“The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water and not get wet,” said Zelideh Martinez Hoy, director of Student Diversity and Inclusion at the School of Public Health.
She was reading a 1996 quote from Rachel Remen on compassion fatigue. Martinez Hoy said it is impossible for mentors to help students through traumatic experiences and not be transformed or touched in a way by the process or the stories they share.
Graduate Mentoring Center Director Maria E. Hamilton Abegunde organized a session that allowed mentors to come together for a discussion on compassion fatigue.
She invited students and members of service providers on campus to be involved in a discussion of compassion fatigue, identity and how identity affects the compassion fatigue mentors feel.
Martinez Hoy first asked attendees to gather in smaller groups and create individual “social identity doughnuts.” They were provided a worksheet with a circle on it. The participants were then instructed to divide the circle into several different pieces where each piece represented a part of their overall identity.
After coming together as a group again, Martinez Hoy led a discussion that allowed participants to explain their partner or group member’s identity and define compassion fatigue in their own words.
Hamilton Abegunde said compassion fatigue is when mentors overstress themselves to a point where they are not doing as much as they can anymore.
Doug Bauder, director of the GLBT Student Support Services office, said he sees compassion fatigue as a positive thing. It’s about knowing one’s limits and how much campus mentors can do, he said.
“I think if there is a positive side to it, it’s just being aware that one human being can only do so much,” he said.
Stephen Amundson, a graduate assistant for the Career Development Center, said he also doesn’t take a negative approach to defining compassion fatigue. He said he feels that, as mentors, they sometimes become overly compassionate.
“We’re compassionate towards people in that we give them the support they need,” he said.
He said at the same time, they need to challenge the students to break through obstacles on their own. He related this concept to the proverb where instead of fishing for a man, one teaches the man to fish, and he will eat for the rest of his life.
The group took an intermission after the first section for pizza and wings. When they came together again, they delved deeper to look at the way their identity affects their compassion fatigue.
Martinez Hoy told the group that, in her personal experience, hearing sexual assault cases had a lasting effect on her.
“It was not something I left on a paper,” Martinez Hoy said. “I carried it with me.”
Martinez Hoy talked about “self-care strategies” at the end of the session. She offered a list of ways for mentors to be aware of their personal awareness while helping those who are going through traumatic experiences.
Martinez Hoy used the metaphor of a backpack to describe the responsibilities each individual wears and learning when to take it off.
She said identifying personal role-shedding rituals is important as well as learning not to carry that backpack all the time. She said physically changing out of her clothes from the day and into her sweatpants and comfy clothes is a “role-shedding ritual” for herself.
Martinez Hoy also opened up discussion for mentors to share their own ways they cope with the effects their students have on their lives.
Hamilton Abegunde said taking the time to sit, be mindful and breathe is beneficial in the midst of chaos. Martinez Hoy paused from the discussion and instructed everyone in the room to take in a deep breath and then let it out as a group.
“Isn’t it interesting how, when you take that deep breath, you become kind of lighter?” she said. “I don’t know, maybe it just has that effect on me.”
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