectionism and order, which often manifests as social anxiety disorder.”

And the last nugget from the Harvard study (FOMO means Fear Of Missing Out):

“FOMO can take a toll on self-esteem and lead to compulsive checking of social media platforms to ensure that an individual isn’t missing out on anything, which can cause problems in the workplace and in the classroom. A study conducted by Harvard University found that social media has a significantly detrimental effect on the emotional well-being of chronic users and their lives, negatively impacting their real-life relationships and academic achievement.”

Now, are these findings ‘valid’? According to numerous other studies that have found the same info, the answer would be yes. In fact, The National Institute of Health (NIH) has officially linked teen depression to social media use: ‘These young adults who are affected with social media-linked depression often describe feelings of anxiety, envy, narcissism, poor body image, loneliness and decreased social skills. And, these effects are cross-cultural and not linked to socio-economic status.’ Remember, the brain still develops through the mid twenties so the effects of these issues can be more impactful with teens and can influence their actual brain development (and since they spend so much time on SM, this can influence these effects as well).

Think about this: the rewiring of the brain…the chance of increase of anxiety and depression…a skewed perception of yourself…more life dissatisfaction…increase in the chance of social anxiety disorder…and possible impact on face to face relationships and academic achievement. Why in the world would we ask for this by using SM? Is it addiction? Actually, yes; we get ‘addicted’ to that rush of dopamine and keep seeking it out. Addictionaly, SM platforms are GREAT at their algorithms which help them to feed you what you want so you’ll be hooked even more. Charming.

Does these consequences happen to everyone? Of course not! Does the likelihood of these things increase with the amount of social media use? Yes. And, research shows that teens are on social media between 5-7 hours a day! More than any other activity besides sleeping. And in terms of adults? The average time spent on SM is 2 hours and 3 minutes. Compare it to this: The Office for National Statistics found that the average couple spends only 2.5 hours a day together with 1/3 of time spent watching TV, 30 minutes eating, and 24 minutes doing housework. This literally leaves 3 minutes that couples spend conversing…not just saying things like “is the laundry done?” a day. Wow.

So, both teens and adults are making social media a priority…if not the main priority…of their time. Is it any wonder then that we see this:

In her book iGen, Jean Twenge found a substantial increase in major depression or suicidal thoughts, psychological distress, and more attempted suicides after 2010, versus the mid-2000s. Plus, this increase was by far the largest in adolescents and young adults.” And The American Psychological Association said: “Frequency of social media and smartphone use tended to be associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviors.” Yes, this is an association/correlation which isn’t necessarily tied to cause; but suicide rates have increased 60% for those 10-24 since 2007. Hmmmmm.

Look, I know this is a LLLLOOOONNNNGGGG post, but as someone who is concerned with mental health and mental illness, all of this scares the fuck (sorry, ma 😳) out of me. Truly. What if I told you that I have a ‘product’ that can increase mental health issues, impact your life negatively, and take time away from your family? Would you buy it? Would you force others too? My sonshine is always telling me to get back on Facebook or join another platform to keep up with things 🤔. I tell him that I keep up with things by calling people. Actually talking to them. Having them over. Finally, most importantly, would you let your kids buy this product?

But that’s what’s happening. Yes, people can say: “It doesn’t impact me…I’m fine!” but is this objective? From my experience I can see a decrease in my anxiety since quitting social media…I don’t see conflict over politics or faces/lives that I’ll never live up too…I don’t compare myself to people as much as I used too…I’m not involved in the ‘high school’ antics among my own peers…and I don’t need the external validation of a thumbs up like I very much once did. I’d post something and then look constantly to see how many likes I had and the more that came, the better I felt. In fact, quitting SM for over a year now has sort of reprogrammed my brain to where it was before. It took a while to get past that need for validation and to get over the idea that I need to let everyone know exactly what I’m doing. And to be honest, I love it.

