As educators, we want our students to survive and thrive, and have the best university experience they can have. I know faculty and instructors try to help any way we can—it seems, though, that the labor of care falls more on contingent faculty, graduate students, and educators with marginalized identities. Sometimes our strategy is to share our own experiences with students, demonstrating that vulnerability is not a weakness and that they are not alone. Other times we know they require more attention, so we recommend CAPS or send Care Referrals. But we also know CAPS is overbooked and CAPS professionals are overworked (by the way, IU’s Center for Human Growth is also a resource). Or sometimes it’s not easy to convince students to seek counseling in the first place. Ultimately, though, the fact is that most of us are in no way trained mental health professionals or counselors.
Then there is also, again, the fact that compassion fatigue is real. We need help, and deserve help too! According to Denise Hayes (2020), teachers suffer from something called decision fatigue because any given day we make more decisions than neurosurgeons. Things have gotten so bad that with our own mental well-being that we are seeing what some have termed “The Great Resignation” in K-12. And while colleges try to make up demand, higher education is also seeing and/or anticipating losses of faculty to career changes or early retirement. Fortunately, social media can provide access to some of the help we need—setting boundaries and respecting others’, encouraging or helping colleagues and students set boundaries of their own—such that we can be in this education game for the long haul when educating is the passion that drives us.
@drnortontherapy and @drjuliesmith were two of the licensed therapists featured in a 2020 news article titled, “Therapists Have Arrived on TikTok to Help You Cope with Stress and Panic During Coronavirus.” This article detailed how the pandemic brought with it a trend of mental health professionals, like these clinical psychologists, with Instagram and YouTube accounts in addition to their TikTok ones. They used these platforms to give 15 second advice, model grounding techniques, and share longer format educational content.
For now, let’s focus on those boundaries and how they are necessary to care for ourselves. Educators are often “overachievers,” and we take pride in that, because our achievements can result in our students’ success. Sometimes, we even train students to at least want to “overachieve” too. But, it’s worth checking out Dr. Han Ren’s advice on “Overachiever Time Management” for a reminder on how to protect our time and ourselves. Knowing ourselves, we can be more aware of what tone we may be setting in the classroom and what types of not only explicit but also implicit expectations we are setting for our students in our syllabi, in assignments, in evaluations, etc. (If you cannot see the embeded TikTok, go here to view it.)
Take a moment to think: how do you feel about your free time? Why? What do you think your work achievements say about you? Do those ideas affect your perception, expectations of others, including of your students? How can you protect your time and yourself?
Just like Dr. Norton, Dr. Smith, and Dr. Han, there are many, many other healing experts who have taken advantage of these social media platforms to democratize their knowledge. I have found content about anxiety; depression; building healthy relationships, including how to set boundaries, or how to apologize; healing from trauma; intimate partner and gender violence; reparenting; types of therapy–e.g., EMDR; eating disorders and body liberation; ADHD, from getting accommodations at work, school, and even in your personal relationships, to tips on getting enough food and sleep, to organizing your space (to optimize your study and declutter your home); autism and being (mis)diagnosed as an adult; how to find financial aid as an undocumented student; among others.*
In fact, experts taking to social media hasn’t just been happening since or during the pandemic. Social media networks of support have existed from far before, so perhaps you may want to start there. For example, Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s network’s podcast Therapy for Black Girls has existed since 2017 (the actual network since 2014). Take a listen here (sorry, no embed available).
Unfortunately, though, sometimes educators have not looked to social media for expertise, because we may have thought social media is not where rigorous knowledge exists. Maybe we still think knowledge only exists in written genres. Believe me, I get it–I studied literature once upon a time and it took me forever to shake off my ingrained beliefs that “reading” audio books is not reading, or that podcasts could not teach me what books and academic articles could, or even more. I guess I used to think I had to be a tired and tortured academic, consumed in and by the work, to deserve the honor and respect my knowledge provided me. But instead of knowledge consuming me it can recharge me, because it can be short-form, not labor intensive, and entertaining! It can be an accommodation in an oft-disabling world.
Fortunately we have CJ the X’s video essays (see previous blog), which are massive research endeavors, and all of these mental health professionals and other experts to teach us and help us act differently. We just have to know what sides of the internet to visit. Most importantly, we have to be willing to acknowledge that rigor is not determined by a college degree, which unfortunately is often inaccessible to low-income individuals, people who also belong to racialized communities. Similarly, these degrees are sometimes harder to earn for neurodivergent and/or neuroexpansive people, whose world-perception and knowledges are not considered typical and sometimes legitimate (@ngwagwa, Jan. 12, 2022).
