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World Changers: Why do we need a compassionate campus? And how do we get there?
Episode 520th June 2022 • Changing The World • University of Leeds
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Why do we need a compassionate campus? And how do we get there?

For students and staff to thrive at university and beyond, we need a campus culture where everyone feels they belong. This is about how we teach as much as what we teach. Bridgette Bewick explores how her conversations with students and staff are helping the University of Leeds become a compassionate campus.

A university experience based on compassion and collaboration will give today’s students a fighting chance of solving tomorrow’s challenges, she argues – and help us all move to a more inclusive, diverse and equitable future.

Transcripts

Simone:

Research that changes lives.

Simone:

Four simple words, inspiring researchers at the University

Simone:

of Leeds to reshape the world.

Simone:

I am professor Simone Buitendijk, since arriving at the University

Simone:

in 2020 as Vice-Chancellor.

Simone:

I've been amazed by the passion, creativity and ingenuity of the

Simone:

research community to make a difference.

Lucy:

Having the opportunity to exercise choice is really key to palliative care

Lucy:

and that individualised care that supports the person in the last few months of life.

Cristina:

To learn from the mistakes that we've made and we

Cristina:

need to learn from the instances where prevention atrocities work.

Leah:

I think the COVID-19 pandemic actually forced us to become a

Leah:

little bit more digitally literate.

Leah:

Although I do think we still have some room to kind of, continue growing.

Simone:

One of my priorities has been to learn more about the sheer

Simone:

range of research carried out by early career researchers at Leeds.

Simone:

They are the new generation of world changers people working tirelessly

Simone:

with communities and academics around the world on finding solutions to

Simone:

seemingly intractable problems.

Simone:

Over the course of this podcast series, I will be in conversation

Simone:

with those researchers.

Simone:

Join me as our World Changers described new discoveries and

Simone:

approaches that will make the world a better and more equitable place

Simone:

to live.

Simone:

It's about research that changes lives.

Simone:

Hello and welcome to this latest podcast.

Simone:

I'm Professor Simone Buitendijk the Vice Chancellor.

Simone:

And joining me in conversation is Dr.

Simone:

Bridgette Bewick.

Simone:

Our topic is the Compassionate Curriculum.

Simone:

Bridgette developing a curriculum at Leeds, that has student’s

Simone:

wellbeing at its heart.

Simone:

The project was launched two years ago following concerns that many students were

Simone:

experiencing anxiety linked to the pressures of being at university.

Simone:

She believes the Compassionate Curriculum will reduce those feelings of anxiety

Simone:

and increase student motivation, sense of belonging and fulfilment.

Simone:

And the benefits extend much further in compassionate curriculum, argues

Simone:

Bridgette, is one that meets the needs of a diverse student body.

Simone:

And so it reduces inequalities.

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It also fosters empathy amongst students and staff.

Simone:

Bridgette is a psychologist and an Associate Professor in the School of Medicine.

Simone:

Welcome to the podcast. So welcome, Bridgette.

Simone:

And thanks for spending time with me.

Bridgette:

Thanks for inviting me, Simon.

Simone:

Sure, sure.

Simone:

Are you looking forward to this conversation?

Simone:

So we'll discuss the details of course, through this podcast.

Simone:

But can you start by maybe giving us, me and the listeners

Simone:

a brief description of what's a compassionate curriculum is exactly.

Bridgette:

So for me, I guess

Bridgette:

a compassionate curriculum is one that's that's fair.

Bridgette:

That's not more difficult than it need to be.

Bridgette:

That's quite often how students talk about it.

Bridgette:

It's one where students are respected the same.

Bridgette:

They are valued with a space for them to have that curious city.

Bridgette:

And the space for life events to happen, I guess, as well is is part of this.

Simone:

That's that sounds wonderful.

Simone:

And it sounds very much

Simone:

like what we're trying to achieve more broadly at the University of Leeds.

Simone:

So you're a psychologist who's been researching questions around

Simone:

student mental health for many years.

Simone:

So how did you come up with the idea of crafting a compassionate curriculum?

Bridgette:

I guess I started around 15, 16,

Bridgette:

17 years ago and we were very much

Bridgette:

trying to understand what's going on with student mental health.

Bridgette:

Students were reporting higher levels of psychological distress.