Kristi xoxo

P.S. Take a look see at this to get ideas on how to use social media in a healthy way by Sannyu McDonald Harris: be intentional in the use and not on auto-pilot (this was my biggest downfall!), focus on real life relationships, limit your time on SM, only follow pages and people who bring you joy (not bring you down!), avoid using SM before bedtime (because of the blue light impacting sleep), use mindfulness and live in the moment, and take a break. 😃

“Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing.” ~ Oscar Wilde

So, I’m a big believer in experiential learning and incorporate it as much as I can in my classes, except for my Human Sexuality class! 😏 Anyhoot, I was watching a video on YouTube where college students in California ‘lived’ in a cardboard box for 1 night in order to experience homelessness. Then the next day they had just a couple of dollars and had to eat their meals on the streets. Now, this sounds like a great idea…or it must to some since other colleges have done the same exercise…but honestly, I was disgusted by some of the students reactions in this particular case.

LOS ANGELES, CA – Entire blocks are packed with homeless encampments on skid row in downtown Los Angeles. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

First off, part of the group of students complained throughout the night. They were hot. They were cold. They were hungry. They didn’t like using a Porta Potty. They wished they wouldn’t have signed up…you get the picture. During the next day, some of the students were followed by cameras and made remarks along these lines: “The bugs are horrible…I just want to go home.” “The heat is too hot (ya think 🙄) and I’m sweaty.” “I’m so hungry that I’m getting weak.” This last comment was made in the early morning (after having food just hours before) by a young woman who didn’t want to go to a Good Samaritan or the like since she wasn’t sure the food they would be serving would be fit to eat. To be frank, I wanted to reach through the screen and shake this girl because what she had as a ‘homeless’ person for a day was far more than the homeless do for weeks, months, and often years.

So why did this piss me off? Because this is NOT experiential learning…it’s making a mockery of those people that are truly homeless and have to…gasp…deal with hot, cold, rain, snow, bugs, animals, cruel people, lack of food, lack of electricity, lack of heat and air conditioning, lack of water, lack of roofs, lack of Porta Potties…you get the point.

The feet of Mr. Murphy, who had been on Skid Row for a year in 2018. He is one of thousands who are part of California’s homelessness crisis. Photo by Dan Morain for CALmatters

I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to have to pee in the street. To have to sleep under tattered blankets on sidewalks. To have people jeer at you and condemn you for your situation. To not know if you are even going to eat one day. To be able to shower or clean up only sporadically. To live on streets that I wouldn’t want to walk down any time of the day. To not have a warm coat…shoes…socks…underwear.

I’m sorry, but staying in a cardboard box for 8 hours in a safe area on campus where there is security along with the knowledge you can simply walk away and go to your cozy dorm room anytime is not experiencing homelessness. Maybe some of you remember me writing about my nephew who was homeless for a period of time. He’s a paranoid schizophrenic who refused to take meds and was simply in another world. I watched him climb out of dumpsters, sit on corners and eat hamburgers others bought him (bless their hearts…truly ❤), get berated by people who called him scum along with other words I’d prefer not to remember. When he was missing for a period of time, people said how the community shouldn’t use resources to track down trash like him. A couple of times a week, he’d come over for showers, food, clean underwear, burner phones, etc. and talked to me about the cruelty he and his ‘people’ (his words…there’s a bit of a brotherhood in the homeless community where he felt he fit in better than anywhere else) suffered daily. So, to think that this student exercise encapsulates what it feels like to be homeless is an insult to those who are.

Yes, people need to be empathic and try to understand what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Of course they do because that’s what makes people more aware of the issues others face. However, how can any simulation be called ‘living’ the issue when it’s so contrived? So…well…fake?

When I was in undergraduate school studying Psychology and Education, I was taking a class on special needs children and we had to walk around campus with a blindfold on and a partner guiding us in order to experience blindness, and then traipse around campus with ear plugs in to simulate deafness. This entire exercise took the entirety of 50 minutes and afterwards, when the professor asked us what we had learned by experiencing this loss of sight and hearing, other students said how beneficial it was and could really understand now what such individuals go through.

