Learning Matters: A Sanctuary in the Storm

Chancellor Carrell

As we begin the decade of the 2020’s and the second semester of the academic year, our physical reality in Minnesota is - shall we say - wintry. Cautious driving on slippery roads and a single footwear choice have become the daily norm. Often my commute across Southeast Minnesota’s beautiful bluff country is a blissful part of my day, featuring a visual treat of wildlife and spectacular skies. Lately, that drive has been more of a survival experience as with others on their way to town I attempt to stay out of the ditch. In addition to the ongoing piles of white stuff, we know the coming months in early 2020 are likely to continue to be quite chilly as we study and work together. 

Sometimes Minnesotans deal with this season by simply enduring - cursing the cold, gritting our chattering teeth and grumbling about the long wait for spring. If you’re in a work environment that is devoted tolearning or discovery or what some contexts identify as a growth mindset it may make sense to think about how the winter weather intersects with that pursuit. 

Among our many goals for 2020, perhaps we could set a collective intention to cope differently with the cold. I’ve asked our campus community to consider the Danish notion of “hygge” (pronounced hoo-gah). Author Louisa Thomsen Brits describes hygge as the art of contentment, comfort and connection that can be “a practical way of creating sanctuary in the middle of very real life.” While many have translated hygge into physical coziness (sipping hot chocolate by the fireplace while binging on Netflix), I’m drawn to the idea that  work environments can be such a sanctuary of warm relationships that ignite learning.

Early in this country’s history, universities were often characterized as sanctuaries in which the (mostly male) offspring of the (mostly white) wealthy could be set apart from other more mundane activities of living to study law, medicine and the ministry. Some people called that approach to education “the ivory tower.”  The sort of sanctuary we seek now is different.  It depends on our commitment to connect new insights to lived experience through rich discourse among people with a wide variety of backgrounds and viewpoints. That’s a challenge, in a highly divided national political climate that may chill conversation by asking people to take a side and identify others as adversaries. Yet, perhaps our collective commitment to learning can help us be intentional about warming up to each other to create hygge this stormy season.

Why make such an effort? Because we agree,  Learning Matters.

Brits, L.T. (2017). The book of hygge: the Danish are of contentment, comfort, and connection. New York: Plume.

Read more of Chancellor's Blog -Learning Matters, linked here