Featured Speakers

Vijay Kanagala

Vijay Kanagala

Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs, University of Vermont

Rhonda Magee

Rhonda Magee

Professor of Law, University of San Francisco

Carla Sherrell

Carla Sherrell

Core Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Counseling and Psychology, Naropa University

Judith Simmer-Brown

Judith Simmer-Brown

Distinguished Professor of Contemplative and Religious Studies, Naropa University

Dafina-Lazarus (D-L) Stewart

Dafina-Lazarus (D-L) Stewart

Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs, Bowling Green State University

Éliane Ubalijoro

Éliane Ubalijoro

Professor of Practice for Public and Private Sector Partnerships, McGill University

Keynote Descriptions & Biographical Information

Revolutionary Mindfulness
How do mindfulness and compassion practices support us in the work of educating for not merely radical but revolutionary social change?  In this presentation, Professor Magee identifies research and practices that support the communion of inner work, interpersonal work, and systemic change.  She challenges contemplative educators, administrators and leaders to make revolutionary mindfulness the foundation of our work.

Rhonda V. Magee, (M.A., J.D. Sociology) is Professor of Law at the University of San Francisco, a teacher of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, and a student Buddhism. She is a facilitator of mindful and compassionate communication.  In April 2015, she was named a Fellow of the Mind and Life Institute.

Her teaching and writing is inspired by commitments to compassionate problem-solving and presence-based leadership in a diverse world, and to humanizing education.  She sees mindfulness and compassion practices as keys to personal, interpersonal and collective transformation and is a nationally-recognized thought and practice leader in the emerging fields of contemplative legal education and teaching mindfulness and compassion in higher education.

Rhonda is the author of numerous articles on mindfulness in legal education, including Educating Lawyers to Meditate? 79 UMKC L. Rev. 535 (2011), and The Way of ColorInsight: Understanding Race and Law Effectively Using Mindfulness-Based ColorInsight Practices, 8 Georgetown J. of Mod. Crit. Race Perspectives 251 (2016).  Rhonda is a nationally-recognized thought and practice leader in the emerging fields of contemplative legal education and teaching mindfulness and compassion in higher education.

For more information, see https://usfca.academia.edu/RhondaMagee.

Student Affairs Track Keynote

Toward A Transformed Vision of Contemplative Education: Student Development, Intersectionality and Social Justice
Topics related to intersectionality and social justice are becoming increasingly more important within the contemplative education movement and on our college campuses. In this session, three higher education scholars will seek to lift the dialogue and make visible the connection among contemplative education, student development, social identity development, intersectionality and social justice. Specifically, three overarching themes will be explored. These include a) how can contemplative education and practices be aligned with a framework of intersectionality that attends to visible and invisible student social identities such as race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, religion and age, among others? b) how can contemplative education and practices be introduced as pedagogical frameworks to engage with critical issues that confront inequities in higher education? and c) how can contemplative education which employs a framework of intersectionality and cognitive justice be employed to address social justice issues and to impact holistic student development? Session participants will gain a deeper understanding of the myriad ways in which students, educators and administrators on today’s college campuses need engage with each other to ensure the holistic development of the mind, body and spirit.
Vijay Kanagala, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration at the University of Vermont. A former student affairs practitioner with extensive experience in multicultural student affairs, Kanagala’s research focuses on three interconnected topics: 1) college access, success and completion of low-income, first-generation college students, 2) intersectionality of education, immigration, and social identities such as race, class, gender and religion, and 3) contemplative pedagogy, education, healing and empowerment. Employing contemplative pedagogy and practices in and out of the classroom, Kanagala engages with graduate students, student leaders, educators and administrators to develop and further their social justice and equity consciousness that fosters a relationship between the heart and the mind to guide a student affairs philosophy rooted in an ethic of care and compassion. In doing so, Kanagala attempts to disrupt the status quo, and furthers the discourse in addressing inequities and issues of social justice while having difficult dialogues. Introduced to contemplative practices as a child, Kanagala practices transcendental and walking meditation in tandem with Chula, a delightful eight-year old shih tzu-poodle, to engage with the deeper questions of life.