Heh? I didn’t get that at all. I had a guide throughout the ‘experience’ and could rip off my eye cover or pop out my earplugs whenever I wanted with only a C grade as a consequence. Truthfully, it made me feel guilty strutting around the campus while pretending to have these impairments. This really came back to me years later when I had a totally blind student in my first few community college classes I taught in Kansas. I was told I’d have Suze in class so I prepared my info to have visual materials accessible but that’s all I prepared for. For some reason, it didn’t dawn on me to prepare for Suze herself. When I first saw her outside my door, I touched her arm to say hello. She swung on me and shouted: “Don’t ever touch me without asking!” I was truly taken aback and felt she had been rude. But as the semester progressed, we started chatting more and more and as she told me about her life living alone with only her guide dog as a companion and I started to understand how scary the world is for her. How every touch can mean something sinister. How someone can hurt her without fear of retribution because of her inability to identify them. How not being able to scan your surroundings made you wary. She told me that everyday things caused stress…just being in a new room with furniture could be a hazard. I realized why she snapped at me the first day we met and I also understood how I fucked up (sorry, ma…but I really did 😔). I was encroaching in her dark bubble where she needed verbal warnings for touch and the like. We ended up being really good friends and I learned more from her than she ever learned from me. Hands down.

But don’t you often hear people claim that they really do understand the plight of others? “Oh, I know what it must be like to be black because I was discriminated against once and it hurt.” Or, “I know what it would be like to have a physical disability since I broke my leg a few years back.” Or, one of my favorites, “I know what depression is like. When I flunked my first test, I was down for a week.” OOOOOKKKKKAAAAAYYYYY! For fuck sakes, I’m sure these incidents are truly reminiscent of what people experience as a part of their lives. Grrrr.

Thank you, Allie.

My advice is this: If you want to experience what it’s like to be schizophrenic or bipolar or depressed or have panic attacks, have doctors give you electrical shocks in your brains so you’ll actually have these mental illnesses. And if these California students really want to experience homelessness, have the professor take them down to Skid Row in L.A. and sleep there. Eat there. Watch people prostitute themselves to get money for drugs…a habit that started in childhood to escape abuse they were experiencing.

Yes, I know this is harsh but my point is this: Go to your local homeless shelter and talk to some of the people…hear their stories and then with what you might spend on Starbucks every week, get them clean socks and underwear and a coat. Or, go to the organization in your area that works with the blind and read to them. Seek permission to visit a residential unit that houses the mentally ill and play a game of checkers or just watch TV with the people. In other words, help. And yes, we all need to do this, don’t we? Me very much included. Further, making this one of the resolutions we all promise to fulfill would be a great first step this coming year. I am promising myself…and my community, that I’m going to do it.

Kristi xoxo

Here are 7 charities we can all give what we can too that fight homelessness in the United States. 🙂

“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.” ~ Stephen King

So, the Grand Poobah and I were yacking in our office today and started discussing our own personal goals of being a professor. This came about as we were comparing notes on how many students have seriously struggled this semester due to the continuing issues with the pandemic, stress, job loss, loneliness, anxiety, depression and the list goes on. When he asked me: “Why do you teach? What are your goals for what you do?” I really started thinking about this and within a couple of minutes, I had the answer. Not because I was being flip, but because these ‘unwritten’ goals have guided me throughout my 27 year career as a college instructor.

If you look up the word ‘goal’ in a dictionary (remember when these weren’t online but tomes that weighed more than a medium sized dog? 😳) here’s what you get: ‘The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.’ (Oxford Languages) What do I want to accomplish with my students? What is my desire for them? Why do I put in the effort I do for them?

First, as simple as it sounds, I want my students to learn. You would think this is a no-brainer but not necessarily. Learning isn’t memorization or meeting stringent deadlines or making sure a text is highlighted or being able to bullshit your way through an essay for a passing grade. Unfortunately, not every professor agrees with this. Throughout the years, I’ve heard things like “We need to teach these kids what it’s like to punch a time clock.” Or, “We need to force these kids to take responsibility…there are no handouts in life” (hmmmm). Or “These kids just need to listen to me for what they need to know.” Or my favorite “You don’t get second chances in life!” OK. And you are on your 8th spouse. Got it. And this list can go on ad nauseum.

