April 19, 2024

By Mike Danza, Sociology Instructor

As a part of accreditation, Copper Mountain College is required to have goals/outcomes.  Every course at Copper Mountain has goals/outcomes.  Every program/major has goals/outcomes and the institution has goals/outcomes.  Many years ago, a student named Matthew Pavesic (who has gone on to earn his PhD in biology at Johns Hopkins) and I discussed that CMC was one of the smallest community colleges in California which offers the opportunity to coordinate learning.  He explained that the teachers at his high school selected a theme and every class integrated that theme into the curriculum.  This idea always stuck in my mind because I love interdisciplinary learning!

We finally started the process in 2022 with a conference titled: “What is Really Real? Distinguishing Fact from Fiction.”  Many instructors at CMC were able to address the goal of teaching students how to distinguish facts from fiction by focusing on topics like vaccines, politics (fake news), historical analysis, poorly executed statistical analysis, pseudoscience, myths about childhood, and myths about domestic violence. 

In 2023 we continued the initiative with a conference titled “Super Bloom: A CMC Student Showcase.” This dynamic event featured a student art exhibition and night of storytelling/presentations from multiple disciplines where students had the chance to hone their public speaking skills. The night included a series of readings from CMC ’s literary publication The Howl, storytelling from the sciences, artist talks and demonstrations.

For 2024 we decided to focus on our goal/outcome to address ethics as an institution.  Since COVID, I had been teaching my sociology students about trauma (sociology has always had a strong emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion).  Specifically, I was reading the work of California’s former surgeon general: Nadine Burke Harris. “Trauma informed education” is a major buzz word right now but few people know what it means.   At an Academic Senate meeting I asked the faculty the following questions: if we take a trauma-informed and equity-minded approach to education, how does that push us to reimagine our ethics in the classroom?  Do the ethics that inform our standard teaching practices (e.g. typical classroom activities, not accepting late homework, or high-stakes testing) need to change? If we understand that our students have experienced trauma, how might we think and treat them differently?    We are excited about the 2024 event focused on trauma and diversity, equity and inclusion.

The first conference I organized in 2022 was near the end of the COVID pandemic.  I was happy with the turnout for our first conference given the fact that COVID was impacting attendance but we were not at maximum capacity.  I remember a few sessions in 2022 that had excellent presentations but very low turnout. 

In addition, we have more faculty involvement each year.  Ideally, one year we will truly select a theme and integrate the theme into the curriculum of MANY courses at CMC and we will have more student involvement.  When I started all this I really wanted more student presentations.  The idea was that if students are learning about a particular theme in their college class then they would be able to offer conference sessions on the selected theme.  We are not there yet but I am hopeful.

Researchers have been focusing on the long-term impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACE).  These long-term impacts translate into higher rates of obesity, strokes, heart attacks, and mental illness.  In the past, when people thought about trauma they only thought of the most extreme cases.  Like the other communities in the USA, our community has many people with adverse childhood experiences and adults who faced significant life altering events, and our institutions can become more equitable and adjust to help people.   We need this conference so that our community can become more educated about trauma and equity.  Ideally, I hope the people presenting at this conference form a community of like-minded people who can help our community long term.  I hope the leaders of our local institutions attend our conference so they learn how their institutions need to adapt and evolve.

I am a full time instructor at CMC.  I teach in the sociology, psychology, and  philosophy departments.  I am also the co-advisor to the Associated Students of Copper Mountain College (i.e. student government).  I am the co-chair of the conference planning committee with Heather Sanchez.  I chair a bunch of other committees too. 

I really appreciate CMC’s support.  I have felt a great deal of support from the Vice Presidents of the College and the people on the conference planning committee.  I feel like we are trying to dream big and change the Morongo Basin and the college is supporting the dream.