In my previous blog, I talked about how during this Covid-19 pandemic, and as we have come back to campus, staff, students, and educators alike have had to handle increased pressures, stress, and diminishing mental health.
(Can anyone else hear Luisa Madrigal’s “Surface Pressure” from Encanto in their head right now?)
“Pressure like a
that’ll never stop, whoa!
till you just go pop, whoa!”
If you haven’t watched Encanto, this is your time! If nothing else, it’s currently a great way to introduce the topic of mental health into your classroom conversation if you’re having difficulty figuring out how.
Faculty and instructors specifically have had that distress multiplied in that we have suffered from what I described as “compassion fatigue,” worrying and sometimes even internalizing our students’ mental illness and traumas, in addition to coping with our own. Worst of all, we know that in this day and age, the rapid and overflowing amounts of information that comes from media technologies can increase that fatigue. That ever-increasing access to news cycles, friends, acquaintances, and strangers social media feeds, and even socially aware/critical entertainment can lead to what Assistant Vice Provost of Student Affairs and Director of Counseling and Psychological Services Denise Hayes taught us is called “emotional contagion online” (Hayes 2020).
Yet, that same overflow of information means that there has been no other time in history where we have had more access to knowledges, plural, at our disposal. I firmly believe that we can use social media as an essential tool to help us support one another and students as we try to heal from the pain of these past years. Learning to use social media platforms like tiktok, Instagram, and YouTube in the classroom can be a gesture of our commitment to improve care in the IU community.
Why Social Media?
- It is a way for educators to learn about new student literacies.
- It can help close a cognitive generational gap between faculty and students.
- Mental health (and other) experts took to social media during the pandemic.
- Social media can work as a co-teaching tool.
- It can help educators reevaluate what is considered a legitimate source of knowledge and why.
- It allows educators to engage more intimately engage with people from minoritized communities with whom they might otherwise not at IU.
- It can help both faculty and students gain validation on experiences and feelings through parasocial relationships.
- It gives access to professional resources that are otherwise not available due to income, racial, gender inequities, among others.
Today, I will cover the first of these advantages.
Bridging Generational Gaps
By now you may have noticed what seems like an endless and what I consider a needless fight between boomers, millennials, and Gen Z. While most of our university’s current faculty and instructors (this includes graduate students) grew up in a time where analog technologies were prevalent, the majority of our students grew up in a fully digital age.
CJ the X is a nonbinary artist who believes that we need more long form social media production so that we get to spend time with each other and each others’ ideas. But nobody says this needs to happen in the time consuming and solemn language of the academy! This is why, instead of thirty second Tiktoks or Instagram reels, their preferred social media genre is YouTube video essays–yes, not all social media is just dances and baby animals or reactive political rants (not that those don’t have a time and place). In Bo Burnham vs. Jeff Bezos – Video Essay, in which they reflect on Bo Burnam’s comedy special Inside, which the stand-up artist made during the pandemic, CJ says, “Our souls exist online. It’s not just an addiction. It’s an extension of reality” (CJ the X, 1:13:10). These few sentences sum up why as educators we need to become literate in social media and bring it into our lesson planning and into the classroom setting. If social media is not only a part of their lives, if social media is a part of them, then understanding social media is about respecting them, and caring about and for social media is caring for them as people. Caring for people is not about treating them how we want to be treated. It is about trying to treat them like they want to be treated. So, let’s do that with our students, instead of trying to mold them into mini us.
Maybe, most importantly, sometimes we treat students in a particular way because our own professors once treated us like that. We grew to accept that that is how education works; even if it hurts, they are “growing pains.” But some of those pains are perfectly avoidable, and just because we were hurt does not mean we in turn have to watch new generations hurt as well. We can interrupt those patterns. We can let our inner child heal as we teach with compassion, playing with new literacies.
I am the first one to accept that for me it’s hard to keep up and learn about certain technologies and that social media overwhelms me. Yet, I firmly believe that catching up on student social media literacies can facilitate communication and it makes me an innovative teacher, as I design more compelling assignments. Better communication, less misunderstandings, less energy spent in conflict can improve mental health. And, the more we practice navigating social media, the easier it can get. As instructors we cannot expect our students to be open to learning when we can’t model an openness to learning in our everyday lives as well.
Stay tuned for more.
- Recommended: YouTuber CJ The X’s analysis of Inside,”Part 8: The Transhuman Souls of Children,” in which they talk about new generations as cyborgs; see also Bo Burnam’s comedy special Inside (1:06:00).
- For more on interrupting generational pain watch also Disney’s short film Far from the Tree.
- Interested in learning about healing your inner child or need resources for your students on self-care? Refer to psychotherapists on Instagram like, Yolanda Renteria (@thisisyolandarenteria) and Dr. Patrice Berry (@drpateiceberry) on tiktok: https://vm.tiktok.com/TTPdBVJFWj/
**NOTE: These are NOT replacements for therapy.**