Finally, just like sometimes we request other faculty members to come to our classrooms, or our Zoom meetings, to act as invited guests or co-teachers, because we are not –cannot be– experts in everything, social media can serve that purpose too. Knowledge is relational (Thayer-Bacon & Bacon 1996). Social media can help us find mental health resources, communicate with our students about mental health, teach them and ourselves about mental health, and build mental health habits. Ultimately, social media can co-teach in our classes. What’s best, we can use the social media content, instead of exploiting the labor of our colleagues, often contingent faculty, who we often invite into our classes for free, because unfortunately we can’t afford to pay them. Of course, if there’s still an opportunity to actually hire our colleagues in person, or even the people who teach on social media, then it could be good to do so, but that requires extra time and labor, and the point is that we’re trying to avoid that in order to make up for that fatigue that is weighing down our mental health, such that we can care for ourselves, each other, and heal.
In the end, though we have to acknowledge that having access to internet, hardware, social media, technology in general is still at a large scale a matter of access and privilege, it is also true that we are educators at Indiana University, a top R1 institution, so at least in our case we have little excuse not to make use of these tools. Other discomforts with social media may be opportunities for us to sit with ourselves as educators and evaluate our beliefs vis-a-vis what/who we hold valuable, and question our commitments as life-long learners.
[NOTE: Embedded TikToks don’t show in this blog for all browsers. Embedding them is good for aesthetic purposes, but also because of the fact that if audiences had the ease to just click play it could ensure more people would actually watch the video. Most importantly, this is a matter of providing accommodations. Specifically, it is a matter of accommodating people’s disabilities—e.g., learning disabilities—to help care for their mental health.
Despite our best efforts, though, the blog platform would not easily support the “embed” link for all browsers. But at least we got to reflect on these two things. One: that our academic misunderstanding of new generations’ literacies and, as such, of our students is systemic. Some of our educational platforms are literally not equipped to carry the media students live on, understand, and communicate through best (refer to my previous blog). And two: students’ needs for accommodations change over time, depending on environmental, including technological changes. As such, instructors’ disability accommodations must also always be dynamic, attentive to those needs.
TIP: If you use YouTube, TikTok, Instagram Reels, etc. on your Canvas pages or other platforms for your students, for these same reasons consider embedding the content into the pages and/or assignments. I am predominantly thinking of students with symptoms like “executive dysfunction.” Among the students educators may most often encounter who suffer from executive dysfunction are students living with ADD/ADHD; folks with differing levels of depression and anxiety, may have similar symptoms (refer to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIOAwvmHYuY). Unfortunately, executive dysfunction is too commonly dismissed as laziness. These students are NOT lazy.*
Also for accessibility purposes, when embedding images and short videos like TikToks, consider adding image descriptions and captions and/or the content’s transcripts.]
*If you are interested in learning more about resources on these topics, you will not want to miss the next installment of this blog series.
Thayer-Bacon, Barbara J., and Charles S. Bacon. “Caring professors: A model.” The Journal of General Education 45.4 (1996): 255-269.
CNN. “Therapists Have Arrived on TikTok to Help You Cope with Stress and Panic during Coronavirus.” News18, 30 June 2020, https://www.news18.com/news/buzz/therapists-have-arrived-on-tiktok-to-help-you-cope-with-stress-and-panic-during-coronavirus-2624927.html.
Harden Bradford, Joy. Therapy for Black Girls. https://therapyforblackgirls.com/podcast/
Hayes, Denise. “Finding Strength & Reducing Compassion Fatigue.” 17 January 2022. Uploaded 20 January 2022.
Ngwagwa. “Neuroexpansive* Thoughts.” Medium, Medium, 13 Jan. 2022, https://medium.com/@ngwagwa/neuroexpansive-thoughts-9db1e566d361.
Nietzel, Michael T. “Pandemic Toll: More than Half of College Faculty Have Considered a Career Change or Early Retirement.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 26 Feb. 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaeltnietzel/2021/02/26/pandemic-toll-more-than-half-of-college-faculty-have-considered-a-career-change-or-early-retirement/?sh=119e699f12da
Ren, Han. “Making the case for not overscheduling kids.” Tiktok, 13 Feb. 2022. https://www.tiktok.com/@drhanren/video/7064323354165202223?is_copy_url=1&is_from_webapp=v1&lang=en.
The X, CJ. “Bo Burnham vs. Jeff Bezos – Video Essay.” YouTube, 20 August 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvYcunuF3Eo.