Ombuds Office

Dear community, Because of the need for us all to work and live remotely, the Ombuds Office will be closed until further notice.

During this time, the Ombuds is able to meet with staff, students and faculty remotely via phone, email, google chat, Duo, Skype or Zoom. Appointments can be scheduled through the individual appointment calendar. Please email with your preferred method of communication after scheduling an appointment and keep in mind that communications are confidential, per the ethical code of the office. Thank you and take good care.

The Ombuds Office is a resource for helping members of our community explore options for resolving problematic issues.

The Ombuds Office serves as an independent, confidential, neutral, and informal resource for faculty, staff, and student members of the Wellesley College community. 

The office assists in navigating workplace and living/learning community disputes and provides off-the-record guidance about policies, procedures, challenging issues, and difficult conversations.

The ombudsperson will listen carefully and work with individuals to clarify interests and goals, strategize about handling problematic situations, provide information about College policy, and assist with both written and verbal communication. She is also able to facilitate conversations. In all situations, she will seek processes and resolutions that are equitable to all parties.

If the parties request that a conversation be facilitated or a matter be mediated, with a goal of reaching an agreed-upon solution with the assistance of a neutral person, the ombudsperson can serve in that capacity. Additionally, the ombudsperson can provide mediation training to campus groups and committees.

The Ombuds Office will not identify its visitors or discuss identified concerns with anyone without the visitors’ permission, with two exceptions:

  1. If the ombudsperson determines that there is an imminent risk of serious harm to a visitor or another person.
  2. If the ombudsperson is legally compelled to do so via subpoena; then, and only then, will the matter not remain confidential.

The office abides by the Standards of Practice of the International Ombuds Association.

Please note that the Ombuds Office is not a substitute or alternative office for reports of sexual harassment, including sexual assault, which should be reported to the Title IX office: Kate Upatham at titleix@wellesley.edu or 781.283.2451, Schneider Center 214. 

The Ombuds office is not a reporting authority and therefore is not considered “on notice” for purposes of reporting harassment, research misconduct, or any other allegations of legal and/or policy breaches. Therefore, confidentiality requests will be honored for any visitor who wishes to share information about sexual assault.

Ombuds - Content

JanetOmbudsperson
Kathryn Bender
ombuds@wellesley.edu
781.283.3385
Location: Clapp Library, Room 301

Kathryn Bender serves as the ombudsperson for the College. A graduate of Meredith College, Columbia University, and Suffolk Law School, she has a deep understanding of dispute resolution in the college setting for all sectors of the campus. Kathryn has taught at the undergraduate, MBA, and law school levels, worked in student affairs, and served as in-house counsel at private and public universities. She currently heads her own dispute resolution consulting firm, which focuses on issues of conflict at colleges and universities.

Kathryn is generally available to meet with community members on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, or by appointment. She is available to speak to groups, classes, and others about any issue related to dispute resolution, communication, consensus building, and collaboration including offering training in meditation and dispute resolution skills.

Learn more about Kathryn.

The ombudsperson will listen carefully and work with individuals on various topics of discussion.

For many, the Ombuds Office will be a safe and confidential first step to addressing a problem on campus. For others, contacting the office may occur later in the resolution process of a concern.

The following are examples of some appropriate concerns that you may bring to the Ombuds:

  • Academic freedom; Apologies; Authorship
  • Cultural misunderstandings; Conflict of interest
  • Educational/professional integrity; Ethics/Whistle blowing
  • Favoritism; Fear of retaliation; Formal processes for resolving issues
  • Harassment; Health and safety concerns
  • Interpersonal difficulties; Incivility
  • Misconduct:  Professional, academic and/or scientific/research
  • Peer relations; Personality conflicts/meanness/incivility; Protecting your reputation
  • Responding to targeted and/or hurtful remarks
  • Sexual harassment (ombuds serves as a confidential resource, for reporting, contact the Title IX coordinator)
  • Unprofessional conduct; Untangling a complicated interpersonal situation
  • Violations of College policy, procedure, values
  • Working conditions and concerns

Types of programs/workshops that can be provided:

  • Crucial Conversations 
  • Effective Communication
  • Joint Problem Solving
  • Resolving Individual and Group Disagreements
  • Creating a Climate of Collaborative Communication
  • Respect and Civility in the Workplace; Ending Abrasive Behavior in the Workplace
  • Giving and Receiving Feed-Back
  • Email and Conflict Escalation

Facilitation of Meetings is also offered, whether it is a facilitated conversation between two people or one of two or more groups.

Restorative Justice is an approach to healing where the accuser and accused have a discussion about how the accuser feels wronged and the accused offers apology/explanation/remorse for the wrong.

As appropriate, the Ombuds Office provides feedback to College officials regarding systemic problems and trends and publishes official annual reports for the campus community with general data regarding conflict areas and recommendations for change. These reports are prepared with data that protects the identity, specific issues and confidentiality of all visitors/departments.

For more information about the scope and guiding principles of the Ombuds Office, see the terms of reference

For a summary of office activities, see the report.

The ombudsperson is a resource for faculty, staff, and student members of the Wellesley College community.

The Ombuds will:

  • Listen to the visitor's concerns, answer questions, and provide information and referrals to help them explore options in order to resolve concerns most effectively
  • Explain college policies and procedures and the roles and functions of respective offices
  • Work with the visitor on improving communication skills to manage conflict more effectively
  • Provide management or leadership coaching to supervisors, department chairs, administrators, etc.
  • Facilitate communications between and among individuals or groups
  • Provide reports to campus leaders about systemic trends and general issues of ongoing concern
  • Refer visitors to appropriate offices for formal complaint resolution options
  • Serve as a resource to committees, groups and individuals for conflict and communication assistance
  • Make recommendations for institutional improvements
  • Mediate conflicts between individuals or groups (voluntarily)
  • Provide conflict management, communication skills, mediation, and other types of training.

The Ombuds will not:

  • Make decisions or findings of fact
  • Establish, change, or set aside policies
  • Offer legal advice
  • Offer psychological counseling
  • Participate in grievances or other formal processes
  • Investigate complaints
  • Serve as an agent of notice for the College
  • Serve as an advocate for any individual or department
  • Supersede the authority of other college officials
  • Testify in any formal proceedings on campus; testify in court proceedings unless subpoenaed 

Ethical tenets

The Campus Ombuds is a member of the International Ombudsman Association, and practices in accordance with its Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics. Other guidance is provided by laws and policies, especially policies promulgated by Wellesley College. 

The Ombuds follows four ethical tenets which are absolute and non-negotiable, and belong to the Ombuds Office rather than the visitor:

Confidentiality

The Ombuds does not keep records for the College, and will not disclose the names or concerns of its visitors.  The only exceptions are when the Ombuds believes there is an imminent risk of physical harm or if a legal subpoena is received. The Ombuds, similarly, will not disclose the visitor’s department or program.

Independence

To ensure objectivity, the Ombuds is not aligned with any academic or administrative department. The Ombuds reports directly to the College President only for administrative and budgetary matters.

Neutrality

The Ombuds does not take sides in any dispute, but rather advocates for fair process and equitable results.

Informality

The Ombuds does not arbitrate, adjudicate, or participate in formal procedures. If a visitor would like to pursue a formal process, the Ombuds will direct them to the appropriate Wellesley College office. The Ombuds Office does not accept notice on behalf of the College.

The Ombuds Office keeps anonymous aggregate statistics of the types of concerns received in the office and periodically conveys perceived issues and trends to senior administrators. Again, this is done without disclosure of any individual, department, discipline and/or office to anyone.