Here’s the thing though: I don’t care if it takes a student 1 try or 4 tries to get an essay up to par; it’s that they learned from writing it. What good does it do to put an F on their paper, give it back to them, and then want them to move on in the class? What did they learn? Look, when I learned to crochet (which was a hellish month for both me and sissy to say the least 😐), it took me a thousand tries to know how to work the hook and create the chain and complete stitches. And even then, my projects sucked balls. If I would have stopped after the first try, what would that have gotten me? Nothing.

So why don’t we allow students to absorb the material, have multiple chances on their assignments if they aren’t getting it, and work with them until they do? My job is not to teach a student to ‘punch a time-clock’ in order for them to understand that deadlines are set in stone (many are working jobs or have families…they know deadlines). In fact, in this day and age, many jobs are more flexible than that anyway. My job is to make sure they leave my class with info that will help them in any path they choose.

This ties in to my 2nd goal – to do all I can to help a student be successful in my classes. I have a student who is around my age (shutty 🙄) and she came to me around 4 weeks into the semester and said she was going to drop and that she couldn’t ‘do’ the class. I started talking to her every morning before class and one day, this woman started crying. She’s had a very hard life in terms of all she’s experienced, but this is what she said to me that completely broke my heart: “All my life, since I can remember, my mom said I was a piece of shit and would never do good at anything.”

When she disclosed this to me, her eyes were full of tears and it made me sick to think of a mother being so wickedly cruel to their child. This student hadn’t turned in our first essay of the semester and I told her to write it. She said she couldn’t. I said: “Write it. I don’t care how long it is…how many errors might be in it…how you approach the topic. Just write.” She turned it in a couple of days later and I was gobsmacked! It was freaking excellent…and I don’t use that word lightly. Her ideas and understanding of the material was deeper than most students and her writing was impeccable. I posted her A and she came to me the next day and said this: “You didn’t have to give me an A.” And I replied: “Look, I don’t give anything and I certainly have never given a pity or mercy grade in my life. In my classes, you earn your grades and you earned this A.”

Then I did this: “I looked in her eyes and said: you are a smart, kind, outgoing woman who has the tools to be successful in anything you choose to pursue. You are not a piece of shit. Your mom was a sick woman who used her innocent daughter as an outlet for her own issues. That is not who you are. Now say it to me.” She cried and said she couldn’t. I said: “Look, Professor K is telling you to do this and you know how tough I am!” She smiled, looked down and said…in a soft voice: “I’m not a piece of shit. I am capable.” I told her to say it again while looking in my eyes and she did. In the last 11 weeks, her confidence, participation, and eagerness has done a 180° turn and she went from an F in my class to an A.

When she told me she was going to drop, I could have had that done in seconds. For piss sakes, if she wants to drop…drop her. No. Because that’s not my goal. My goal is for every student to feel like they accomplished something in my class…had a success they can build on…had a worthwhile experience. By the way, she calls me ‘Mama K’ in my office (even though she’s just a tad older!) and hugs me every. single. day. She, my sweetie peeps, is a success.

Another goal I have is to be relatable. I’ve been in higher education longer than some of you have been alive and I’m here to tell you this: some professors get off on this power trip of having students’ grades in their sweaty palms. They get off on ‘taking control’ and being the ‘only one right’ and ordering ‘quit talking…you need to listen to me.’ They get off on the power. So ooooooooo…you have power over 20 year olds. Big accomplishment.

If I had wanted power, I sure as hell wouldn’t have gone into teaching and if the only thing that validates my profession is the control I have over my students, I have deeper issues that need to be addressed.

I don’t necessarily expect my students to love me…or to even like me. But I do want to set up an atmosphere where they know they can talk to me, share their opinions, question what I’m saying, all while knowing I won’t judge them no matter what. Have you ever had someone ask for your opinion and then chastise you for it by saying ‘that’s wrong.’ What? How can MY opinion be wrong? It can’t. And neither can yours.

This is also why I share my experiences (obviously when appropriate) about having bipolar, having been sexually abused, having been divorced 3 times (cough cough), having a ma who experienced domestic violence, etc. I want students to know I’m real. I understand. I’ll accept whatever they want to tell me. I want them to see me as an ‘ally’ in their college experience…someone working alongside of them…not against them.