Bridgette:

We knew that we needed some specialist services because traditional services

Bridgette:

didn't seem to be meeting the needs of university students.

Bridgette:

And we really noticed that there was this ebb and flow

Bridgette:

in terms of particularly anxiety across the academic year.

Bridgette:

And we've done some great work at Leeds and across the sector

Bridgette:

I think, and really investing in those services and getting those services,

Bridgette:

we've still got more to do,

Bridgette:

but getting those services to really meet the needs of students.

Bridgette:

We're beginning to meet the needs of students

Bridgette:

But I was really struck that things I was writing in 2004

Bridgette:

were still holding up today that despite all of this stuff,

Bridgette:

all of the stuff that we were doing at its core, students were still finding

Bridgette:

university distressing and psychologically difficult to cope with.

Bridgette:

So I thought, could we do it differently?

Bridgette:

Is there a different way of doing this that as well as all the things

Bridgette:

that we've got around the edges in terms of counselling specialist treatment,

Bridgette:

signposting to NHS, all of that, what is it that we are doing as part of

Bridgette:

everyday core business at the University that could help address this?

Bridgette:

And I think putting compassion into the curriculum and into our campuses

Bridgette:

is the way that we can really make a difference

Bridgette:

for the entire student population.

Simone:

So what were the problems that you were identifying in the student population?

Bridgette:

So there's that felt sense of anxiety I guess, and that felt sense

Bridgette:

of being unable to cope or feeling overwhelmed.

Bridgette:

For some students there's a sense of isolation and loneliness,

Bridgette:

particularly for students who perhaps for

Bridgette:

the first time are away from their support structures.

Bridgette:

We also have students

Bridgette:

who are trying to cope with transitions

Bridgette:

at a time where they're also trying to cope with overly packed

Bridgette:

curriculum, overly packed sense of making the most of

Bridgette:

absolutely everything, you know, doing absolutely everything.

Bridgette:

So I think there are some students as well

Bridgette:

who are suffering or are challenged by

Bridgette:

or have as part of who they are and high levels of mental distress anyway.

Bridgette:

They may have a clinical diagnosis.

Bridgette:

They may not.

Bridgette:

And for those students being at university

Bridgette:

exacerbates that because of these extra pressures in coping.

Bridgette:

So I think it's both for people who in medical terms,

Bridgette:

we would talk about people

Bridgette:

who are nonclinical in terms of their levels of distress,

Bridgette:

what are the pressures on them

Bridgette:

and how are those kind of coming to the forefront.

Bridgette:

But then there's also for people who do have a clinical diagnosis,

Bridgette:

what is it that university is doing that makes it just way more difficult

Bridgette:

and makes it more difficult for them to succeed?

Bridgette:

Than it should be?

Bridgette:

So there's a number of different things, I think, going on for different people.

Simone:

Yeah, that's what I find fascinating about your work, that you're also looking

Simone:

at the very process of education and learning

Simone:

and and that you're identifying elements of that that actually make things worse

Simone:

by the students has a clinical diagnosis, are not.

Simone:

I think we should find ways to not raise those stress levels

Simone:

beyond what they are when they come into university.

Simone:

So can you talk a little bit about that?

Simone:

Which are we doing in the way we deliver education that clearly makes things worse.

Bridgette:

I think part of it

Bridgette:

and Paul Campbell from Leicester talks about this.

Bridgette:

Part of it is when students come in, we think about what do we need

Bridgette:

students to know and understand

Bridgette:

in order that they can cope with the university experience.

Bridgette:

And perhaps we should turn that around a little bit and think

Bridgette:

about designing the early parts of our programmes

Bridgette:

to fit the needs of the students who are coming through the door.

Simone:

Yeah.

Simone:

I think as well there is been

Simone:

the curriculum has been having more and more things added to it

Simone:

and we have this idea that we need to teach everything

Simone:

and all these skills and and we sort of forget.

Simone:

I think along the way that part of being at university

Simone:

is learning how to learn so we don't need to learn it.

Simone:

All right. Now

Simone:

so we cram everything in.

Simone:

We also and I say this as someone

Simone:

who's now worked in universities for quite a long time,

Simone:

I think we forget that universities are quite a strange place to be.