Useful resources from the ombudsperson

Resources

Ombuds Blog

This Ombuds Blog is intended to be a monthly installment of articles, musings, and observations about increasing social connectedness on campus and decreasing divisions among and between campus colleagues, whether they are staff, faculty or students. Its aim is to provide current content as viewed by the Ombuds on Wellesley’s campus and to encourage all to feel welcome to visit the office about any question about how to address a problem and/or navigate resolutions for that concern.

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Just what is an Ombuds Anyway?

August 2019

The role of Ombuds is derived from the original Swedish ‘Ombudsman of Justice’ created by its Parliament in 1809. The intent then, and to some extent now, was to have someone who could address complaints by individuals against officials. Although having no decision-making power, the Ombudsman conducted investigations, made recommendations and worked to implement systemic changes. Today, there are ombudsmen (“ombuds” for brevity and gender neutrality) throughout society in both the public and private sectors–from government to health care institutions and from corporations to universities.

Here at Wellesley, we have an organizational ombuds who works with staff, faculty and students. Although the position reports to the President, there is never any ‘reporting of individuals or identifying incidents;’ indeed, there is never any questioning along those lines. The position is independent, confidential, neutral and informal. If there is any advocacy out of the office at all, it is for procedural fairness, equality, equity and transparency.

Individuals and groups who come to see the ombuds will often seek help with some type of conflict on campus and through sorting out potential options, coaching on techniques for how to deal with the issues themselves, and/or intervening at the behest of a visitor, the matters are often resolved favorably. Issues can range from one-on-one interpersonal communication problems to a report of policy deficiencies.

Ombuds see the entire campus–not just a sliver–and deal with complex issues that require careful listening and appropriate responses. In addition to this role as ‘helper,’ the Ombuds is able to report on trends, make suggestions for equitable improvements, and advocate for better functioning of all aspects of the college campus. Thankfully the Swedish role of “protector” has expanded both in function and world-wide.

It is an odd mix of responsibilities and authority. Wellesley is wise - along with quite a few other colleges & universities- to have the position of ombudsperson. Clearly the very existence of this role shows the administration’s respect and support for the well-being of its faculty, students and staff. The upholding of the International Association of Ombudsmen’s ethical standards reflects the College’s commitment to those high values.

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Top Ten Reasons Why People Don’t Consult the Ombuds Office

September 2019

The office is utilizing, with a few changes, a great David Letterman-style top ten list created by the University of Iowa on “reasons why people don’t consult the ombuds office[1].” This is handy because it summarizes what the office does and hopefully encourages everyone on campus to contact the office either with an issue, to brainstorm possible solutions to a problem, or perhaps just to say hi.

Top Ten Reasons Why People Don’t Consult the Ombuds Office

10. I didn’t know that the Office of the Ombudsperson existed.

Wellesley College has had an Ombuds Office since 2008, and we work hard to get the message out about the office. Still, there are people on campus who don’t know we exist and don’t know we serve the entire College (staff, students and faculty). The office is in an out-of-the-way spot on the 3rd floor of Clapp Library, making it both private for visitors but also a little difficult to find! 

9. I don’t know what the Ombuds Office does.

People tend to think we only deal with major problems, but we are available to help with most issues[2] and we can help you sort through options, do role-plays of difficult conversations, help identify resources on campus that can assist you further, etc. Other services are facilitating conversations among 2 or more people, conducting trainings in mediation and navigating difficult conversations, and conducting mediations. Additional services are available, such as if a group wants to learn about restorative justice.

8. My issue is too small; the Ombuds Office only deals with crises.

We encourage visitors to call us early and often: the earlier the better and the smaller the issue the better, since we have a better chance of helping address matters that way. It’s true to the old-fashioned phrase “a stitch in time saves nine” and it is always better to get a matter straightened out early on.

7. Human Resources—or the Dean’s Office—or Title IX/Diversity—is already involved.

It’s great if you have already been working with an office on campus. If you feel like you could benefit from knowing about additional resources and/or if you would like to speak to a confidential, neutral office specializing in additional problem solving, you may wish to speak with us.

6. I should be able to solve this on my own.

Many people think they are being weak or ineffective if they reach out for a little assistance. However, it shows strength if you consult with others in order to fully understand options and resources. Additionally, we’re confidential: no one will ever know you called us.

5. I don’t believe the Ombuds Office is confidential.

You can believe it and you can trust us. We don’t talk with anyone about our visitors unless you give us written permission (exceptions: threat of physical harm to someone or requirements by court or law).

4. I don’t want the way I’ve handled the situation to be “second-guessed” or criticized.

We may refer you to policies, procedures, best practices, other offices, etc., but we’re not judgmental. Call/come by with anything, and we’ll help you figure out your options.

3. Once I call the Office of the Ombudsperson, the situation will be out of my control.

The situation remains in your control because the office will not take any action without our visitor’s permission; the exception is as stated above in #5.

2. I don't want to “air my dirty laundry.”

Sometimes merely talking about an issue—venting—helps a great deal. Using a neutral, confidential and impartial person as a sounding board can both help you feel better as well as assist you in coming up with ways to handle that “laundry.” We may find that one of your best options is for you to talk with a professional counselor to help you deal with handling serious issues.

1. I am afraid that my supervisor/department chair/RA will find out that I contacted the Ombuds Office and see it as breaking the “chain of command,” resulting in me getting in trouble.

Again, because of our confidentiality, no one will know we were contacted. Plus, this office is not even in a “chain of command” because it is an informal resource that does not advocate for anyone. Coming to the Ombuds Office is a good idea, whether it is at the beginning, middle, or towards the end of a problematic situation because it allows you to view it from 10,000 feet and gain a bit of perspective.

 

Hopefully now you know that you can consult with the Ombuds Office about practically anything, that it is confidential, neutral, impartial and equitable. Visit 301 Clapp Library, call x3385 or write ombuds@wellesley.edu. Thank you for your time and we hope to see you soon.


[2] Except those that are prohibited by a collective bargaining agreement and those that require professional assistance.

 

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The Ombuds Office Reflects the Values of its Organization

October 2019

An ombudsman’s office needs to be reflective of the values of the organization it serves. Values are principles, standards, and things that are considered beneficial and important. Recently, Wellesley engaged in a campus-wide process to identify and choose its most important values, and those values are:

Intellectual Discovery and Excellence: We believe in the transformative power of curiosity, learning, and teaching.

Gender Equality: As a women’s college, we have always been committed to gender equality as foundational to societal progress.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: We affirm that diversity is essential to educational excellence, and we are committed to being a community in which each member thrives.

Connection and Community: We value the equal dignity of every member of the community and our sustained connection to one another, to our campus, and to our mission.

Empowerment and Social Change: We believe in the power and potential of our students and all members of our community to envision the world in which they want to live and to take action to make it real.

Integrity and Academic Freedom: We commit ourselves to high standards of personal and intellectual integrity, we embrace the principles of freedom and rigor in scholarly inquiry, and we assert the importance of holding to the truths such inquiry reveals.

By choosing these values, Wellesley stands for a fundamentally fair and intellectually rigorous campus community. Open communication and conflict resolution are fundamental foundations for these values. In its Terms of Reference, where the College articulates that it will support and respect the Ombuds’ Standards of Practice and all that they stand for, the above College values are incorporated into the fabric of the office, as seen below.

Confidential: As a confidential resource, the values of empowerment and social change may be energized. Visitors who aspire to improve their abilities to be change agents within the college can find in the Ombuds Office a secure space to verbalize these desires and a willing coach to assist them in discovering ways to do it.