This also brings me to compassion. I want my students to see I’ll cry with them…open up to them so they know they aren’t alone in their own struggles…empathize with issues they are dealing with…understand when they say “I just couldn’t do my assignment this week”, etc. I had a student come to me once regarding their late work and I told them they could make up what they had missed. Why? He had talked about a death in his family all while he was dealing with the loss of a job and family issues surrounding the funeral. He thanked me profusely for this opportunity and said he felt guilty for turning in late assignments. I said there should be no guilt whatsoever! That’s a lot on his plate and I wouldn’t have been able to focus on the topic of social structure either. C’mon. Why is it weak for professors to have compassion for what our students are going through?

Some professors have this policy: “NO LATE WORK NO MATTER WHAT.” Really? I kid you not but I knew a professor years ago that wouldn’t let a student make up an exam they missed because they had suffered a miscarriage that week. The prof said: “A deadline is a deadline. I break it for you, I break it for everyone.”

Are you fucking (sorry, ma 😲) kidding me? A fucking (ditto, ma 🤨) exam is more important than this woman losing her baby? I was gobsmacked and so disgusted by this (and yes, told the student to talk to our dean) I wanted to say this: “Look, Prof. You know what you just taught this student? That their pain doesn’t matter. Their loss doesn’t matter. Their life doesn’t matter. All that matters is a fucking (last one, ma 😬) date you arbitrarily put on a syllabus.” Yep. That taught them a lot.

Why can’t we all have compassion for our students? Understand that life gets in the way of due dates…assignments…studying. I remember O being sick and his school calling me at school to come pick him up. I shot off a quick e-mail to my students saying classes were cancelled and when I was running out the door, one of my colleagues said this: “Must be nice to just up and leave work because you have a kid.” And I responded with: “Look. My kid is forever and this is a job. My family will always come first.” If I had been a student, not much would have been turned in that week…O ended up getting pneumonia. So, if I would have missed a quiz, I would have been told ‘too bad’? Yes…by some profs.

Look, compassion is one of these things that you give back what you get. If I show compassion and empathy and true care for my students, I’m teaching them a lesson more important than understanding the 3 theoretical perspectives of sociology: that we have to take care of one another.

Other goals I have? I want to show my students how applicable the material is…how they can actually use it in their everyday lives. I want to be adaptable in terms of what students and classes need in any given semester. I want them to know it’s not my classroom…it’s theirs. It’s a student centered environment where they are the ones in the spotlight. It’s not the Professor K show.

It sounds like a cliche but actually, cliches are often based in truth: one bad professor can ruin a student’s college life. You think that woman who miscarried wanted to walk into another classroom after that? You think if I would have dropped that student she would have continued her studies still believing the words her mom heaped on her? You think if I played the power card and said “No…you cannot re-do that paper to pass” that student is going to be motivated? I love what I do. I take it seriously. And, I do it the way I do it because I care. Because I want students to walk out of my classes with not only the academics, but lessons in life, compassion, open mindedness, respect and a love for learning that can take them as far as they want to go.

Kristi xoxo

“Ignorance is the enemy and it fills your head with lies.” ~ Rodney Crowell

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So, the Grand Poobah (my office buddy 😃) and I were yacking yesterday while he was working on an assignment that he didn’t know was appropriate or not. In the chapter he teaches on depression, he wanted to focus attention on suicide with the students reading various articles and watching a documentary about it before writing a paper. He wondered if this would be too triggering for some and we had a discussion about this.

Here’s the thing about triggers: we all have them. After my nephew died in the Navy, every time I heard anything about the military, my heart would pound and my stomach would get a hollow feeling. Before I was open about being bipolar, I’d get nervous talking about mental illness and the importance of awareness, yet I was living a lie which made me so anxious. After I engaged in self-harm, I would get horribly defensive if anyone mentioned cutting or accused me of doing it until I was able to share what I had done. And yes, after I attempted suicide myself, I was extremely sensitive to the topic.