Dafina-Lazarus (D-L) Stewart, PhD (pronouns: ze, zim, zir) is Professor of Higher Education and Student Affairs at Bowling Green State University.  Ze is a scholar, educator, and activist focused on empowering and imagining futures that sustain and cultivate the learning, growth, and success of marginalized groups in U.S. higher education institutions.  Dr. Stewart’s work is motivated by a love ethic grounded in justice and informed by an intersectional praxis that recognizes the lived experiences of multiply marginalized individuals as well as the material effects of interlocking systems of oppression.  Over the course of zir career, ze has focused most intently on issues of race and ethnicity, sexuality, and gender, as well as religion, faith, and spirituality in zir research, teaching, and service to professional organizations and institutions across the nation.  This work has produced over four dozen journal articles and book chapters, as well as three books.  Dr. Stewart is the parent of a first-year college student, learning how to let go and embrace this opportunity to unearth and reimagine zirself as an empty-nester.  In particular, ze hopes to make zir yoga practice more consistent, learn how to swim, take up long-distance running again, and maybe even some new hobbies.

Teaching and Learning Track Keynote

The Future of Contemplative Education: Transforming Spiritual Bypassing Culture?

In twenty years of the work of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, the contemplative education movement has grown in scope, vision, and purpose, demonstrating the dramatic impact that first-person inquiry brings to the educational enterprise.  What began as a few moments of mindfulness inserted into a conventional college curriculum has now grown into a redefinition of learning, and has shown how interiority can shift the focus of what it means to be fully educated.

In the process of deepening inquiry, CMind has grown to understand that contemplative pedagogy opens learning to a larger world of social concern, in which racism and other oppressive forces cause genuine harm that manifests as injustice in our universities.  In recent years, the mission of the CMind has increasingly addressed social justice issues in higher education.

This keynote celebrates these accomplishments of CMind, while suggesting ways for continued growth, especially addressing the higher education structures and cultural norms that keep contemplative perspective and social justice work as separate, sometimes competing agendas.  How might contemplative practice in our classrooms be “spiritually bypassing” the suffering of intersecting sociocultural locations/identities (e.g.: racism, sexism, heterosexism, and genderism, classism, ableism, etc.)?  How does social justice work become divorced from contemplative perspectives that can support transformation?

In a new application of this analysis, presenters consider whether the contemplative education movement may be bypassing issues of social justice and racism in a form of institutional, structural spiritual bypassing.  Examining institutional symptoms, presenters posit that contemplative education often ignores sociocultural location, and accompanying power dynamics and privilege in curriculum, policy, and practice, subverting the overall societal benefits of contemplative pedagogies. They explore the benefits of an integrated contemplative social justice perspective, and discuss how this integration might manifest structurally in our institutions.

Carla Sherrell, Ed.D., is Core Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Counseling and Psychology Somatic Counseling Department at Naropa University in Boulder, CO. The focus of her work is the integration of the theory and practice of counselor, social justice, and contemplative education in service to personal, interpersonal, community, and institutional transformation in the 21st century. She is a member of Naropa’s Center for the Advancement of Contemplative Education (CACE) steering committee, and the faculty Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group.  In private practice, Carla is a social justice consultant working regionally and nationally supporting educational institutions, other non-profits, and businesses in becoming vibrant socially just communities. She has presented on social justice education at conferences sponsored by the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education, International Symposium for Contemplative Studies, National Association for Multicultural Education, National Coalition for Equity in Education, Metropolitan Community Churches, University of Colorado, and the Colorado and Wyoming School-University Partnership for Educational Renewal. Carla is in discernment preparing for ordination in the Metropolitan Community Churches.