Independent: Connection and community as well as integrity and academic freedom are ratified by the independence of the Ombuds Office. Since there is no one telling the Ombuds how to run the office and no one to report to (but for budgetary/administrative matters), community building and academic freedom can be reinforced and supported without fear of negative consequences.

Neutral/Impartial: Being neutral and impartial, the Ombuds Office will always support gender equality along with diversity, equity and inclusion. By never taking a position for/against one group, status, gender, choice or hierarchy, the Ombuds is able to support all visitors equally and fairly.

Informal: The informal nature of the Ombuds Office allows for intellectual discovery because it has the flexibility to explore many different options with visitors when trying to determine the next best steps in resolving whatever concern the visitor brings to the office. There is no formal “lock step” system and thus greater ability to “expand the pie” and think of creative options for bringing about better solutions.

The office is fair, safe, accessible and credible. It endeavors to deliver respect and good customer service for all; receive vital information; listen actively by reframing issues to make them comprehensible, manageable constructive; provide and explain information; and help individuals and groups explore options and thereby seek to resolve issues. The Ombuds Office is proud of the fact that it reflects the values of Wellesley College and it will endeavor to live those values in its work with the campus community.

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The Healing Benefits of a Face-to-Face Discussion

November 2019

When a problematic issue arises and tensions increase, the way in which we respond largely depends upon how those of us who are affected want the tensions to be handled. There are three ways to handle such problems. On one extreme, we may want to merely expose the problems and hope the tensions take care of themselves. On the other, we may want to make the tensions explode to a point where we expose the other parties and call them out with accusations and/or one-sided demands. The third route can be to raise the tension-heavy issues directly in a dialogue which is both respectful and substantive and end up with some tangible, meaningful and effective change.

It may not seem to be the easiest, this third route of dialogue, but it is the most positively effective one. It is a face-to-face exchange of ideas and/or opinions on issues, with a view of possibly reaching an amicable resolution. It allows the people to explore the matter together. If both people approach this dialogue with ground rules of respectful language and the purpose of finding a solution rather than merely venting or ripping someone apart, then the chances of a successful encounter will be multiplied.

These types of talks cannot only benefit specific relationships, but they can change your life. Many people fear having a difficult conversation because they may believe that they will lose the friendship, be the object of anger, cause someone else to be hurt, and/or be perceived as a bad person. However, when you have a truly good conversation— where you both show compassion and understanding—you and the other person end up helping each other grow.

If you are not accustomed to having these types of dialogues, you may want to practice them with someone else first. Practicing and learning phrases which can help begin such a conversation, how to stay centered, how to avoid taking things personally and thus becoming angry, and other pointers can help you be successful in these discussions. There are resources on campus to assist with these skills, such as for students the counseling center and others in Student Life, for employees there is EAP, and for everyone, you can visit the Ombuds Office. 

Once you gain familiarity with these skills, you will use them often and they will help you throughout life.

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Can’t We All Just Disagree?

December 2019

I recently read a wonderful speech from 2017, reprinted in the New York Times, by journalist and news contributor Bret Stephens, on the Dying Art of Disagreement. He believes that disagreement is the most vital ingredient of any decent society.

In this article, Stephens makes the point that it’s vital that we listen to one another with an open mind and receiving ears and without the belief that the other person is wrong before they even have a chance to share their opinion about something. 

He writes that it is critical “[t]o listen and understand; to question and disagree; to treat no proposition as sacred and no objection as impious; to be willing to entertain unpopular ideas and cultivate the habits of an open mind.”

Here at Wellesley, we are in the perfect place to celebrate and demonstrate all that a liberal education has to offer. Where better can we learn about great ideas from past centuries to today, to have interesting conversations about controversial topics and speakers, to intellectually inform each other and consider alternative viewpoints? 

Stephens suggests that “to disagree well you must first understand well. You have to read deeply, listen carefully, watch closely. You need to grant your adversary moral respect; give her the intellectual benefit of doubt; have sympathy for his motives and participate empathically with their line of reasoning. And you need to allow for the possibility that you might yet be persuaded of what she has to say.” (I took liberties with the pronouns here, by the way)

We need to be a leader and an example of what a community of higher education can aspire to. We should not pre-judge, shut down, call out, or be self-righteous. This is a safe, open, supportive and amazing environment where ideas ought to be enthusiastically shared without fear of reprisal. 

If someone disagrees with us, we should respond with an intelligent and respectful reply that begins with making eye contact and saying something like “I have heard your argument that X is the problem and that Y is the solution and there may be some merit to it; what I’d like to posit is that Z is the problem and A is the solution and here’s why …” This method of conversation is effective and allows for both sides to really listen to each other, acknowledge what they’ve heard, explain the reasons for their disagreement and either keep the conversation going or simply move on. It is a far cry from harmful labelling and selfish lecturing.

As Stephens says, “Intelligent disagreement is the lifeblood of any thriving society … [and we need to] revive the arts of disagreement” so that we can reasonably and rationally converse WITH one another.

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Our Strong Need for Emotional Intelligence

January 2020

Happy New Year, New Decade, New and Better Conversations.

This month’s blog will focus on the importance of emotional intelligence and why it is as important as intellectual intelligence. In fact, without emotional intelligence, we cause others to shut down and then our conversations are stalled, our relationships compromised and our effectiveness gone.

When responding to something someone has done or said, do your best to check your assumptions about it and pause a minute before reacting. Be aware of yourself and regulate your response to them.

One good 3-step practice is to reflect, advocate and test, as shared from Rick Ross’ Fifth Discipline Fieldbook in the Ladder of Inference:

  • Become more aware of your own thinking and reasoning (reflection, or reflective practice);
  • Make sure that others understand your thinking and reasoning (advocacy);
  • Ask questions of others about what they are thinking, and test your assumptions (inquiry).

As an example, you have scheduled a conference call with one person on campus and another who is off campus. All three answered yes to the meeting, format, etc., and there were follow-up communications about it. At the appointed time, you and the off-campus person came on the conference call but the on-campus person (let’s call her “Carol”) does not come on the call until 20 minutes later and when she gets on, merely says “Hi there, how’s the planning coming along?”

You might assume one of several things: Carol thinks she is too important/busy to join the call on time; Carol is rude and has bad manners; Carol is a jerk and should be dropped from this project immediately. A number of unpleasant things could result from this line of assumptions: you could destroy the project and/or the relationship with Carol; you might go on social media and blast Carol as being an awful person; you could even report Carol to someone with authority to negatively affect her life. The truth is that you don’t know why Carol was late and it could be that it was for a legitimate reason: a personal situation that she is unwilling to share; an illness that caused her to oversleep; an emergency.

To respond to this situation with Emotional Intelligence, you should directly and with true concern, ask her why she was late. Be sure that you do not do this in front of the off-campus person nor that you talk with that other person about Carol being late, as it never helps to vent by putting someone down.

You could ask Carol directly and calmly in person: “I’m just wondering why you were unable to be on time for our conference call today–could you let me know?” or “Hey, I hope everything is ok because I’m concerned that you were 20 minutes late for our call today.” Avoid texting as voices tell a lot. If Carol blows it off, you will have to decide how to appropriately respond. However, if she shares that she was unavoidably delayed and was too embarrassed to “own it” on the call, you would decide with her how (and if) to share this with the third person and then get clear about going forward.