But being a prof of Psychology and Sociology, I can’t back away from these issues because I talk about them in most of my classes. I’ll admit that the first time I taught about suicide after my attempt, I started crying…right in front of my class. I was so embarrassed because that has only happened a couple of times in my entire 3 decades of teaching, but the incident was still fresh in my mind. When I started crying, I quickly thought of lying to my students and telling them I wasn’t feeling well, etc. but then went back to how hypocritical I had been covering up being bipolar for most of my life. I lecture to my students how you have to live authentically and how there is no shame in having a mental illness or having attempted suicide. With that in mind and after a deep breath, I shared that I had attempted suicide myself and explained where I had been in my life at that time.

As I was talking, I couldn’t believe the reactions of the class…some shed tears and some nodded so genuinely that I knew they had had suicidal ideation themselves. After the lecture was over and resources perused, papers were turned in and this is some of what was written to me (with any identifying info taken out but all words of the students as they were written):

“I think the reason it was so hard for me to watch this film is because I have a history with depression. I will not lie and say I have never had a suicidal thought because I have. I used to be in a dark place with my mind and I am not ashamed of that because of how much I have grown. My chest started to get tight while watching the film because it took me back to that time in my life when I was really unhappy. I paused the film and took a break and it helped me. I thought this documentary was very sad and it shows a part of human life that is not shown that much. Suicide is not talked about as much as it should be. There should be more awareness and conversation.”

“This week was a very hard week for me when going over the material. I personally have battled with thoughts of suicide but never had the courage try anything. I grew up with a bipolar mother and struggled with my own anxiety and depression.”

“This topic is tough for me to discuss. I have lost multiple friends due to suicide. I was also almost a suicide victim myself. I struggled my entire life with depression and anxiety. To fully understand the impact of mental health and suicide, I will lay out my story. This is hard for me to do, but I feel it is essential to speak about it.”

“Lastly , I am a survivor of depression and attempting suicide as well. I chose article one because it really touches my life in the last year. My son was self harming by cutting himself on the legs and arms. The day I was told I stopped at nothing trying to find my son’s help. It went from that to last month I found out my son tried x-pills, 2 years of alcohol misuse, becoming withdrawn, rebellious, and just 2 months ago he attempted fighting my daughter and I , he would go from saying he wanted to kill himself, to nobody loving him, to breaking down crying. Glass shattered everywhere, holes in my wall that I’m still trying to get fixed, me trying to console him and my daughter, finally having to call for assistance and watching my son leave by the ambulance screaming he loves me.”

“I can relate to those who express suicidal thoughts, as its something I myself have struggled with. The best way to describe it, is a voice inside your head telling you that no one cares, and your life doesn’t really matter.”

The saddest thing about these comments is that I only picked out these 5 out of the 20 students I had; however, EVERY one of them wrote about their own personal struggles with suicide (the majority) or having a friend or sibling that has attempted or completed. That boggles my mind.

There is so much pain out there. So much loneliness. So much neediness in terms of connection. How horrible that for my students that this has already touched their lives. And from comments in other classes, I also know this class wasn’t an anomaly at all.

Now we talk about triggers which is something I hadn’t heard of or been cautioned about until a few years ago. Us professors are told to tell students when we’ll be studying a subject matter that could be triggering to them and to offer them alternatives. On the surface, this sounds like a good idea. However, the research begs to differ.

Take a look at findings published in Clinical Psychology Article:

“The consensus, based on 17 studies using a range of media, including literature passages, photographs, and film clips: Trigger warnings do not alleviate emotional distress. They do not significantly reduce negative affect or minimize intrusive thoughts, two hallmarks of PTSD. Notably, these findings hold for individuals with and without a history of trauma.”

Also, Forbes magazine reported this:

“Across all the variations in the studies, trigger warnings had trivial effects. In the words of Mevagh Sanson, senior author of the study, “The results suggest a trigger warning is neither meaningfully helpful nor harmful.” “The format of the presumably upsetting content, whether in text or on video, did not matter. Neither did a personal history of trauma; participants who reported they had experienced actual trauma in their lives responded to the distressing material similarly, regardless of whether it was preceded by a trigger warning or not.”