Judith Simmer-Brown, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Contemplative and Religious Studies at Naropa University.   She has practiced Tibetan Buddhism for 45 years and is an Acharya (senior dharma teacher) of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage of Sakyong Mipham, Rinpoche and Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, Naropa’s founder.  As a Naropa Institute founding faculty member in the late 1970s, she and her colleagues pioneered contemplative pedagogy and meditation in the college classroom, and they continue that work with Naropa’s Center for the Advancement of Contemplative Education (CACE) that she founded.

Dr. Simmer-Brown lectures and writes on Tibetan Buddhism, American Buddhism, women and Buddhism, interreligious dialogue, and contemplative education.  Her book, Dakini’s Warm Breath:  The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism (Shambhala), models contemplative scholarship of an esoteric religious tradition, skillfully integrating first-person inquiry with respected third-person research.  She has been active in interreligious dialogue internationally for decades, and as a Board member of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies, she is a frequent contributor to their Journal.    

With colleague Fran Grace, she edited a groundbreaking collection of articles called Meditation and the Classroom:  Contemplative Pedagogy for Religious Studies (Religious Studies Series, State University of New York Press), demonstrating how contemplative teaching can be introduced to classrooms across the higher education perspective.  Her own focus has been the ethics of contemplative teaching, contemplative academic writing and reading, and integration with social justice education.  She co-chairs the steering committee of the American Academy of Religion’s Contemplative Studies group.   She is married to Richard Brown, a Naropa University contemplative education professor; they have two children and three grandchildren.

Leadership Track Keynote

From Entitlement to Accountable Reciprocity: Transformative Leadership in the Global Context of Higher Education
This keynote reflects on contemplative social justice leadership in the context of higher education through the lens of the international exchange of students and innovators.  Currently, there are over a million international students in the US comprising one in every 20 students on American campuses.  Africans are the fastest growing subpopulation among international students studying in the U.S. At least a quarter of tech founders in the US over the last decade have been immigrants. In 2005, alone their companies produced 52 billion $ in sales and generated close to 450,000 jobs. A lot of this wealth is excluding women. The number of women in computer sciences in the US has halved in 30 years despite growing numbers in other science disciplines.  Women only get 2% of venture capital funding while African-American and Latino founders are also undercapitalized. The flow of brains across the globe highlights tensions between those who feel entitled to higher education and financing and those who see both as a privilege and responsibility whether in the context of race, ethnicity, gender, ability, age, class, urban versus rural upbringing or other considerations.  As academic leaders seek to prepare students to face the global challenges of the 21st century, how do we encourage students to stay grounded in their own humanity and recognize the relative privileges and disadvantages of their own social locations while opening up to the humanity of those different from oneself in a world obsessed with competition and getting on top?  Grounded in her own contemplative journey as a Rwandan woman, scientist, refugee, Canadian citizen, and leadership practitioner, Dr. Ubalijoro will share what she has learned about border crossings and the possibilities opened through contemplative practice of experiencing differences as gifts to share and enrich each other rather than sources of division, domination, or exclusion.

Éliane Ubalijoro, PhD is the founder and executive director of C.L.E.A.R. International Development Inc., and a professor of practice for public and private sector partnerships at McGill University’s Institute for the Study of International Development, where her research interests focus on innovation and sustainable development. She is a member of Rwanda’s National Science and Technology Council. She has lead and been a co-investigator on grants funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations program.

Prior to going back to Academia, she was a scientific research and development director in a Montreal-based biotechnology company for five years. She is a member of the Presidential Advisory Council for Rwandan President Paul Kagame, a member of the board of the International Leadership Association, and a founding signatory of the Fuji declaration ‎to ignite the divine spark for a thriving world.  

Éliane has contributed to several recent books on transformational leadership, including The Transforming Leader: New Approaches to Leadership for the 21st Century (Berrett- Koehler Publishers, 2012), Becoming A Better Leader (Routledge eBook 2015) and Leadership for a Healthy World: Creative Social Change (Emerald, 2016). Eliane is currently involved in the establishment of a start-up in the area of neglected tropical diseases.

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