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Honors Outside of the Classroom: Compassion in Action

Publication date

October 08, 2018 8:15 PM


Tess Martin

First-year Honors students Victoria Ieurulli and Rachel Aber signed up for the same 8:00 AM Honors Colloquium last fall. One year later, they are now co-presidents of a new USG-sponsored student organization that emerged from that very classroom experience.

“Secular Compassion in Professional, Political, and Personal Landscapes” was a 2017 Honors Colloquium course taught by Lesley Anne Saketkoo, associate professor in Tulane’s School of Medicine. Though Rachel and Victoria initially thought the course was going to emphasize compassion specifically for students on a medical career path, they soon learned that it was about being compassionate in everyday life, regardless of profession. The course explored this role of compassion in personal, professional, and global affairs with a scientific lens. By examining the measured impact of compassion on academic performance, patient care, and more, students were able to evaluate the transformative powers of compassion. Guest speakers included those across many fields, from a police officer to a director of a homeless shelter to an occupational therapist. The Honors students also participated in writing exercises, mindfulness practice, discussion, and contemplation.

After the course was over, Rachel and Victoria “didn’t want the class to end,” so they sought a way to continue their intellectual growth and to turn their coursework with Dr. Saketkoo into action. Knowing the value of meditation and compassion to oneself and others, especially in addressing suffering and stress, motivated Rachel and Victoria to create an organization focused on promoting these values on Tulane’s campus and in the community. After gathering everyone’s contact information from the class, they discussed what they wantedto share from this class and how they might do that on campus.

Compassion in Action, their new organization, provides a space that promotes mindfulness and compassion in both learning and practice. They hope to use these practices to foster a community of wellness and to alleviate suffering and stress both on and off Tulane’s campus. On September 15, they hosted their first event of the year with the support of a class guest speaker, Dr. Jinny Tavee, a neurologist who conducts research on how meditation improves neurological disorders. Their event featured Dr. Tavee’s mother, Sifu, who is a Master Teacher in mindfulness and compassion from Thailand and who also helped found the Wounded Warriors program for soldiers in the United States. In another event on October 1, Compassion in Action hosted a yoga session designed to help the immune system.

Victoria and Rachel look forward to expanding the reach of this Honors Colloquium-turned-club throughout the year. They plan on tabling at the mental health fair, working with Tulane University Peer Health Educators (TUPHE), and hosting a mantra workshop and a mindful eating workshop. After their classroom experience with Dr. Saketkoo, Rachel and Victoria hope to give students ways to apply mindfulness practices in everyday life, whether it be in the way they relax, the way they eat, or the way they learn.