Finally, the Chronicle of Higher Education says this:

“We are not aware of a single experimental study that has found significant benefits of using trigger warnings. Looking specifically at trauma survivors, including those with a diagnosis of PTSD, the Jones et al. study found that trigger warnings “were not helpful even when they warned about content that closely matched survivors’ traumas.””

What do psychologists think? Let’s take a look-see at an article in Psychological Science:

“Specifically, we found that trigger warnings did not help trauma survivors brace themselves to face potentially upsetting content,” said Payton Jones, a researcher at Harvard University and lead author on the study. “In some cases, they made things worse.” Worryingly, the researchers discovered that trigger warnings seem to increase the extent to which people see trauma as central to their identity, which can worsen the impact of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the long run.”

So, this sheds all new light in terms of triggers. Not only do they don’t seem to work, but they can also increase the distress of a student.

Now, what are usually seen as triggers? Suicide, eating disorders, sexual assault, domestic violence, mental illness, sex, murder, death and anything else the professor deems might be triggering to a student.

There’s absolutely no doubt these are very difficult subjects to learn about, but they are very important to understand. Every 11 seconds, another American takes their own life while there’s also 14 people being hurt by their intimate partner. One in 5 Americans live with a mental illness (51+ million people) and someone is raped every 68 seconds.

quote

Look, these are serious numbers and obviously going to touch all of our lives in one way or another. I once had someone tell me, after a difficult lecture, that ignorance is bliss. Heh? IGNORANCE is bliss? NOT understanding and being oblivious and uninformed is better? For who exactly? You? Us? Me?

If we don’t address these issues…talk about these issues…and learn all we can about them, how in the hell are we going to work at turning these numbers around?

You know, I was really distressed over the sexual abuse I experienced from my psychologist and I’ll be honest: anytime I heard about sexual abuse or rape, I would break out in a sweat and feel like my stomach dropped 10 floors down an elevator. Worse, I started working on a psychology degree and guess what I had to learn all about? I was really nervous when the topic was being presented but the way the professor taught it, I was able to look at it academically and there was truly a comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone. That what I was going through was normal. I learned about sexual abuse and realized that if I always turned my head away from it, I would never be able to use what I’d been through to help others. And that’s what I try to do now.

So here’s the answer to the Grand Poobah who is going to be reading this: keep your assignment on suicide. Students can take breaks when reading articles or watching videos but the information is vital. Suicide (as well as so many other topics I mentioned) is an epidemic and NOT talking about it and teaching about it only keeps it hidden away. I want my students to understand why people want to kill themselves…what signs they can look for…how to talk to someone who is suicidal. I want them to know what early signs of domestic violence are and to understand the pathology of mental illnesses. I want them to be educated in the issues that Americans face every day of their lives.

Unfortunately, I’ve had students come to me days after being raped and I would never ever expect them to complete a unit on sexual assault so soon after the traumatic experience…so there’s obvious exceptions to this. But, ignorance is not bliss and the info we teach isn’t always easy, but it is necessary. Until we face things and help students to understand that their own experiences can be talked about and explored and validated, we are doing them an injustice. We’re simply keeping everyone in the dark.

Kristi xoxo

“You take a deep breath and you walk through the doors…” ~ Taylor Swift (Fifteen)

So, OH MY GOSH…it feels so so so so so so so good to be back in my classroom! Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh! 🥰

We’re in the 4th week of the semester now and I have 6 online and 3 on-campus classes. For the first couple of weeks in the classroom, the mood was a bit subdued. Not a lot of excitement about being back since it had been so long and a lot of students got used to the convenience and routine of online learning. But this week? It’s a 180! We have the spark back…the mojo…the groove (I’m a 70’s girl…what can I say 🙄)!

I don’t know how many times I’ve said that teaching is my passion (probably more than a million) but these past 18 months really made me see it anew. I like teaching online and have been doing it since 1999. I took a series of online classes myself in the early 2000’s and earned my Master Online Teaching Certificate from the U of I. Impressive…right (that should get me a date 😐)? So, not only am I educated in the pedagogy of this type of teaching, I’ve experienced it as a student too. This makes me look at my classes and ask myself: would I like this? If the answer is a NO (!), I re-vamp until I would.