Great sources of information are the famous books by Daniel Goldman, “Emotional Intelligence” and “Working with Emotional Intelligence.” He bluntly states that “out-of control emotions can make smart people stupid” and explains that both Personal Competence (self-awareness, self-regulation and appropriate motivation) as well as Social Competence (empathy for others and social adeptness to induce desirable responses in others) make up the Emotional Competence Framework.

The ability to manage emotions in ourselves and in our relationships allows us to utilize both parts of our brains and thus be successful, happy and engaged in our educational endeavors, careers, families and communities. There are many resources here on campus to help improve our emotional intelligence and making this a new year’s resolution just might be the best one you’ve ever made.

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Improving our Communication

February 2020

While things have been relatively quiet during Wintersession, I’ve had the good fortune to read two powerful books that have informed me greatly as an Ombuds. One was lent to me by a faculty member and the other was lent by a staff member—how great is that?

The Art of Focused Conversation: 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace, edited by R. Brian Stanfield, is a workbook aimed at helping people in the work setting improve their meetings so much that they not only are more enjoyable but they achieve far more. The philosophy is that rather than being “talked at,” we have meetings where the leader actually listens and actively facilitates questioning, problem solving, and planning. It helps the group move from a reactive to a proactive focus in finding solutions to identified issues. This achieves a number of things: actual problem solving (rather than pontificating), active and genuine requests for everyone’s input (which leads to buy-in and a feeling of contribution), and a sense of camaraderie (needed these days more than ever). We are encouraged to speak so that we can hear. All perspectives are honored and the discussion follows the stages of objective, reflective, interpretative and decisional in order to meet these goals.

Although it is not stated, I would add that all persons at these meetings should vow to put away all electronic devices except for emergencies and in that case, to take the device outside of the room to handle them. It has been proven time and again that we cannot be fully present and mindful if we have more than one thing going on at the same time; also, it is rude to be distracted while someone else is trying to run a meeting.

The other book is Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott and similarly, it encourages us to make conversations real. “Think passion, integrity, authenticity, [and] collaboration,” states Scott. The idea of “fierce” is robust, eager and passionate - not at all how many view it as threatening, hostile and menacing. These conversations/meetings, too, follow prescribed steps:

  • The issue is: (be concise; get to the heart of the problem; is it a recurring problem?)
  • It is significant because: (what’s at stake/what is the future impact if not solved?)
  • The ideal outcome is: (what specific results do we want?)
  • Relevant background information: (summarize how, when, why, and where)
  • What have we done up to this point: (and what options are we considering?)
  • The help we want from the group is: (other solutions/consequences?)

It is striking how similar the themes of these two books are in that they both emphasize having a laser-focused conversation, being fully present and mindful, fully listening to others at the meetings and ending with a statement of solutions/next steps. Be clear about the problem and name the issue. And last, but not least, express unfiltered, unqualified appreciation and praise for people’s efforts at the meeting, at work and in your lives. Statements of gratitude are gifts not only to them but to you as well. Gratitude has been scientifically proven to have positive health benefits and increase happiness.

I am grateful that you are reading this and also for the opportunity to share this information with you.

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How to Reduce Political Polarization

March 2020

Polarity Thinking is a methodology that gets you to identify what is positive and negative about your own and your “opponent’s” belief/habit/action so that you can both build upon strengths, reduce resistance and improve relationships. It highlights interdependence because of the underlying belief that there are two truths in every polarity, both of which are accurate but neither of which is complete without the other.

By purposefully applying this mindset and resisting the urge to get on the ‘call-out bandwagon,’ you can bring awareness about controversial issues and prompt conversation in a sophisticated, rather than argumentative, manner. Once you experience a productive, respectful conversation with someone with very different views, you will feel a ’call-in’ connection you otherwise thought was unattainable.

Things that are more complex cannot be “either or”they need to be “both and.” Each person is urged to learn about the other’s values and clarify language. Realize the importance of and tap into Emotional Intelligence.

In the example below, see how the opposite viewpoints can identify a greater common good that still remains true to their values.

Example:

  • Conservative: Don't give our hard-earned money away.
  • Greater Common Good: Let's create more meaningful jobs and better job training.
  • Progressive: We need to help the poor and disenfranchised.

Aim for the greater purpose – what is good in what you value and what is good in what they value. This is not about persuasion or compromise; rather, it is about understanding and learning.

When you come up against resistance, use curiosity to learn more about what the other person

considers to be important and what that person fears might happen if things changed. When the other person is heard, they open up. When you truly hear them, it gives you a new perspective. Consciously manage the tension, recognize that multiple viewpoints exist and are essential, and identify the best overlapping areas of your beliefs. You will end up with more options as well as a peaceful co-existence.

I recently listened to the TEDxMarin Talk by Rob Willer and thought that it was quite good.

Willer says that when talking with someone with different political leanings, it is helpful to do “moral reframing” and connect a policy to the other person’s underlying moral values. Tap into empathy and respect, rather than being judgmental or argumentative. This is consistent with polarity thinking.

We need less polarization and fewer stereotypes. We need more communicating, calling in/not calling out and listening. The more we work at connecting and valuing each other as people, the stronger our community will be and the healthier and happier we all will be.

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Improving our Communication During Stressful Periods

March 15, 2020

When we are faced with stressful times, such as the social isolation caused by the coronavirus shut-downs and social distancing, there are some things we can do to help relieve anxiety and not fall into potentially damaging communication patterns with others.

The Centers for Disease Control suggest taking these steps to help support yourself:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

In connecting with others affiliated with the campus, whether it be your colleagues, students, supervisors and/or those you supervise, please be mindful of the stress that they may be under. It might be easy to misunderstand another person’s intentions or words. Those living in faculty housing, for instance, may be facing additional stressors with young children or other family members at home. Others may have college-age children back in the house. Everyone is tense. We need to up our empathy.

You may also find yourself acting a bit more irritable or defensive with others as a result of this. Manage what you can and release the need to control what you cannot. Realize that if you are in a heightened state of emotion, such as due to worry over the pandemic, it can cause you to have trouble choosing your words carefully or expressing things in an appropriate way.

Communication is key to a healthy work/academic/home environment. Don’t wait until things have gotten to a bad state before you talk about issues. Express frustration or disappointment gently and early in the situation in order to de-escalate potentially acrimonious interactions. Similarly, be willing to listen when a colleague expresses their feelings about a matter that is important to them. Let them explain fully and do your best not to interrupt as they speak. Respond by acknowledging what they have said and that you understand that it is important to them. Offer to troubleshoot and try to come up with a solution that will work for you all.

If you continue to have a difficult time communicating with others in your work, class, residence hall, etc., and you would like to have a discussion facilitated or an issue mediated, please call the Ombuds Office and we can get a zoom conference (during the shut-down) or an in-person meeting (when we are able) scheduled right away. Take good care of yourselves and others during this unusual time.

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Things We Can Do During the Covid-19 Restrictions

April 2020

We, in the Wellesley College community, are sheltering in place, maintaining social distance, and doing our best to flatten the curve as a result of the December 2019 coronavirus disease pandemic. We may also be sheltering along with one or more others for days, weeks, and months and no matter how much we may like/love those people, we are going to get on each other’s last nerve soon, if we haven’t already. There are psychological effects of quarantine, including PTSD, anger, anxiety and confusion. There is an overwhelming amount of information as well as disinformation. What to do?

There are some things we can do to help alleviate fear, frustration and boredom. Some ideas include: view this as “eating an elephant,” think about it logically, follow protocols, gather necessary supplies, respond appropriately to others, and realize that you are doing a great service for others by staying safe.

