I run a variety of different sorts of community workshops in addition to formal academic teaching at Cornell University and at the Community College of Vermont.
In 2015 and 2016, I’ve worked with the New England Resilience and Transition Network and with JP New Economy Transition to develop and offer introductory workshops in dismantling oppression at regional gatherings of that community. I’ve also been working with congregations and community groups in southern Vermont to develop trainings around the kinds of anti-racist work that are necessary in predominantly (but not entirely) white communities more specifically.
For its first three years, I was a core organizer for the wonderful annual Epic Skill Swap, a “participatory weekend festival where you can learn new skills, share the skills you have, and spend a couple days with an amazing group of people.” Like the organizers of the still-strong ESS, I believe that sharing skills and knowledge in informal community settings, not being bound by ideas that only “experts” can teach, has the capacity to build lasting connections, stronger communities, and maybe just possibly, the more just world that we want to see. Currently I am co-organizing a local community skillshare in southern Vermont, taking place quarterly around Equinoxes and Solstices, each skillshare offering one spectacular day of community learning. At this and other skillshares, I’ve led workshops in basic herbal medicine making, restorative justice, whole-heart wellness, mentoring, and more.
I also design curriculum for and lead programs with the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice. I *love* creating open access curricula like that which CSJ developed to support participants’ learning journeys, available for free on the web. There are bits and pieces of my work scattered throughout the Study Guide they put together, along with the amazing work of many other activists, leaders and scholars–like the Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen, the Rev. Kathleen McTigue, Laura Lubin, Kye Flannery, Evan Seitz, Sam Wilson, Joshua Kahn Russell, and so many more!
I am happy to work with you and your community group to develop workshops around a variety of topics. From dismantling oppression and white anti-racism work to community health workshops; from herbal wellness to writing fiction and poetry to how-to-organize community workshops, I’m open to listening to what your group is looking for and helping fill the need.
“To teach in varied communities not only our paradigms must shift but also the way we think, write, speak. The engaged voice must never be fixed and absolute but always changing, always evolving in dialogue with a world beyond itself.”
-bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress (p 11)
I am inspired, in my community education practices as much as in my work in formal classrooms, by the insights of scholar-practitioners like bell hooks. She hits the proverbial nail on the head when she notes that teachers themselves have to shift their understandings of their own work when they teach across different communities. She also, later in this text, refers to teaching as an “act of radical love.” The ability of the teacher–or, perhaps better, the facilitator of a learning experience–to both be flexible and to also be present enough with her students to learn how to use love, deep care, as the ground of her teaching, is key.
Key to what, you might ask? To many things, I suspect, but I am thinking here of two in particular. First, deep care as a mode of being in a classroom, and the willingness to flex in teaching approaches, has a far greater capacity to build relationship with students. And it is through relationship that learning, true learning, happens.
Second, and perhaps more radical, is the notion I hold dear that when we engage in the process of teaching (and learning from) one another, we are opening up a space of huge potential. That space is not merely full of the possibility of more people being familiar with certain content–the date of the formalization of medical education in the United States, for instance, or how anthropologists think about “terrorism” in the aftermath of the Cold War.
More importantly, the potential spaces of teaching and learning can allow us to hear each other, to recognize each other, across dramatically different life experiences. These acts of hearing and recognition are, many activists and social scientists hold, the beginning of processes of healing the various hurts that individuals and communities sustain in this dramatically difficult late-capitalist world. And if this hearing one another is possible in a classroom, it is possible in the wider world.
These are the key elements that I bring with me into community education:
A desire and willingness to be flexible, meeting the learners or participants where they are at when they come in.
The capacity to hold space for the kinds of openness and vulnerability that are required on my part as an educator in order for a space of deep care, of love, to be a central part of how the learning space plays out.
A commitment to listening to the needs of the group at hand, and learning with them along the way.
Thanks for your interest in my approach to teaching in university and college settings.
As an educator, I strive to help students draw together the contexts of their lives at large with the theoretical concerns and analytical frameworks of anthropological endeavors. The broad goal of my work in an anthropology classroom is to provide students not only with content related to ethnographic and historical research, but also with the relevant analytical tools to understand more deeply the worlds that they live in.