Simone:

They have their own rules, their own processes

Simone:

and all of that hidden processes, all of those hidden curriculum

Simone:

means that students don't know how they should even be behaving.

Simone:

And so they're negotiating an environment where they don't even know the rules,

Simone:

a lot of people.

Simone:

And then we add to that

Simone:

the complexity and the challenges of each discipline as well.

Simone:

So when you bring all of these things together in a packed timetable,

Simone:

there's no space.

Simone:

And I think that students struggle sometimes

Simone:

to see the compassion and the university experience.

Simone:

And I think staff struggle to think about things in a compassionate way

Simone:

because they're also very caught up in the system.

Simone:

So when we create space to breathe and to kind of think about fairness.

Simone:

Quite often people say to me,

Simone:

Oh, Bridgette, but are you talking about making things easier?

Simone:

And when I talk to students, they do not want that.

Simone:

They work really hard at university.

Simone:

They want their degrees to be worth something, to mean something.

Simone:

So they don't want it to be easy.

Simone:

They just want it to be not more difficult than it needs to be.

Simone:

Not needlessly stressful.

Bridgette:

Exactly.

Simone:

Yeah.

Simone:

I know you think some of these problems are rooted in the way that higher

Simone:

education is sold to students by schools or universities or parents.

Simone:

Can you say a bit more about that?

Bridgette:

Really interesting.

Bridgette:

When you talk to students, they describe the way that university

Bridgette:

is kind of portrayed when they come on open days and prospectuses on television.

Bridgette:

You know, for students who are first in family,

Bridgette:

their first initiations to universities in films and on television

Bridgette:

and because we're all competing for honours for the students

Bridgette:

and we want them all to come along, we tend to sell the best of what it might be.

Bridgette:

And we sometimes talk about these will be the best years of our lives

Bridgette:

and you're going to make the best friends and look at these people.

Bridgette:

They found their lifelong partner and they've just got married and it's

Bridgette:

all been perfect.

Bridgette:

And what

Bridgette:

students say is actually “we'd like a more realistic view of what it's like”.

Bridgette:

“We'd like to know

Bridgette:

of all the great things you know, there's brilliant facilities on campuses.

Bridgette:

There are amazing opportunities but can you give us a heads up

Bridgette:

that it's going to be difficult sometimes that actually lots of us fail

Bridgette:

at something at some point throughout the degree and that that's OK.”

Bridgette:

“Can you make it known that if you don't make your best friends

Bridgette:

in the first two weeks, that's absolutely OK?”

Bridgette:

That idea of every opportunity,

Bridgette:

you know, we talk about making the most of every opportunity.

Bridgette:

Well, actually, it's every opportunity that's right for you right now

Bridgette:

where you are and what you can put into it in terms of time.

Bridgette:

So I think we aren't very honest about what university looks like.

Bridgette:

It's not that we're dishonest we're not selling

Bridgette:

something that isn't there, but we're only showing one side of the coin.

Bridgette:

And I think one of the things

Bridgette:

that students talk about is it's actually those conversations they have

Bridgette:

with the student ambassadors, which are more around.

Bridgette:

It's tough, but this university supports you in this way.

Bridgette:

When it gets tough, this university understands

Bridgette:

that you can't do everything all of the time.

Bridgette:

And those things are a strength.

Bridgette:

But I think as a sector, we don't see those as strengths.

Bridgette:

We see them as weaknesses.

Bridgette:

But students really value it when they have an honest, authentic

Bridgette:

perspective.

Bridgette:

Of what the university's going to be like so they can prepare for that.

Simone:

Yeah, it's almost like real life, isn't it?

Bridgette:

Exactly.

Simone:

I guess part of the drive for a more compassionate curriculum

Simone:

is to support students better when they make that transition.

Simone:

And then what do you think universities can improve on in that space?

Bridgette:

I think we can most definitely be more honest

Bridgette:

about some of the challenges that people are going to face.

Bridgette:

I think we can

Bridgette:

think more and I

Bridgette:

know Leeds is doing a lot of work around this, around

Bridgette:

not telling everything, everything they need to know the first second

Bridgette:

they walk through the door and expecting everyone to retain it.

Bridgette:

I think we can really value the relationships

Bridgette:

that we have, both in terms of student to student and also student staff.