  1. Eating an elephant. This pandemic is huge and it seems impossible to digest all at once. When asked the question, “how do you eat an elephant?” the answer is “one bite at the time.” It’s best to take it day by day, focusing on what you can do, rather than what you cannot.
  2. Think about it logically. Think about what is true and real as opposed to what “might be.” It’s easy to focus on the possibility of infection – “I hear someone coughing and therefore they must have Covid-19” – but a better reaction is to think “I assume that person has an itchy throat and I’ll continue to maintain my distance.” Do not let your fear of the unknown overtake your reason. Such worry will take your focus away from where it should be: following proper protocols and practicing self-care.
  3. Follow protocols. There are clear guidelines from the CDC about what we should be doing to keep ourselves healthy during this time – following them gives both a physical sense of safety as well as a psychological one. Also, make yourself go outside for a walk or run each and every day, regardless of the weather. Sunlight, fresh air, and movement are crucial for well-being.
  4. Gather necessary supplies. Get the food, water, vitamins/Tylenol/medicine, cleaning and bath products, etc. that you need and don’t obsess over those that are hoarding and otherwise not thinking about others during this difficult time. When you have what you need, you will feel comforted and more secure.
  5. Respond appropriately to others. Being in close quarters is challenging even in good circumstances (think family gathering when you haven’t been with them for a long time) and it is even more difficult during a government-imposed restriction of movements. When someone says something that gets on your nerves, try not to respond negatively or hurtfully. Make a concerted effort to keep things positive. When someone says something offensive, separate intent from impact:

“I know you didn’t realize this, but when you __________ (comment/behavior), it was hurtful/offensive because___________. Instead you could___________ (different language or behavior.)”

Using this framework is helpful because you are being clear about the specific words/actions’ effect on you and you ask assertively that the other person use different words/actions. Being unclear or assigning evil intent exacerbates the problem. Also, seek separation and space when you need it.

  1. Realize you are doing a great service for others by staying safe. Not being a potential “carrier” because you are practicing social distancing is a gift to others, particularly those most vulnerable to this horrendous virus. Connecting with others via Zoom, FaceTime, and phone conversations is extremely important—in fact, you may end up conversing with people with whom you have lost a bit of contact over time. These reunions are replenishing for the soul.

Practicing these six things hopefully will help during these times of isolation. If you need additional emotional support, such as counseling, please seek it out. Students have the Stone Center Counseling and staff and faculty have access to counselors through our Employee Assistance Program.

Meditation and spiritual guidance are available through the Office of Religious Life, physical education offerings are available through our athletics department, virtual exhibitions are available at the Davis Museum, and even remote concerts are provided by our own music department. Books, articles, podcasts, and more are available through Clapp Library and, of course, faculty and staff are at the ready for consultation and assistance.

We are indeed very fortunate to have such a vibrant and compassionate college community, especially during this time. Let’s all do what we can to maintain a sense of calm and balance, utilizing some of the above tools and taking advantage of our many resources.

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Choosing our Attitudes

April 14, 2020

Viktor E. Frankl said that "the last of the human freedoms [is] to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

You have control over your attitude and with a positive one, you can remain strong, healthy and happy.

There are five foundations of educational well-being: social and emotional competence, positive emotions, engagement through strengths, positive relationships, and sense of purpose. Practicing this positive psychology will result in better physical and emotional health, including a stronger immune system, more resilience, greater capacity to deal with stress, fewer moments of feeling blue, more satisfaction in life, increased awareness, compassion and creativity, better problem solving and cognition, stronger social support, better relationships, and a healthier, more energetic life.

It will make an enormous difference if you mindfully set out to see positive events as permanent and pervasive and negative events as temporary and specific.

We are all dealing with a lot of uncertainty right now. Think back on the skills you have used in the past to cope with uncertainty. Your skills might include focusing on those things that are under your control.

By focusing on the aspects of a problem that you can control, you will go from ineffective worrying to active problem-solving. You may find that in some situations all you can control is your attitude and emotional response, but those things will help you immensely.

A good way to avoid worrying about the future is to focus on the present. When you switch your attention to being fully connected to the present, you can interrupt negative (and quite probably untrue) thoughts and assumptions about the future. Practicing mindfulness can help change one's preoccupation with future worries to a stronger appreciation of the present moment.

Other active changes you can take in your life to reduce stress include taking breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories. This includes social media. It is crucial to get outside each day and let nature help take care of your body and soul. As you walk around, breathe deeply and stretch. When you come back for a meal, reach for something healthy. Having snacks and sweets every now and then are great but don't make them your primary means of nourishment.

It is also really important to connect with others. Talking on the phone and having video conferences are much better for you than texting and posting on Instagram. The real live connection with people we care about, with voices and faces, feeds our souls and helps the isolation feel less so.

When it's time to get that much-needed rest, shut down all screen time for at least an hour before bedtime. Instead, read or write with a pen in a journal before bed. End each day with a statement of gratitude. Wake up each morning with a statement of gratitude. Remember, you alone can choose your attitude. Remember, we are grateful for you.

All of the suggestions above are options that you can choose among. Helping our community explore options is one of the main functions of the Ombuds Office. If you would like to talk with the Ombuds about any situation concerning a fellow classmate or colleague, or a professor or supervisor, you can sign up in the appointment slots on the Ombuds website. I look forward to speaking with you.

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How to be a Better Bystander

May 2020

We have all overheard racist, sexist, and many other "otherness" comments directed at people and groups. Often we shake our heads, mutter something under out breath, and walk away. We do this for a variety of reasons from it being uncomfortable to threatening. Sometimes we are a bit bolder, still unsure, and we might say "that's really not ok," or "cut it out." What could we do – while staying safe – that might help the other person and/or might serve as a wake-up call to the offender and onlookers?

Let's start with an example. You are getting ready for a zoom call and you come onto the screen, along with 5 or 6 other people. You overhear two people having what they think is a private conversation and one says "Can you BELIEVE she belongs to that organization? They are SO extreme and dogmatic. Who do they think they are – with those kinds of beliefs and those kinds of people?" The other responds, "Yeah, it makes me sick and they should just all just form a cult and leave the rest of us alone." You look at the other people waiting for the zoom call to start and two of them look upset, clearly hearing what was said and visibly offended. What should you do??

One thing that will affect your response is your role in the call – are you the professor about to give the lecture? A staff member hearing this from some colleagues? A student observing other students?

Depending on the situation, you might be able to be an active bystander and safely respond, either directly or indirectly. There are four ways to approach it: disrupt, confront, support, and/or report.

Disrupting the situation: This technique focuses on distraction and might be as benign as starting a conversation on the zoom call with the person who are offended or jumping in to stop the harassing conversation. The professor might say, "So, it appears that there are some side conversations going on here and they should stop. I'll address them at another time." The staff member or the student might say "Hey, some of you might not know this but your mics are on and we can all hear you."

Confronting the harasser: Rather than being confrontational, you can intervene by telling them in a respectful, direct, and honest way that their words or actions are not okay." You could say "Hey, we all just heard those comments and they are inappropriate." Another thing you could say is, "What you just said made me feel uncomfortable. We really can't talk this way about other people." This sends a message both to the people making the statements and to others that you recognize the unacceptable comments and they should not be tolerated. The professor might be able to use it as a teachable moment and talk about "calling in" rather than "calling out" and the importance of tolerance, respect and understanding others' positions.

Supporting the target: It would be important to show support and empathy for those who appear to be the targets of these offensive comments. If you are able to talk directly with them after this zoom incident and let them know that you do not believe that they are to blame, it might help them feel better. Showing support, especially soon after such a targeted conversation, is important.