I present my students with a variety of materia in order to stimulate thoughtful reflection and discussion. Drawing them into scholarly and activist conversations about knowledge, critical observation, and careful analysis, I give them the tools necessary for them think reflexively about their own experiences and their own communities. By working through ethnographic texts, popular media, theoretical frameworks, analytical and creative writing alongside my students, I help them learn how to develop curiosities and questions uniquely their own.
As an engaged scholar, a core objective of any classroom teaching is to enable students to make connections with communities near them or in their chosen research sites in ways that are meaningful and transformative. The classroom is never the limit, in my approach to teaching—in fact, it’s only the starting ground. Students’ written explorations, including final papers and presentations, are often grounded in part in local engagements. For instance, the first-year writing seminar I taught in 2016 received a small grant from Engaged Cornell to partner with the local cooperative grocery. This broadens students’ analysis of economic and food justice, as well as their understanding of where, and with what kinds of experts, their learning can take place.
My training as an experiential educator, and my engagement at the level of community education—through community college teaching as well as facilitation of educational workshops in various communities—gives me a unique approach to the process of classroom education at the university level. For instance, I frequently use workshop modules drawn from activist work around issues of oppression in order to help students better understand difficult concepts like systemic racism. One such activity involves presenting students with short scenarios and asking them to reflect on what aspect of their own identity would be first in their consideration of their response to the scenario. They move to spaces around the room labeled with terms like race, class, gender, citizenship status, physical ability, sexual orientation, and age, and upon arrival, they discuss where they are standing, why they are there, and what other aspects of their identity they considered while making this choice. Students have remarked on the deeper insight they gain to their own subconscious understandings of how their own identities shape their lives.
They also often reflect on what elements of others’ experience may be visible or invisible to them, and the kinds of privilege that may be afforded in that matter of invisibility. I offer students a space to grapple with such realizations of relative levels of privilege and the matter of diversity in and out of the classroom. This enriches the kind of conversation about texts and course materials we can have, enabling clearer communication across difference and diversity in the classroom and outside of it.
I have a practical and theoretical commitment to making classrooms generative and generous spaces for learning. I am attentive to the different learning styles of each individual student, while simultaneously offering appropriate challenges. At the beginning of every course I take the time with students to collaboratively develop a model for what an ideal learning environment looks like for them—based on their own experiences. By marking what are useful practices in the classroom, and what detract from classroom and broader learning experiences, this collaboratively generated list of “productive” and “detrimental” behaviors starts to create an atmosphere of trust, and the beginnings of a productive learning community in the class. I am committed to seeing each student as an individual who has growing edges as well as areas that she excels and finds her passion. Noting that discomfort can be a mark of learning, we work together to create a learning environment where each person is asked to take responsibility for their speech, their actions, and their arguments. I foster an atmosphere in which we come to see that we are all always learning together. I facilitate discussion of challenging course material in such a way that each student feels that their voice is heard, offering them tools for communication in other parts of their lives.
To the end of supporting a diverse community of learners, I have developed a repertoire of teaching strategies that cover the gamut of learning styles. I incorporate audiovisual material alongside written texts and lectures, engaging different kinds of attention and allowing students to make different kinds of observations. Using material drawn from popular culture, film and music, as well as current news articles and critical ethnographic texts enables students to draw connections between analytical and scholarly work and the work of everyday life. To synthesize and analyze such materials, I routinely ask students to write freely and reflectively upon entering the classroom. Students have reflected that free-writing in the beginning of class enables them to “feel prepared to discuss” their observations, thoughts, and analyses relevant to the topic at hand—this is a technique I find as useful in large lecture courses as it is in smaller seminars.
I ask students to lead a portion of classroom discussions on key course materials at least once per semester, a process they describe as “scary but useful,” and frequently reflect on as one of their favorite parts of a class discussion because they “get to hear” what their peers are thinking about a text. I help students develop such abilities to parse and communicate to peers about difficult or new information by using online learning technologies to extend written discussions on course material. In more guided formal essays and informal written assignments, I give students the opportunity to build their analytical engagement in a way that is useful for their chosen course of study and path in life. I craft written assignments so that students are exposed to skills central to excellent thinking and communication: honing observational skills, taking and synthesizing notes, crafting research questions, drafting essays and other writing for peer and instructor review, and presenting information to relevant communities. Students say that my peer review process is useful to them, especially because the ways they are asked to think about their peer’s writing itself helps them reflect on what constitutes good, clear writing for their own work.
