For members of a university community: take care of who you are

by Joyce McConnell

Joyce McConnell headshotAs the national election approached several weeks ago, we saw a surge in mental health, mindfulness, and self-care resources, along with calls across social and traditional media sites to “take care of yourself!” I sent a message urging our CSU community to take care of themselves on November 4, and as the election results remained uncertain and national tensions remained high, I saw those messages continue.

There are many ways to take care of yourself during an anxious time; you don’t need to look hard to find a dozen suggestions. Take a walk outdoors. Cook something you enjoy. Read a novel. Take a nap. Watch a favorite show. Exercise. Listen to music. Call a friend. Meditate. Work on a craft. Eat something delicious. Take a bath.

These are all wonderful ideas. I hope that all members of our CSU community tried some of these things over the last few weeks and continue to take care of themselves in these ways in the coming weeks and months. Even with a clear outcome in the national election, we are still living in a deeply divided country; grappling with centuries of structural racism, sexism, and other biases; dealing with a global pandemic; and seeing first-hand the effects of climate change. Our awareness of those challenges is exhausting, and even the most resilient among us need to take a break, recharge, and renew our energy. We need to take care of ourselves so we can continue to engage with these challenges. And for the members of the CSU community who are working to transform our world for the better, I have a specific call:

Take care of who you are. Take care of your identity, whether as teacher or researcher, employee or student. Take care of the passion and the expertise that brought you to CSU and that sustains you every day.

You see, as I wrote in a recent essay on the First Amendment, at CSU, we are leaving the limitations of free speech behind to explore engaged inclusive discourse, focusing on how we can — through dialogue — solve hard problems, make big decisions, and shape our world.

That’s a lot to ask of a community. It demands that we all bring our best selves, our most open, curious, and empathetic selves, to our conversations. And it’s why I urge everyone in our community not just to take care of themselves in the universal ways we are all hearing about — exercising, taking naps — but to take care of who they are.

For faculty, that means thinking about what you need to do for yourself to be the teacher you want to be right now. Whatever your strengths as an educator — dynamic lecturing, active listening, clear explanations of complex ideas, one-on-one mentoring — now is the time to nurture those strengths.

For scholars, researchers, and creative artists, that means focusing on what you need to produce your best work. Whether it’s solitude or space, more time in the lab or library, or intellectual partners to bounce ideas off of, take care of yourself by seeking out what you need.

For students, we know that this year has been particularly painful and stressful for many of you. Some of you are just discovering what it means to be a CSU student, while many of you who had this stuff down are having to discover new ways to learn. Regardless of where you are on your educational journey, however, take care of yourself in ways that support your learning. Get enough sleep. Don’t forget to eat. And if you’re struggling as a student, reach out for help — to a faculty member, an advisor, an RA, or another resource.

When I think about the coming weeks and months, I am incredibly hopeful about the engaged, inclusive discourse around difficult issues that CSU is uniquely and deeply prepared to foster in our community and beyond. I believe that discourse can succeed in breaking down barriers and bridging differences — but only when our extraordinary teachers, researchers, students, and employees come into those discussions sure in their own strengths and identities.

So again, I urge everyone in the CSU community to take care of yourselves in the coming weeks, and to do so intentionally, with the same faith in what your identity can bring to our shared future that I have in each and every one of you.

Take care of yourselves for who you are. Know that we are so, so grateful for all of you, and so proud to have you as members of the CSU family.

Joyce McConnell is the 15th president of Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

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