Reporting the incident: Reporting these comments might be the next step. It's important to uphold the values of the campus and keep toxic behaviors out. The Director of Nondiscrimination Initiatives/Title IX Coordinator would be a good resource, as would the office of Human Resources for employees. If you would like to discuss all of the available options, contact the Ombuds and we can talk about them all.

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Choosing our Attitudes, Part 2

May 14, 2020


As an Ombuds, I hear from faculty, staff and students about their emotions during these home-bound days due to COVID-19. Everyone is trying to figure it out. Some are turning to food, greater alcohol consumption, and non-stop social media. Others are getting outside, starting yoga, and having social zoom events. Most of us just want it to be "over." Many want a simple solution for coping during this stressful period.

What to do? Where to turn?

From what I have read, it is important to have the discipline to create a habit of intentional positivity. This is not easy nor is it something you can necessarily do every day. It is not the act of painting a veneer with a simplistic "it will all be ok" mantra, but rather sculpting a thoughtful and individually meaningful form that will guide you. It seems to be grounded in the act of identifying genuine meaning in your life. If you are seeking either power or pleasure, you are on the wrong path.

Over 130 years ago, psychologist William James wrote a short work entitled Habit in which he described how our patterns of behavior shape us. Our conduct becomes our character and personality. Around 1900, Helen Keller's amazing book, Optimism, was published, and in it, she also trumpeted mindful concentration and trust in the good that life has to offer. "Doubt and mistrust are the mere panic of timid imagination, which the steadfast heart will conquer, and the large mind transcend... If I am happy in spite of my deprivations, if my happiness is so deep that it is a faith, so thoughtful that it becomes a philosophy of life, – if, in short, I am an optimist, my testimony to the creed of optimism is worth hearing."

About 45 years later ,during one of the darkest periods in our history, a Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, wrote a life-affirming book, Man's Search for Meaning. Frankl's method was to identify a purpose in life to feel positive about and then visualize that outcome. He was firmly of the belief that making a conscious effort to find meaning in life is the ultimate motivating force in overcoming a sense of helplessness and despair.

These theories have been repurposed by Laurie Santos in her popular course on happiness https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being and her podcast, The Happiness Lab. The pandemic has created an overwhelming response to her work and many people are following her advice with great results. https://news.yale.edu/2020/03/25/housebound-world-finds-solace-yales-science-well-being-course. Like the three authors mentioned above, Santos encourages not only finding positive purpose in life, but also creating discipline in daily life in order for happiness to become a habit.

We all know that anxiety thrives on the unknown and that depression can result when one feels there is no sense of escape. With intentional effort, many can learn and practice several skills that will boost a sense of confidence despite the present virus. It is possible to restore a sense of self-confidence if one nurtures optimism and a realistic sense of control.

Things in your control can include how you speak to yourself and how you think about the person you see without a mask. If you hear yourself thinking negative or judgmental thoughts, notice how your physical body responds. Chances are it will not be positive and the effect on your emotional and physical self will bring you down. You have control over your thoughts as well as your actions, so take time each day to consciously choose positivity and happiness. It just might become a habit.

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Making Race Relations the Center of our Universe

June 2020

"We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe. Elie Weisel, December 10, 1986

The many murders of African Americans, and the most recent murder of George Floyd, by law enforcement officers has left us with many feelings, including outrage, sadness, confusion and despondency. We continue to live in a racist society here in American and we still have racist policing, uneven application of laws, and hateful attitudes.

What can we, individually and collectively, do? What must we do?

What are our options?

It is NOT an option to do nothing.

We can educate ourselves about the history of abusive practices against African Americans;

We can advocate to invest in communities so that they are safer, equally funded, and desegregated;

We can write letters to editors and to legislators demanding evidence of reformed police practices;

We can petition and act for restoration of accountability for civil rights violations;

We can communicate with each other.

We must listen more and talk less. We must reach out to those that look different than we do and actually have real conversations. The more connected we are, the less we feel different. The similarities within us will emerge.

The Ombuds office is about helping our community explore options for action and improving dialogue. As an Ombuds, I’m frequently called upon to help people reach decisions about courses of action. I offer you an opportunity to talk, vent, cry, and explore ideas about what you can do to help reduce racial inequities. If you experience discrimination because of your race, I urge you to seek out the appropriate offices to have that discussion; if you are unsure about how to proceed, please contact me and we will discuss it.

Our nation is grieving in these uncertain times. We can acknowledge the grief and take the next steps.

This needs to be the center of our universe.

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Resources for All, and Particularly for Furloughed Employees

I'm posting these resources in case you are not aware of the many programs that are available for learning new things and growing personally and professionally during these unusual times where we are spending more time inside and less time with friends and colleagues. Setting small, attainable goals, even if your goal for the day is to "watch a TED talk about how to work remotely," will help you feel happier and more productive. Actually, this one ("If You Want to Change the World, Start Off by Making Your Bed") is great to start with.

There are news and magazine articles about learning resources, including "Not working due to lockdown? Here's how to keep busy and learn new skills" and "Because Adults Need Inspiration, COVID-19 Edition".

Here are some free courses, including the very popular Yale University course on Happiness: Soft Skills for Career Success (Coursera); Free Online Learning Due to Coronavirus (Class Central); 10 Best Free Online Courses for Web Designers (JUST Creative). Harvard and MIT are offering free courses as well.

Wellesley employees are able to audit a class for free! You may also be able to take advantage of workshops that increase skills, like grant writing or website creation. There may also be some certificate programs that you can access in order to improve existing skills and add on new ones. Contact HR to find out about them. 

Many major art museums, zoos and aquariums have free online viewing.

Symphonies, ballets and opera are even offering free viewing of past performances, such as Classic FM

There are awesome TED talks, Podcasts, and online books that are available.

The Boston Public Library has opened up its collection for free reading, courses and movies.

And of course the ever-favorite John Krasinski's Some Good News is great.

If you would like to discuss any issue and explore options for activities and attitudes during this extended period of physical distancing, please contact the Ombuds Office and we can schedule a video chat or simply a phone chat at your convenience. ombuds@wellesley.edu

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Our Need to Trust Each Other and Ways to Build It

July 2020
 

Establishing a trusting relationship takes effort and if it’s harmed, it takes much work to get it back.

What if you post someone online about a classmate that hurts that person? If a colleague talks behind your back and then you talk behind theirs? A supervisor tells you one thing during a meeting and then does something completely differently? Can we earn back that trust? Can they?

3 things need to be present for trust: You need to be authentic and genuine. You need to have a good reason behind what you said/did (and therefore it is not arbitrary). You must be empathetic towards the other person and show that you truly care about them, what they say and how they feel.

If we are distracted away from a person or an issue, there will be far less attention paid to them/it and empathy will fail. If you are having a conversation with someone but you are also texting on your phone, then you will not fully be engaged in the dialogue nor will you have the other person’s belief that you are listening to them.

If you act in an arbitrary manner, with no solid foundation for it, it will be hard for someone to respect your position. Also, your point needs to be made assertively and early on in case the discussion becomes a disagreement and you have a harder time making your case.

If you are not authentic/yourself, people will know it. It is generally easier to “be you” if you are more like the people with whom you are speaking. However, it should be safe and welcome at Wellesley to be yourself even if there are many differences between you and the people with whom you are speaking. Some have implicit biases and need gentle but steady guidance to rid themselves of them.

