#WaveCrushWednesday: Jennifer Heil
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This week’s #WaveCrushWednesday is Jennifer Heil, a professor in Tulane’s English department. She is originally from Metairie and was a grad student at Tulane in 2004. She moved back to New Orleans in 2013, after leaving as a result of Hurricane Katrina. She became an adjunct professor in the spring of 2015 and was hired as a postdoctoral fellow the next year. She teaches English 1010 with the theme “Contemplation in a World of Action,” a persuasive writing class called “Aristotle in New Orleans” and the freshman honors colloquium “A Quest for Answers: an Introduction to Scholarly Research.”
Can you tell me about your emphasis on mindfulness?
Well, it has to do in part with, I guess, how I found my way back at Tulane. After the storm, I kind of began to question my own beliefs in a way that I hadn’t before because everything changed so dramatically, so quickly and unexpectedly. I don’t know, it was about a year after Katrina that I started to go to Mass again. I went on a pilgrimage with my mother in 2010 to a place called Medjugorje in Croatia and that was life-changing for me. Nothing dramatic happened while I was there, but it was a very moving experience, and I began to wonder how other people knew that they had calls to the religious life. I made the choice after a year in Texas teaching to enter a monastery. I was there for six months before realizing that fit wasn’t quite right either, but after that I didn’t know the next step. I had thought of moving in with the Catholic workers here in New Orleans; they have a House of Hospitality for people who are trying to transition from living on the streets. When [Tulane] offered me this full-time position I thought ‘well, I should take it.’ I kind of found my way back to teaching a little bit unintentionally, but with this kind of new interest in how contemplation and mindfulness can, or should, play a part in the process of learning.
Can you tell me about the mindfulness practices you conduct in the park?
I start my 1010 classes with silence, in part because I feel like we’re reading a lot of dense material about what silence is, what contemplation is, and you know I was hoping it would be a way to also experience some of the things that we’re writing about, so that they seem a little more accessible. And, in some ways, to encourage all of us to think about ourselves and our education more holistically. It was something I just did in the classroom, until the death of one of my students last fall. I was very saddened and disturbed by her death, and I felt like I wanted students to know that faculty cared about them and I wanted to be available to students outside of the classroom. Now, once a week, I go to the park with whoever else wants to join us. We sit for 15 minutes in silence, and then for 15 minutes, we chat and check in with each other, and it’s been just a pleasure.
Can you tell me when you have those meetings?
On Mondays from 12:15-12:45 we meet at the fountain, which is at the entrance to Audubon Park, directly across St. Charles from Gibson.