Staying Connected & Building Community
An Interview with Andrea Stanton, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies and Chair of the Religious Studies Department
How has your work changed, adapted, and shifted in this virtual world?
One of my main concerns as chair is to make sure that we stay connected and use this time to build and strengthen our community. We do weekly faculty/staff check-ins and weekly all-community check-ins – they’re optional to attend and allow us to troubleshoot anything happening with our students and to reaffirm our connection to one another.
We really miss seeing our students and one another in our department suite. Most of our check-in conversations focus on students: we go through the lists of our majors and MA students and talk about students we have been in touch with and those we haven’t heard from, and talk about how we are doing – and, because we’re a pretty pooch-focused department, we also talk a lot about our dogs! We try to keep an active department Facebook page and student listservs. In ordinary times, we use these platforms primarily to send news of upcoming events, registration deadlines, and other announcements. As we look ahead to fall, my colleagues and I are talking about “guest lecturing” in one another’s courses in the fall, online or in person, to help share our sense of community as a department with students.
We’re also planning our own departmental graduation celebration for our students and their family and friends. We are bursting with pride about our students and excited to find new ways to celebrate their achievements!
Like many DU folk, I have kids at home, and balancing that has been an interesting challenge. I treasure the extra time with them, although I do feel that I seem to send emails or write class notes in 5-minute spurts. They enjoy stopping by all my Zoom meetings; knowing that they are watching me and that they notice whether I participate actively in meetings helps remind me to pay attention and stay engaged!
What are some the biggest successes you’ve seen as the world has shifted to a virtual experience?
I am really proud of how DU folks have stepped up at all levels and in multiple areas: working to connect with students, working to connect with colleagues in other departments and offices, and working above all to support one another and our mission to provide the best student experience we can, the best community engagement we can, and the best knowledge creation and sharing that we can. I am also really proud of DU leadership, who have stepped up efforts to communicate with the DU community through regular email updates, Zoom town halls, and other means – communication that involves seeking out student, staff, and faculty ideas and input, and answering lots of questions! The level of transparent and honest communication, especially when we know that many of them are working 12-20 hour days, is inspiring and I think has helped bolster our confidence during this difficult time.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve seen as the world has shifted to a virtual experience?
One of the biggest challenges I see is how we support equity and inclusion as we engage virtually. I’ve been participating in the Office of Teaching and Learning / Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’s weekly session on “advancing equity in the online classroom,” which has been really helpful. I think there will be some great opportunities to build on this work for 2020-2021 and beyond, since face-to-face courses often have online components and since DU already has many great part- or all-online programs. I think we will also be able to translate this into our efforts to advance equity in online meetings and other virtual engagements – so I think that this challenge can also become an opportunity for future success!
If you could say one thing to the DU Community right now, what would you say?
This spring has been such a challenge: its not as if one department decided to teach its courses online, and everything else in the world remained the same – or even as if DU as a whole made that change. The best description I have seen is that we aren’t teaching and learning online: we’re teaching and learning in an emergency, with online platforms as the mode that supports us. At the same time, I keep hearing in my head my MFJS colleague Nadia Kaneva’s words, that this moment is also one where we are all living DU’s educational approach: learn by doing. Instructors are modeling this as we adjust our own work processes and figure out ways that Zoom can flex into a productive classroom environment. Students are doing this by developing a growth mindset around their online learning skills – and developing professional skills by getting familiar with Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Whatever 2020-21 looks like, I’m excited that we will be innovating together: students, staff, and faculty.
To learn more about Dr. Stanton's work, visit: https://www.du.edu/ahss/religiousstudies/facultystaff/stanton.html