If you want to practice real conversations, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Possibility: what if? The idea is to brainstorm with another person to come up with creative ideas for whatever your goal is – from action to ways to resolve a conflict.
  2. Action: discuss what actions you can take in order to take an idea forward.
  3. Testing Assumptions: create a series of questions to see what assumptions the other person might be making. For instance, here is a good quote by Byron Katie – “We don’t hear what someone said; we imagine what they meant.” The assumption about what someone meant rather than what they actually said could be the difference between a good conversation and one that ends in misunderstanding.
  4. Kindness exercise: discuss what it means to be kind to another person. Is it telling them in a nice way that they need to change, is it lending them your strength, or is it something else?
  5. Conversation about calling others “in” rather than calling them “out.” What are the advantages of showing grace towards another person and leaning in to a conversation rather than creating a disparaging harangue, causing hurt feelings, and still never understanding their point of view?

Once another person can trust that you are doing your best to be authentic, to listen, and to understand, then you are far more likely to establish a good relationship with them. If that trust is broken, even by a small unintentional word, it helps to give a sincere apology and vow to work harder. If the trust seems irretrievably broken, you might need some guidance to have a conversation with that person and try your best to get it back on track. The Ombuds Office is here to help you role play these kinds of conversations, facilitate a dialogue and/or mediate a dispute. 

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Entering Fall 2020 with Anti-Anxiety Attitude

August 2020
 

Anxiety takes a huge toll on all of us and this pandemic has ramped up anxiety like many of us have never experienced before. We all react a little differently and for many, it makes us tired and scared. Some people go inward and kind of shut off the world. Others cannot get enough news and they are constantly looking at Twitter, Instagram, news outlets, TV, etc. Some reach out to friends—if local, they might go out for a socially distanced visit. If far away, they might do video chats. It seems harder to talk through our masks, but it’s possible, and luckily we have other ways to communicate.

There is not one way to handle anxiety, for it depends on the individual; however, there are some generally healthy things that we can do to help reduce the pandemic and other concerns as we get ready for the upcoming academic year. I hope you try all—or at least some—of the following.

Exercise

Outside or inside or both—it doesn’t matter, although I am a big fan out of being outdoors and soaking up some vitamin D. Even 15 minutes makes a huge difference. Whether you are a runner or someone who prefers yoga, engage in whatever activity speaks and sings to you and make it a daily discipline. Doing something every day will pay off for you mentally and physically. 

Get Good Sleep

It is hugely important to get enough rest—go into the REM level of sleep at night and perhaps even take a cat nap in the afternoon if for no other reason than to rest your mind. Getting restful sleep helps with healing, mental clarity, and generally good physical health.

Have Something to Look Forward To

It helps to elevate your mood if you have some kind of plan for the near future that involves fun. Even if it’s just starting a new Netflix series. Happy anticipation releases dopamine and it definitely is something to add to your schedule.

Laugh

There is scientific evidence that laughter is good for both emotional, mental and physical health. Genuine laughter is balm for the soul. I have some friends in Australia who are just naturally funny and they can tell a story in a way that you cannot help but laugh so hard that your stomach hurts. If nothing else, you can watch the videos of babies laughing and that just might do the trick.

Be Compassionate with Yourself and Others

You are entitled to feel angry, sad, or whatever emotion about the situation right now. Be empathetic with yourself and give yourself a break. You can also feel bad about what someone else is going through. You can express your concern and compassion to them, or about them, and/or generally about strangers. The two are not incompatible. Showing care and concern is both wonderful for you and others and I it also creates good karma.

Express Gratitude

Identify at least one thing per day that you are grateful for and express gratitude for it. The mere activity of saying that you are grateful for something creates positive feelings and helps reduce anxiety. Some people keep a gratitude journal, others just think of something they appreciate. It helps a lot.

If You Need More

People with severe anxiety and/or depression will benefit from seeking the advice of medical and counseling professionals, as sometimes the make-up of the body is such that it needs the right medicine. This is not a time to “tough it out” so if you feel that you need professional advice, it is best to seek it.

Generally, calling people “in” rather than “out” can help reduce anxiety as well because it creates bonds within our communities that shore us up and reduces negativity. “Otherness” can add to anxiety, so try to reach out, make connections, and maybe even get involved in projects and causes that you care about. Making a conscious choice to reduce anxiety will get you started on a calmer and happier path. 

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Student Discussion About Having Authentic Conversations About Covid-Related Issues

Watch a short video showing three students discussing ways to have conversations with others about/during the pandemic as well as how to stay positive during this challenging time. Special thanks to Orientation 2020 student leaders Jessi Kim, Ada Eke and, Grace Turner for their willingness to work on this project!

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The Six Stages of Grieving Over the Pandemic

September 2020 

 

A common theme that I hear from all sectors on campus that I work with, including students, staff and faculty, is that of trying to come to “accept” the current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. Because so much of how life has changed involves the loss of things we love – being with friends up close with our full faces showing, traveling to cities and countries far and wide, going to parties inside of buildings, attending concerts, etc. – it may be helpful to think of a framework for living with this “loss” in the same way that we think of it when losing a loved one.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist, is famous for identifying five stages in dealing with loss in her book, On Death and Dying. The stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This model was the result of many interviews with dying patients and she saw a pattern from their common emotional experiences. The model is helpful when people feel like they won’t be able to move from a trapped and negative feeling, say ‘anger,’ to a feeling of release, which is ‘acceptance.’ This doesn’t mean that we are happy with the state of affairs, but rather that we are able to be mindful and present in our lives without being trapped in a negative, or depressive, state. In today’s situation, we can use this as a way to enjoy happiness in spite of the restrictions that the pandemic has placed on us. Also, this framework is not prescriptive, but descriptive. We may not move lock-step from one to the next, but will often experience all of them.

A short explanation of each stage might be helpful.

Denial: This helps you cope and survive the event that is causing you grief. By denying it, the impact of the hurtful situation is lessened. Your body is telling it to go away until you are ready to handle it.

Anger: You need someone or something to be mad at, which makes you feel better. Blaming the pandemic on something exterior to you gives you a focus, an enemy, and something to “kick.” It helps in the short term and it is a hopefully temporary reaction to a situation that causes you grief.

Bargaining: This is the stage where you say that you’ll make a change in your life as long as the thing that’s causing you pain will go away. Somehow you think that you can get away from the grief by this negotiation. People do this in the face of a serious situation, such as a pet dying, by saying that they will never act hatefully towards a family member again as long as the pet lives. This, too, is a common step.

Depression: The stage when you feel sad, lost, unmotivated, and practically hopeless. Often you don’t reach out to friends or family, you stay in bed too long, and you can’t seem to find anything to feel happy or hopeful about. It is a sad, lonely phase to be in but it, too, often happens with grief.

Acceptance: When you are in this stage, you say to yourself that you are going to deal with the situation as best you can, you will live your life fully and with as much happiness as possible, and you re-adjust your lens and your attitude. You learn to live with the new reality and find goodness yet again.

A thanatologist and author, David Kessler, who co-wrote books with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross after she had suffered a number of strokes and was facing her own death, added a sixth stage to this framework of grief, that of “Finding Meaning.” By adding that, he found that it allowed for greater healing. 

I do find that I am more grateful for little things these days and look forward to when we can rip these masks off our faces and smile at one another again. It will happen and we will be stronger for it all.

 
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RBG/Scalia Friendship: Important Take-Aways

October 2020

 

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on September 18, 2020 has ignited humans from all walks of life to re-dedicate ourselves to the causes she championed, from equal rights for all to the importance of looking past our differences to find common ground and friendship. From the viewpoint of an Ombuds, I see this is reflective of worthy aspirations for us all.