I believe that a good education serves to give students tools to think with, content to reflect on, and new ways to relate to the world. As an educator, I seek never to subsume my desire for students to know particular facts to the reality that they will, after our class is done, continue to live in a world that is riven by many kinds of divisions. An education in the social sciences, done well, gives students the tools to analyze, historicize, and discuss these divisions in a way that does not create more divisions. I teach as a practice of practice of hope—for my students and myself—that in learning how to learn, and how to think generously and generatively, we might together make a world that is not quite so violent, not quite so divisive, not quite so uneasy.
Dr Melissa Rosario’s reflections on the embodied work/love of decolonization. Her budding project, “Center for Embodied Pedagogy and Action (CEPA),” is so named “to signal its dual mission of building eco-social futures in Puerto Rico while fostering purposeful island/diaspora encounters at home.”
Check out her webpage, too, at:
These last two weeks of July, I have the pleasure of co-leading a social justice training program for a rockin’ group of teen social justice activists. They come from all over the country to hang out and learn together with the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice’s National Youth Justice Training program. Many of these folks identify as Unitarian Universalists, and some do not. The program is aimed at providing a spiritually grounded approach to social justice activism (see this book for an example of how that can work), and we partner with other awesome organizations, lots of them, to work with our students through anti-oppression trainings and internships.
We try to frame this approach in order to take seriously the toxic and real consequences of racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, ableism and more in the contemporary United States. We also want to take seriously the reality that it is easy, in sight of the mountains of justice work that have yet to be crossed, to lose our way–to be discouraged, to work so hard we burn ourselves out, to become cynical. Speaking for myself, I believe that grounding our work for justice in the wisdom of spiritual traditions–wherever we find them–helps us all to approach that work with the tools we need in order to do it well, and to do it for the long haul, to do it without burnout.
I do not believe that grounding activism spiritually is the *only* way to do it healthy and for the long haul, though. It seems to me that there must be something that feeds us as activists beyond the bare necessity to do this work–because the bare necessity will never, ever go away, and progress is usually incremental. There are other ways that people feed themselves, care for themselves, beyond explicit links to a spiritual tradition or set of principles that they can turn to, in community with others, when they need support and solace.
What are some of those methods and tools for you?
How do you feed yourself as an activist of whatever stripe while doing the work you do, whatever it is you are called to?
One of my main tools is tea. LoTs of TeA!! Usually of the nervine variety. I’m hoping to share some lemon balm and rose petal tea with the students tonight (in “iced” form) during our “down time” activity, and open up a space for talking about self care. I’m excited by the chance to hear what their own experiences are with feeling overwhelmed, and what tools they use to get their feet back under them.
I’m also excited to share with them some reflections on why it matters really, really deeply that we care for ourselves–and why it also matters that we reach out to everyone in our communities and beyond and make it possible for more and more people to care for themselves. After all, it ought not to just be activists who recognize the need for this kind of time and space–and for me at least it is part of my work as an activist to make a world possible where self-care, time off, relaxation, and re-inspiration are accepted as norms for all people, rather than taken as “cool,” “radical,” or otherwise outside of everyday experience.
There are many aspects of healing justice beyond the question of self-care: think about health care equality in terms of access to care, as on indigenous reserves around this continent. Think about disparities in respect and treatment quality at hospitals based on class and race. Think about worldwide inequities in the cost of medicines for debilitating diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria. Think also about the way that most medical systems treat a symptom, rather than a person with a whole life–with a community–embedded in an ecological reality. Think about the toxic burden placed on communities of color and economically marginalized communities in the form of refineries, factories, garbage dumps and more that are placed in their neighborhoods.
These matters and many more are central to discussions of what it means to seek healing justice. Given a principle of starting where we are, though, I start with ourselves–asking how we may nurture ourselves in order to better understand and resist the oppressions offered by the current status quo.
What is all this?
I’m Charis. I’m an herbalist, a scholar, a teacher, a child, a woman, a witch with words and herbs. I’m a community organizer and I try to be a vessel for compassion and justice. Drawing on my background as an anthropologist of medicine, healing and religion, as well as my long term commitment to building a socially and environmentally just world, I created TumbleUp Wellness in order to help our communities address our health and wellness needs. Fierce Blossom Herbals, offering teas and tinctures and more, grounds this work in the world of plants and natural remedies.
