By Published: Nov. 7, 2022

mental health illustrationStudents, staff and faculty sit on meditation cushions learning a compassion practice. They inhale, breathing in the suffering of others, then exhale, giving compassion and healing to themselves and others.

This exercise is part of the Mindful Campus Program, an eight-week mindfulness series that the Renée Crown Wellness Institute began developing in 2019 and launched in spring 2021 to improve the well-being of students. Designed, in part, by students, the series strives to help participants live more fully in the moment, improve participants’ mental health and wellness and boost their ability to confront big societal issues.

Students, faculty and mindfulness experts designed the program. Using data from the 2021 series, which was also the focus of a research study — which drew about 150 student participants — the team aims to analyze and hone the eight-week program. 

Kourtney Kelley (Psych’20), senior project manager and professional research assistant for the Crown Institute, helped design the Mindful Campus series using Youth Participatory Action Research, a method in which young people are trained to conduct systematic research to improve their lives, their communities and the institutions intended to serve them.

As she noted, “It’s not just research about students and what students are going through. Students are involved.”

This method of research “allows the voices of young people to be central and guiding within the research process,” said Sona Dimidjian, director of the Crown Institute and a professor of psychology and neuroscience.

“The whole tenet is that, as a researcher, I don’t know what the community needs, and I need to learn in partnership with students and campus partners from the ground up,” added Caitlin McKimmy (MPsych’20), a graduate research assistant in Dimidjian’s laboratory.

Natalie Avalos, assistant professor of ethnic studies, noted the series includes instruction, idea-sharing and practice. 

One goal is to help participants see how they might use mindfulness and compassion practices to support anti-racism and social justice, “explicitly linking them and then going on from there,” Avalos said.

Avalos added that students assume teaching and co-mentorship roles in the Mindful Campus Program: “Hierarchies of power shifted, and I think students really responded to that and really appreciated that.”

McKimmy concurred: “At the heart of this project — and this is really an important part of the Crown Institute — is having undergrads at the table where their voices are central.”

Another team is working to adapt the Mindful Campus series into a for-credit class at CU Boulder and to make that curriculum available to students from any CU campus and other campuses, as well as community members. 

Cody Moxam (Psych’23), an honors student in psychology and neuroscience, completed the series and is now part of an interdisciplinary team of students and faculty co-designing the for-credit course. He said students and faculty “set aside our personal agendas to truly work on a course designed for the well-being of its participants.”

“We were able to integrate our experience as students — and as people — with the research literature to thread together an experience that would change students’ lives for the better,” Moxam said. “Values of community, social justice and mindfulness were imbued in our team interactions from the very start.”

Michele D. Simpson, a Crown Institute faculty affiliate, research associate and associate teaching professor, underscored that point, saying that her motivation in joining the Mindful Campus Program was not to simply boost mindfulness on campus, but also to expand it into different communities on and potentially off campus.

Voicing a guiding vision for the Mindful Campus Program, Simpson said, “Mindfulness belongs to everyone. Wellness is a right of everyone.”

Illustration by Keith Negley 

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