Community Champion Jenna Brooke
Dr. Jenna Brooke is an Associate Professor in the Teaching Stream at St. Michael's College in the University of Toronto. She teaches in the Book and Media Studies Program. She works in community with survivors of gendered violence. Her research and own art practices focus on art as transformative in individual and societal healing.
In the nomination, the student comments on your “ability to engage students and create a safe space for dialogue” in your class by “adapting the tutorial atmosphere to encourage student discussion on all topics and making students feel comfortable to participate.” Could you tell us a bit more about how you accomplish this, and why it’s an important aspect of your approach to teaching?
For me, dialogue is the essential piece of learning and teaching. Students learn when their whole person is engaged and being engaged means speaking and responding. I try to cultivate dialogue in all of my classes regardless of size, by either facilitating discussions or breaking students into groups. It's not always easy work, as the current university culture doesn't necessarily foster dialogue. Students are often used to sitting still and silent and not being asked to reflect on the material they're learning about. It can take a lot of work to get them to know it is okay to speak. In general, I think self-reflection is key to learning and creating positive change and safe spaces in and beyond the university, cultivating self-reflection is always one of my teaching goals.
Discussions about health are often related to concerns about healthy eating, physical activity, managing stress, and sleep. We’d be interested to hear from you, your thoughts on the concept of a “healthy campus” and how it can been integrated into the classroom setting?
I think a "healthy campus" needs to be integrated into our classrooms. While there is emphasis around campus on creating health for physical and mental wellness, if it's not happening in the classrooms then students aren't getting models and support for that health in the places that have the most power in the university setting and most likely they'll let go their health in order to meet the demands of their profs. Also, there seems to be little awareness that when students are working in a way that promotes their mental and physical health, they will be doing their best work and learning to the best of their advantage. Why would instructors not promote this? Though doing so means changing some expectations about what a "normal" workload is? Acknowledging that students are negotiating several identities, i.e. work, care takers, mental illness, etc., which some profs seem to resist doing. People seem to be caught in an either or mind set, either the students have an extremely demanding workload or they don't. There is a lot of room for a middle ground that can work to integrate their well being into a priority of their education.
In the nomination, the student describes how you foster wellbeing by “creating stress free environments. An example of her dedication and effort include having a guest lecture teach students how to meditate, knowing the multiple benefits it could have for students.” Please let us know what this nomination as a Healthy Campus Champion means to you personally and/or professionally?
It's lovely to be nominated. I'm very grateful. Creating healthy and safe environments for my students is a priority in my teaching, so the feedback that this nomination represents is very much appreciated.
We would also be interested to hear if you have suggestions about what more could be done to foster campus environments that support the wellbeing of our students?
I would like to see more open dialoguing on campus and in classes about whatever manifests for students as safety issues. I know a lot of students are concerned about rape culture and its causes not being discussed enough on campus. I'd like to see more spaces made available for that. In general, more integration of teaching and mental health awareness, discussion of power and privilege. Without integration I don't know how much change will actually happen.