Logistical realities that come out of all this? I do holistic wellness and herbal consultations on a sliding scale that is based on ability to pay–whatever you decide your ability is–and I’m open to work-trades as well. I strive to be accessible in a number of ways–I’m available for consults and workshops in person, by phone, or over the Interwebz.
How did I get here?
I’ve come to my herbal medicine and wellness practice for many reasons. Most powerfully, I feel deeply the suffering of the residents of this planet. I see huge strains on our society–on our globalizing cultures. On our planet and her ecosystems. I see social inequity–oppression and injustice in the form of gaps between the rich and the middle class, let alone between the rich and the chronically poor. I see rising numbers of people incarcerated, predominantly people of color–they and their families becoming traumatized by that system and its systemic racism and cyclical nature. I see a culture of violence and fear–fear of everything from our government to our neighbors to the possibility of a new world. I see suffering and exploitation–much of it at the hands of corporations whose first mission is to get a few people rich. I see activists, and all those who do their best to help their communities, burned out by the depth of the need that is there. I see the horrors of war as they are wreaked at a distance by drones, by bombs, by cross-territory missiles on communities across the planet. Those horrors come home to the United States not only in hyperbolic newscasts, but also in the eyes and hearts of veterans of war who witness so much suffering themselves and, by participation in it, return to us changed.
I see a world where people work so much they are completely exhausted, they lose sight of their heart’s longing. This happens because we have families we love, and we want to feed and support them, and because the system we live with is profoundly unjust–economically, socially, and politically. This culture hurts us–the relentless drive for speed, progress, and getting more and more leaves us empty and lonely for connection.
I see all this–and I also see a world that is full of possibility. Full of hope. Full of people loving and thriving in spite of it all. I see people who struggle through their daily life and still have a million sparks of humor, of desire, of love to give. These sparks are our vitality–they rekindle our hope when it seems all is lost. Now, at what can feel like the end of the world, a chaotic time of changing climate, ecosystems, economies, social structures, now is a time of great possibilities. Great and wonderful changes–we can shepherd these in together.
I am sometimes afraid of what I see–I see myself and all of us walking on the blade of a knife, poised, balanced, breathing slowly, but able to tip off at any moment. How and fear keep tugging us from one side to another.
The challenge of our time, I think, is to live holding both these things in our hands, like the precious gifts they are. Our flesh feels them, each of them, deeply and poignantly–viscerally. We are tugged towards hope, towards profound love, one moment, and towards fear the next.
Rather than thinking we can get rid of either (“be realistic!” some say to the dreamers, “don’t be so hopeful!” Or, “be positive!” say the hopeful people, “ignore the message of the fear!”) it is instead our gift, our great challenge, to hold both together as the visceral realities of our fleshly lives. These are the consequences of being alive on this teeming planet at this time. This is the manifestation of our desire, of the gap–the scary Unknown–that is between what is now, and what is to come.
To bring hope and fear into our bodies, welcome them both, make them at home, and bring them into radical presence in our lives together. This is at the root of the healing work that I do, and at the heart of the healing spaces I create with those who seek them. Your digestion, your back pain, and your eczema each matter–and are each bound up, I believe, with these larger questions. What are you afraid of? What do you long for? Where do you feel stuck in your life? TumbleUp Wellness makes room for your whole self and experience as we seek physical and emotional health together.
Just a quick note to let you know about a musing I wrote for AllegraLaboratory entitled “Going Native at Home: Explorations in Method-and Note-ology.”
Themes? I talk about doing field research and what it means to embody a commitment to that process. What’s the difference between writing memory and body memory? Can we honor that?
Caveats? I did not choose the images, though I’ll happily take full responsibility for the text!
More soon on how we talk about healing, what healing has to do with social justice, how communities buy into toxic culture syndrome and what we might be able to do about it. Also, more about plants! (I’m so excited about tincturing hard rooty berry things this week that I broke my coffee grinder…might have to invest in that darn Vitamix….)
Big bottle to small bottle usually means spills…the funnel makes it a bit better. Yay tools!
Herbal formulation in the works!
This one was put together for my parents, as my dad heads off to an overseas job and my mom gets excited about cardiovascular health! Holistic medicine means taking into account all the various factors effecting a person’s emotional and physical well-being–I create formulas designed for the particular desires of the people with whom I work.