In this Q&A we speak with Katie McLaughlin from the Class of 2015. (Story and photos by Hannah Norman ’16)
Q: Katie, what are you majoring in?
A: I’m majoring in French and environmental studies with the certificate in international relations. For my capstone project in the environmental studies major, I am researching the academic justifications of contemplative pedagogy and developing a curriculum which integrates it and movement-based learning into elementary school, high school and adult education. The goals of the curriculum are to explore the environment through physical inquiry and embodiment, reevaluate the ways we perceive ourselves as a part of, or apart from nature and reexamine how we interact with ourselves, our communities and the spaces we inhabit.
Q: You are a WesBAM! manager and yoga instructor on campus. Please explain what WesBAM! is all about.
A: Started by Renee Dunn ’14 and Shira Engel ’14, Wesleyan Body and Mind (WesBAM!) is a student-run organization that makes mind-body awareness and fitness accessible at Wesleyan by offering a wide variety of daily classes, free community classes every weekend, and free workshops throughout the semester. WesBAM! instructors are students certified in a variety of athletic disciplines. We aim to create a campus-wide community of fun and respect for both our bodies and each other. As manager, I facilitate the administrative end of WesBAM! — hiring, scheduling, payments, etc. The most important part of my job is working with all of the instructors to make sure that we are continually growing as an organization and meeting the various needs of the campus and our mission statement.
Q: Do you teach your own class?
A: Yes. I teach one class a week from 5 to 6:15 p.m. on Thursdays. My class, Vinyasa Flow Fusion, combines meditation, breathing techniques and traditional asana practice for whole body health and happiness.
Q: This semester you are leading a Student Forum called Conscious Connections: Fostering Sustainable Mindfulness Practices. Tell us more about what this discusses.
A: The class incorporates experiential work with various physical and contemplative exercises such as meditation, yoga and mindful food consumption, as well as lectures
and discussions on the historical, philosophical and cultural underpinnings of these practices. Through experimentation with a wide variety of mindfulness forms,
students are able to develop the tools to become more mentally and physically present.
Expanding from this internal and personal understanding of mindfulness, the class will examine how the boundaries and distinctions which separate “self,” “communities” and “nature” inhibit a broader, more integrated and holistic relationship with our environments.
Q: What inspired you to teach this class?
A: Last summer, my co-teacher Jaxie Friedman ’15 suggested that we do a student forum about mindfulness in some capacity. Over the summer and last semester this idea grew into Conscious Connections. We wanted to provide students the opportunity to experiment with, develop and understand mindfulness practices. More than that we wanted to help foster a community grounded in compassion and non-judgment that extended from each of us to our surroundings. Conscious Connections is the class that I would most like to take and by teaching it with Jaxie, I have been able to pursue and share what I’m most passionate about.
Q: How do you plan to continue being involved in mindfulness after graduating?
A: While I do have ideas and goals about the future, I don’t know yet how mindfulness will be a part of them. When I started Wesleyan, I had envisioned becoming a high school French teacher. Then, once I did my yoga certification, I learned that I loved studying anatomy, holistic health and meditation. Now I would like to pursue a degree in physical therapy and yoga therapy. All this to say, I don’t really know what I will be doing, or how mindfulness will fit in. I’m trying to keep my mind and options open.
Q: What other activities are you involved in?
A: I’m a mindfulness intern through the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. I’m the president of WesCycle, Wesleyan’s bike generators group. And I’m a peer health advocate and a member of the a cappella group Slavei.
Q: How do you make time for all these activities?
A: I love the things that I do and the people with whom I work. Tanya Purdy, the director of WesWell, makes WesBAM! possible and Rabbi David Teva not only makes the mindful intern position possible, but also is at the heart of mindfulness at Wesleyan; they are both compassionate and wonderful leaders. I’m also lucky to work with (biology graduate student) Kemal Asik, the other mindfulness intern. All of these activities can sometimes be overwhelming, but they also have allowed me to join incredibly beautiful communities that I will miss next year. These people, in addition to my incredible housemates and parents, are the reason that I can both do—and feel proud of—what I do at Wesleyan.
Q: Any bucket list items for your last semester?
A: Yes! Some of these are bucket list items, and some are just how I want to spend my last semester. I want to explore more of Middletown. I’ve never been to Trivia Night at la Boca. I want to see the sunrise on the Atlantic Ocean and walk to New Haven — idea credit to Jason Gross ’14 on that one. I want to pass on WesBAM!, the bike generators and the mindfulness internship so that they continue to grow and become better than I could have imagined. I want to come home late at night and make quesadillas and do acro-yoga with my housemates. Also, I would like to avoid pulling any more all nighters writing papers.