May Term Compassion Class
Prof. Fran Grace with students in her Compassion course.
Prof. Fran Grace taught a unique May Term course this year. It wasn’t the topic that was unusual, but the fact that several members of the class were not typical college students.
The Compassion course was open to College of Arts & Sciences students as well as 10 “lifelong learners,” older adults who enrolled for personal development. It was a pilot program in intergenerational learning that Grace had long wanted to try out.
“It’s a very unique advance in higher education that I think reflects the pioneering spirit of Redlands,” she said.
The course explored what it means to live a life of compassion through biographical models (such as Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama), compassion teachings of the world’s religions, and first-person investigation of compassion practices. The lifelong learners paid a flat fee, and earned a certificate of completion at the end of the course. They did not have to do the academic assignments, but were encouraged to do the readings and individual meditation practices.
Susan Bailey ’14 experienced the class in a different way, as she was an undergraduate student returning to school later in life. “I so much enjoyed talking to the youth, and listening to their ideas and where they were coming from,” she said. “There’s always been acceptance and a lot of encouragement.”
The class also helped shake things up for some of the undergraduates.
“One of the criticisms of college is that it’s a bubble,” Giulia Zoppolat ’14 said. “This breaks that up. For the senior, it’s really reassuring and comforting because we have an irrational fear of, ‘How am I going to know how to interact with anyone else?'"
The students were often paired up for different exercises, giving everyone the opportunity to get to know one another. Courtney Tomasi ’14 was able to bond with Urmila More, a lifelong learner, in a way she felt wouldn’t happen off campus.
“I loved getting to know her on a more personal level,” she said. “Usually I would look to her as a superior, and wouldn’t be able to consider her a friend. We connected as people.”
For More, there was a certain sense of familiarity with the students.
“They remind me of my grandkids,” she said. “I’m 72, but my spirit is 19. I never think of them as separate, but like my grandchildren.”
It makes sense that the different generations would be able to come together through a class on compassion.
“Compassion is a fragrance of the human experience,” Grace said. “It brings a feeling of connection with each other.”
Posted: June 3, 2014
Written by: Catherine Garcia