Justice Ginsburg was denied a law firm job despite graduating 1st in her law school class because she was married, Jewish, and a mother. She turned to teaching at law schools and became Columbia University Law School’s first female tenured professor. She also served as director of the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU, where she argued six major cases on gender equality before the US Supreme Court, where she would be appointed to serve 20 years later by President Bill Clinton and easily confirmed by the US Senate. 

Justice Ginsburg’s friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia, a fierce conservative, was legendary. Their political views were at polar opposites but they were able to respect and admire each other’s minds. Their arguments with one another were intellectually intense, while respectful and dignified. 

These two justices also shared a deep love of opera, which was yet another thing they had in common. They recognized what they had overlapping rather than what was different and divisive.

Justice Ginsburg explained how she and Justice Scalia were able to have such a deep friendship and she said, “We know that even though we have sharp disagreements on what the Constitution means, we have a trust. We revere the Constitution and the Court, and we want to make sure that when we leave it, it will be in as good a shape as it was when we joined the Court.”

I have often called all on our campus to Call In rather than Call Out. We all need to learn how to have difficult conversations in a civil manner, just as these revered Justices did. 

People in all walks of life today are so quick to label others as [insert terrible word] and ghost each other (or throw shade or whatever phrase of the day is). We need to learn to talk about how the issues affect us, really listen to each other and acknowledge/respond. Rather than ratcheting up the vitriol, we should take deep breaths and channel Justices Ginsburg and Scalia. If we were to do that, what a huge difference we would see in our campus, communities and country. 

If you say something offensive that hurts someone, say you are sorry. If another person apologizes to you, forgive them and go on with your life. Don’t hold onto grudges or focus on the “wrong” they did to you. Be empathetic when someone shares concerns or fears, even if you think they are over-reacting. Empathy goes a long way and helps heal someone’s wounds. As a foundation to all of this, please recognize the dignity of others – even if you disagree with them on every level. Doing so will help erase the labels we are so quick to slap on people and allow you to actually hear what they say. It does not mean that you agree with them or think they are inherently good – it means you are showing grace.

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The Crucial Importance of Having Real Conversations

I’ve enjoyed reading a book that I picked up last semester on the “free book cart” in Clapp Library. It is Turning to One Another, Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future by Margaret J. Wheatley (BK Publishers, 2002). Wheatley is a known leadership author and management consultant. She felt compelled to write this very different book because of her fervent belief that we all need to listen to each other and work hard to improve human conversation. She believes that if we sit together to truly listen and prop each other up, we can effect powerful and positive change. Even though the book was published 18 years ago, it is remarkable how relevant it is to the Covid-19 environment we find ourselves in. For instance, Wheatley writes “I don’t meet many people who are optimistic anymore… Almost everyone is experiencing life as more stressful, more disconnected, and less meaningful than just a few years ago.” She even adds in her list of possible upsetting changes “A disease in one location spreads like wildfire into global contagion.” She asks “What can we do now to restore hope to the future?” Wheatley is very positive and optimistic about the strength and resilience of humans and urges us to strive to be our best selves and adds that “[t]he cure for despair is not hope. It’s discovering what we want to do about something we care about.” Sure, conversation involves risk, but once we’ve stepped into bravery and started to actually communicate with another person, it brings you together like nothing else.

Wheatley’s goal in this book is to encourage open and honest communication. She acknowledges that it is not easy to begin talking to one another again but that people are longing to be in conversation again. The word “conversation” has as its roots the old French word for the heart (cuer); once we speak through our hearts, we speak about things that affect us deeply. She points out that when we don’t talk to each other, we give up our humanity, stop acting intelligently, and we become passive. 

I found this particularly poignant: “The irony is that we want to help, but feel impotent, and so we withdraw the one thing that does help, our companionship. If you’ve experienced grief, you know how healing it is to just have friends sit with you, not saying a word, not expecting anything from you. You don’t need them to do anything except be there, bearing witness to your loss and sorrow… We can turn away, or we can turn toward. Those are the only two choices we have.” 

Use conversation with another person as an equal, not to act in a superior, manipulative or coercive way. People are not objects to use as a means of accomplishing one’s causes. Wheatley urges us to be intrigued by the differences we hear and remember that “you don’t fear people whose story you know … [because] meaningful conversations can change your world.”

This book speaks to what I truly believe in – the power of face-to-face conversations. So many of us resort to the anonymity of social media to tear other people down. There is nothing positive about such cowardly pronouncements and the harm that it can cause to another can be severe and long-lasting. The next time you feel compelled to go to social media and state what other people “should do” or “should think,” I urge you to close that window on your computer and instead connect with someone via zoom or other chat feature to engage in a real human conversation. That someone just might surprise you and become a close friend. Take the risk, turn toward and engage in real conversations.

 

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How to be an Emotionally Intelligent Member of the Wellesley College Community/Part One

November 2020

 

I found a wonderful resource in the library, tucked into the Education Section and want to share some of the nuggets therein. The book is entitled “Becoming Emotionally Intelligent” (2003, Network Educational Press) and it is written by Catherine Corrie, a British teacher, school manager and trainer of teachers. This book resonated with me for many reasons, not the least of which is that it appears that many of the issues that come to me as an Ombuds involve the need for us all to have a higher level of emotional intelligence (EI). Thus, I will explore this topic in a series of blogs. There is just too much fabulous information to limit it to one!

Corrie defines Emotional Intelligence as “a WAY of understanding and shaping how we think, feel and act” (emphasis added). She goes on to define Intellectual Intelligence (which allows us to solve logical problems) as well as Spiritual Intelligence (which allows us to solve problems involving meaning and value). She explains that EI is the bridge between the Intellectual and Spiritual Intelligence. Without EI, it is difficult to have self-awareness, motivation, empathy or accountability. Having these essential skills leads to more optimistic and responsible communities. Furthermore, EI shapes 75% of our success.

A three - part model is outlined in this book:

  1. Know ourselves: Notice our thoughts, interpretations, and behaviors and understand them in light of our emotions and responses.

  2. Make choices: mindfully choose how we think about things and respond and make a choice about “who” we wish to be.

  3. Develop Emotional Wisdom: consistently act out of love, optimism and compassion in order to serve a greater goal.

She urges us to start becoming the person we each want to be and select our responses consciously.

Corrie spends some time on the topic of being a “Victim,” a role into which many of us fall. She explains that each time we complain and do nothing about it, we are playing the role of victim. We should not deny the power to be in control of our own lives. How we receive and react to events is within our power: we can complain or we can forgive and then act in a way that is consistent with our values. Some people play the role of a “Persecutor” (one who is angry and critical in order to stay distant) or that of a “Rescuer” (a compulsive responder who takes away someone’s experience to cope). She explains that all three of these roles (victim, persecutor and rescuer) come from a place of fear rather than from a place of honesty. Corrie suggests that we need to strive to be a “Leveler” instead. “A leveler can state how things are for them without blaming, can be sensitive and caring without placating or going into agreement and does not wear a mask*.” This person maintains a sense of self, is assertive, is able to act in line with personal values and is authentic in communications.

I hope you will join me in a quest to become a leveler and avoid being a victim, persecutor or rescuer. It is a tall order, one that requires conscious and healthy thoughts and responses, but it will be worth it.

By the way, Catherine Corrie has a blog and she often refers to one by Anabel Jensen. Another excellent resource is work done at Yale University at the Center for Emotional Intelligence.

*Obviously, Corrie is not referring to a Covid mask!