Bridgette:

When you ask students about the points

Bridgette:

where they think that they have experience, that sense

Bridgette:

of belonging, that sense of compassion, that sense of inclusion,

Bridgette:

that almost always includes a person.

Bridgette:

And I think sometimes we forget about the importance

Bridgette:

of people in all of our processes.

Simone:

Yeah

Bridgette:

Other people may disagree.

Bridgette:

But I think it's unrealistic to think that all of our policies which are written

Bridgette:

in legalise are going to be entire compassionate.

Bridgette:

I think where we can do it is the translation of those,

Bridgette:

and it's people who do those translations and implementations.

Bridgette:

I think we can free up our curriculum a bit.

Bridgette:

And I know Leeds is embarking on a series of events

Bridgette:

and programmes through Curriculum Redefined, which will allow us to do that.

Bridgette:

And I think that freeing up space will allow us to see the opportunities.

Bridgette:

I think we can really value all of those little interaction

Bridgette:

that we have and we can also think about kindness,

Bridgette:

that we have and we can also think about kindness,

Bridgette:

kindness in terms of our feedback, our interactions, and that goes both ways though.

Simone:

Absolutely, absolutely.

Bridgette:

Yeah.

Bridgette:

We need that partnership, it's a vulnerable place to be creating

Bridgette:

a more compassionate and kinder way of being at university

Bridgette:

and we need to trust that in our relationships with students,

Bridgette:

with staff and amongst everyone, that that compassion will be reciprocated.

Bridgette:

with staff and amongst everyone, that that compassion will be reciprocated.

Bridgette:

Because it takes effort and vulnerability to do this work, I think.

Simone:

Thank you for listening to this World Changers

Simone:

podcast from the University of Leeds.

Simone:

I am Professor Simone Buitendijk and I am in conversation with Dr.

Simone:

Bridgette Bewick to hear about her research into Compassionate Curriculum

Simone:

So Bridgette, can you explain to me how a compassionate curriculum

Simone:

can improve equality or even equity maybe how just how does that work?

Bridgette:

It's a great question, and it covers so many facets

Bridgette:

of what the compassionate curriculum is

Bridgette:

all about.

Bridgette:

So if we can get compassionate curriculum right,

Bridgette:

we know that that is in part around increasing belonging.

Bridgette:

And we know belonging is directly related to educational outcomes,

Bridgette:

particularly in groups that are marginalised and minoritised.

Bridgette:

So for groups that haven't traditionally been

Bridgette:

marginalised, it has very little effect for them,

Bridgette:

in some ways, their grades don't go down.

Bridgette:

They're still succeeding, they're still doing great.

Bridgette:

But a compassionate curriculum is particularly of benefit for those students

Bridgette:

who were not best served

Bridgette:

by the old way that we were doing things at university.

Bridgette:

So as a result, it becomes an environment

Bridgette:

where the playing field is slightly more even

Bridgette:

and it means that students feel like they're included,

Bridgette:

they are included, they feel they belong,

Bridgette:

they can see themselves in that curriculum.

Bridgette:

It also gives staff an opportunity

Bridgette:

to really bring their own authentic self

Bridgette:

to what they're teaching, whatever that means for that particular staff.

Bridgette:

So that's just one little tweak that we can make in terms

Bridgette:

of increasing belonging, which then has all of these knock on effects.

Bridgette:

And ultimately,

Bridgette:

my hope and my aim is that that will happen

Bridgette:

not only in terms of the transit from first year undergraduate

Bridgette:

to second year to graduating, but that we can also keep that going

Bridgette:

because we know that there are certain groups of individual who who just don't

Bridgette:

don't transition to masters, they don't transition to PhDs

Bridgette:

or the grades that they're getting because of the awarding gap means that

Bridgette:

there's certain things that just aren't available or open to them.

Simone:

Yeah, that's brilliant so it's great

Simone:

for everybody, but particularly for under represented and minoritised students.

Bridgette:

Exactly.

Bridgette:

It doesn't disadvantage particular groups.

Bridgette:

It's about helping those that have traditionally been disadvantaged so

Bridgette:

to gain the advantage that everybody else already has.

Simone:

Yep, no that’s a really great way of explaining it.