Hubby 3 liked being my Guinea Pig; after I would get my classes created, I get him in a student view and tell him to click all around and tell me what he didn’t understand. Invariably he’d find something that wasn’t clear and I’d change it. It really helped me out and I think I have it down pat now.

I feel like I can still build relationships with students online…that’s part of what you need to learn to teach this way effectively. It’s little things like always using their name in every comment, etc. you make…offering a couple extra credit points where they have to e-mail you an answer to a question like “Where would you live if you could live anywhere and why?” They have to expand on their answer and then I always respond. It gives us a chance to talk more one on one about things we’re interested in. I make videos every week so they know a ‘real’ person is out there and I try to create discussions/activities that are meaningful.

BUT in my opinion, no matter how well online classes are structured to be interactive and worthwhile, they are just not the same as my face to face. Period. To me, nothing can take place of seeing faces…expressions…calling on students who I can tell are getting it…asking students what they don’t understand…and having students walk me to my office everyday after class. I love this ‘real’ interaction and it’s happening this semester in all 3 of my campus courses. It makes me feel like I am making connections and without those, you don’t give the student much motivation to listen and learn from you.

I also think the academics are different for both types of classes, and online learning can either be an easy way to ‘slide’ through a class, or a challenging way to get as much as you can out of the class; the amount of individual effort is crucial in terms of what students actually get out of the class. In fact, I truly believe that many of my online students learn more than the ones I have on-campus because they are so driven to get all they can from them.

Dedicated and eager students absorb everything and learn how to actively work with the material given and learn more than just the topics: they learn independent research, time management, computer literacy, how to express themselves only in writing (which I think is a GREAT skill to master), etc.

On the other hand, I’ve had students who simply slide by in them…that’s always going to happen for whatever reason (but to be fair, that happens on campus too). Not reading the info I provide…not watching the videos I make or upload…looking up answers for quizzes instead of studying all of the material first…putting the bare minimum into discussions where it’s obvious that a couple of things from the topic were googled and stitched together. I hate this! I don’t want students to walk out of (or in this case, log off of 💻) my classes without them knowing everything they possibly can about the material. And with psychology and sociology, it’s not just info to learn…it’s info to use! That’s important to me and why I teach what I teach.

Lord knows I am a pro at psychology even without a textbook. For fuck sakes (sorry, ma 🤨) I’ve had a fucking (I couldn’t resist) mental illness for as long as I can remember…literally. I’ve experienced a whole plethora of things that have gone into my psyche and I don’t think even Freud would want to dig around in there…it’s probably a gooey mess.

But learning all about psychology means learning all about why our minds work the way they work. Why we think like we do…dream like we do…remember like we do…perceive like we do. EVERYTHING we’ve ever experienced is stuck in that glob of cells somewhere and it affects us in one way or another.

And then sociology means learning about how our society affects us and what issues are important for all of us to understand. Hopefully, my students come out being much more aware and educated about racism, gender issues, ageism, the structure of society and how we all fit into it, class issues, cultural differences, etc. Right now we’re studying socialization in my Intro classes and my students are learning how their environment has affected them since the day they were born. We talk about how we develop our self image…our sense of self as it pertains to others…how our personalities were developed in the context of our environments…how the media affects us…the power our family had on our development, etc. This is stuff that’s important to know!

(By the way, just in case you can’t tell, I love to teach what I teach!)

Anyhoot, after being away from actual student ‘bodies’ for so long, just being back and being able to talk to them in person is awesome. The last few months of school being closed was really tough for me and the other teachers and profs I know. It was a long time to have to work from home, and a very long time not being in the actual environment that you were meant to be in. Like a fish out of water, so to speak! 🐟🐠🐡🦈🐬

So, my sweetie pie students…I’m so happy to be back to see half of your beautiful, and I assume smiling, faces again. I’ve missed you all so much and truly got lonely for you. If you’ve had me before, welcome back! Seeing you again was wonderful! If you’re new…YEA! I can’t wait to know you better and see you grow!

Have a great school year everyone!

Kristi xoxo

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