In 2017, in one of his first acts of office, Ron Nirenberg, the mayor of San Antonio, signed
a charter of compassion resolution registering San Antonio with the International Campaign for Compassionate Cities. This campaign highlights the commitment of city councils and mayors to model good government behavior. It is also a part of a global movement that calls on individuals to treat others as they personally would want to be treated. This compassion resolution has been signed by 80 cities in 50 different countries.
A part of the signing of this document calls for educational institutions in each city to sign up a cohort of teachers to go through a Compassionate Integrity Institute. Dr. Heather Haynes Smith, Associate Professor of Education, was asked to attend the institute because of her involvement as a faculty lead on Trinity’s Empatico Grant. Dr. Smith attended the 10-week institute alongside other faculty involved with the grant (Allen, Barnett, Crim, & Delgado), where they learned a curriculum based on 10 different skills.
The first four skills are about self cultivation; the next four are about relating to others; and the final two skills are about engaging with systems with discernment. Each skill includes two hours of content, plus contemplative practices, mindfulness practices, mindful dialogue, and writing. The curriculum is based on research from secular ethics courses pulling from many disciplines of academic and religious traditions.
After completing the initial course, Dr. Smith signed up for a 24-week course to become a certified facilitator. Her goal was to facilitate her first Compassion Integrity Training (CIT) group with teachers as a part of her Empatico work. She then marketed the course to educators in San Antonio and was also asked by the Chapel Spiritual Life fellows to facilitate the 10-week compassion training. Dr. Smith had such a positive experience teaching the 10-week compassionate course, that she wanted to offer it as a two-hour GNED course at Trinity.
Trinity offered GNED 3291: Cultivating Compassion and a Commitment to Justice in Fall 2021. The class was co-taught by Dr. Smith and facilitator Sarah Leslie-Hayes, Program Coordinator of the Trinity School Design Network. Senior Rachel Poovathor, who completed the 10-week course through Spiritual Life, was the teaching assistant. The class was uniquely composed of undergraduates, faculty, and staff all learning together and was intentionally divided with a third faculty and staff, a third lower-division students, and a third upper-division students. This allowed facilitators to determine if the class resonated more with one group or than another.
Students explored research-based readings and practices around compassion, respect, and empathy as they completed the course and earned their certificates. The course aimed to be an anti-racist, pro-liberation space for developing practices of compassion to sustain the long-term work of making Trinity University a more just and peaceful community. To minimize grades, the course used an “ungrading” model and culminated with a systems analysis project, where students looked at a local system at Trinity or in the community.
“I see so much value in the learning that I've gained about how to collaborate with a range of people,” Dr. Smith said. “I love that at Trinity we can explore things of interest and value in the university community. We have more to our identities than just content, and it was really a gift to get to teach this important course.”