Simone:

And I yeah, I'm very hopeful was Curriculum

Simone:

Redefined that you just mentioned that was actually going to create a space

Simone:

to do exactly that because you're as aware as I am

Simone:

that it's a major programme and one of the major elements of it

Simone:

is to move away from the teacher being far away from students

Simone:

lecturing at them to work much more in interaction,

Simone:

which hopefully will create an opportunity for students and,

Simone:

and teachers to see each other as people

Simone:

and to bring their lived experiences into the classroom.

Simone:

And to really interact in a more human way,

Simone:

which will hopefully then also create that sense of belonging.

Simone:

So can you tell me a little bit more what your senses of the ability

Simone:

for the University of Leeds to create a more compassionate curriculum

Simone:

in this this whole big strategic programme

Simone:

the implementing to redefine it?

Bridgette:

I'm really optimistic actually, and I think I'm optimistic

Bridgette:

for a number of reasons.

Bridgette:

I think in part because I know there are

Bridgette:

a lot of staff and students

Bridgette:

who think that ethically and morally this is this is what we should do.

Bridgette:

And because of that, we already have a whole range of champions

Bridgette:

and ambassadors who are already beginning to embed this into their work.

Bridgette:

And that Curriculum Redefined

Bridgette:

shines a spotlight on that, and it allows people

Bridgette:

to really be recognised for those efforts, which I don't think has always happened

Bridgette:

before.

Bridgette:

So for me, I was more optimistic than I ever have

Bridgette:

been that we can really have a whole systems change in this

Bridgette:

and we can really put compassion at the heart of what we're doing.

Simone:

Do you have a sense of what this would mean for the teachers?

Simone:

Because there's also quite a bit of evidence, especially from North America,

Simone:

where interactive teaching has been practised

Simone:

in some major universities for about a decade now.

Simone:

It's so much more rewarding for the teachers as well.

Simone:

It's not just good for the students, but it's also really good for the teachers.

Simone:

What is your sense about that?

Bridgette:

When I've spoken and I did some interviews with staff

Bridgette:

and some survey kind of insight work

Bridgette:

for a lot of staff, the frustrations are coming from

Bridgette:

where they can see these roadblocks and where they don't have the agency.

Bridgette:

I guess to put themselves into that

Bridgette:

teaching and to really reflect the world as they know it.

Bridgette:

And it's really hard.

Bridgette:

And I can say this personally as a member of staff,

Bridgette:

when you see something that you don't think it's fair,

Bridgette:

but it's what you have to implement because you know, that's

Bridgette:

the way the university works and the way it does it

Bridgette:

and I think more and more we are seeing the ability

Bridgette:

to challenge those things and to no longer

Bridgette:

have to do the work arounds that so many of us have been doing.

Bridgette:

But instead we can make it our core business.

Bridgette:

And I,

Bridgette:

it can only be but more rewarding when you're given time

Bridgette:

and space to kind of develop this type of curriculum, because we

Bridgette:

all see students who are falling down at different parts of the year,

Bridgette:

and it's not nice to feel that somehow you've contributed to that through

Bridgette:

a timetabling

Bridgette:

issue or a way that assistance been implemented or whatever it was.

Bridgette:

You feel somehow responsible for that, even if you're not.

Simone:

And I know sometimes people are afraid that if we focus on these kinds of skills

Simone:

and attributes and creating work and passion in the way we educate,

Simone:

and that the requirements of professional and regulatory

Simone:

bodies will not be met, and I don't think you and I share that concern.

Simone:

But can you say a little bit more about that?

Simone:

Yeah, it's something that was raised quite a lot when I first started doing

Simone:

this work, actually.

Simone:

But what does this mean for our accreditation?

Simone:

I think what it means for your accreditation is that it will be stronger.

Simone:

And these two things aren't at odds because Compassionate

Simone:

And these two things aren't at odds because Compassionate

Simone:

Curriculum is not about stripping out bits

Simone:

of the curriculum that are necessary.

Simone:

It would be the opposite of compassionate.

Simone:

I work in the School of Medicine and it would be completely not compassionate

Simone:

I work in the School of Medicine and it would be completely not compassionate

Simone:

to be sending our students into the NHS without the skills that they need.

Simone:

Compassionate Curriculum is about preparing people for what comes

Simone:

next, and part of that is content adherence to regulatory bodies

Simone:

this actually strengthens it.

Simone:

If I'm if I'm honest, if you look at most of the accreditations,

Simone:

inclusion, diversity, compassion, these values are all there,

Simone:

I think where the challenge comes is how do we do that

Simone:

within the content that we have to deliver in the ways that we have to.

Simone:

So we need to sometimes think a little bit outside the box,

Simone:

a little bit more imaginatively about how we're going to

Simone:

to do these things in the context of our own professional accreditation.

Simone:

Because it is not about a dumbing down of our curriculum.

Simone:

It has to be that we prepare our students for the professional bodies

Simone:

in which they're going to be working within and with

Simone:

for their entirety of the career that they decide to stay in that discipline.

Simone:

So we have to prepare them for that.

Simone:

And that's part of having a Compassionate Curriculum in my perspective.

Simone:

Yeah.

Simone:

So what you're basically saying

Simone:

is it's not an add on and it's certainly not in competition.

Simone:

It's it's basically central to everything we're trying to achieve.

Simone:

It's also creating these global citizens of tomorrow.

Simone:

And you're one of Leeds World Changers, so thank you.

Simone:

Yeah.

Simone:

You would agree with me that this the Compassionate Curriculum

Simone:

is a great way actually changing the world through our students?

Bridgette:

I think it's necessary.

Bridgette:

I think if we don't have a compassionate curriculum,

Bridgette:

then we're teaching students and we're showing students

Bridgette:

that the way we've always done things, the ways

Bridgette:

that have the systemic things that we do and the processes we have

Bridgette:

which have kept inequalities, how they are, that that's OK.

Bridgette:

And I would not want to be part of a system

Bridgette:

which is teaching people this is OK.

Bridgette:

We can just leave it as it is.

Bridgette:

I think we owe it to ourselves, to society, and to our students to make sure

Bridgette:

that we're equipping them with the tools to reduce those inequalities.

Bridgette:

And hopefully one day we might even get to equity.

Bridgette:

It might be that we can get to equitable outcomes for everyone.

Bridgette:

And I think a Compassionate Curriculum is part of that journey.

Simone:

Yeah, that's that's really great.

Simone:

Really great.

Simone:

So so when do you think, well, we'll see this across the Faculty

Simone:

of Medicine and Health and hopefully across the university.

Simone:

Where are we in the process from your perspective?

Bridgette:

I think we're already seeing some of this,

Bridgette:

and I think it's beginning to to filter down.

Bridgette:

At least we have the Compassionate Curriculum conversations that happen

Bridgette:

once a month.

Bridgette:

Leeds has been a university for an awful long time,

Bridgette:

and so it's not going to be done overnight putting compassion into the curriculum.

Bridgette:

But I think there's so many amazing examples and I've I've purposely

Bridgette:

not named people because to do so would be to miss somebody out.

Bridgette:

But there's there's so much work going on both within staff and students.

Bridgette:

Actually, students are really leading a lot of this work.

Bridgette:

So I know within the School of Medicine, we've got the

Bridgette:

I belong at School of Medicine events.

Bridgette:

We recently had one around Ramadan we've got a series on

Bridgette:

where the black doctors, both of those are student led.

Bridgette:

You know, students are already doing a lot of this work at Leeds.

Bridgette:

Yeah. Thank you.

Simone:

And that's why I think a strategy is so important

Simone:

to bring all those people together who are already working on these issues.

Simone:

I take narrative isolation and I really please

Simone:

also giving you an opportunity to to shine and lead.

Simone:

So thank you for doing all this work and thank you for playing such a central role

Simone:

on this very important scene and how you parting mission, if I may use that word,

Simone:

creating a more compassionate university, I think not just the curriculum.

Simone:

So thank you, Bridgette, for being one of our real changers.

Simone:

And thank you for speaking to me today.

Simone:

And I'm looking forward to many, many more conversations.

Simone:

Thanks tonight. It's been a pleasure.

Simone:

Thank you.

Simone:

Thank you for listening to this podcast from the University of Leeds, to find out

Simone:

more about the work of our early career researchers and to read essays written by

Simone:

World Changer researchers, please go to the World Changers page on the University

Simone:

website, details can be found in the information that accompanies this podcast.

Links