Mindfulness Sets a Mood at Minneapolis College

Jennifer Sippel

Little did Jenny Sippel realize that attending yoga classes in 2005 would eventually inspire her to adopt what she terms “a revealing and healing approach” to exploring the nature of things internally and externally at Minneapolis College. It’s called mindfulness.

Or, consider a staged snowball fight leveraged a $25,000 State of Minnesota Educational Innovations grant to organize a mindfulness summit and expand mindfulness practices at Minneapolis College.

Sippel, Minneapolis College Faculty Librarian, called “mindful yoga” a transformational experience that evolved a “predominantly mindless judgmental form of exercise into a practice centered on compassion for self and others.”

She pitched the idea of exploring “intersections of mindfulness and equity work” to Jay Williams, former Diversity Officer of Minneapolis College and Sociology faculty. With his support, Sippel coordinated an application to the State of Minnesota Educational Innovations Shark Tank Open.

Snowballs Melt Panel of Judges

Enter snowballs, used as an example during a presentation to a Shark Tank-like panel of judges to demonstrate mindfulness was creative, innovative.

“We wanted to come up with a pitch that would impress and convince the judges,” she said. “How do you pitch mindfulness as innovative?  Many people think of innovations as emerging technologies, such as working with robots. When you’re talking about anti-racism and trauma responses, that is work requiring us as individuals to examine ourselves and to respond to what we find there, as well as in our relating with others.”

Sippel and her team took white puffy cotton balls that looked like snowballs. “We brought a big bucket full of these snowballs into the room, cranked up the Pixies track “Where is my Mind,” and threw ‘snowballs’ at each other to create a sense of chaos in the room,” Sippel said. “We wanted the snowballs to represent everything that comes at us at any given moment, and that in those moments, we have the opportunity to respond in different ways. We invited judges to think about how we can use mindfulness in those moments and in those responses.

“So, if someone is throwing something at you, you can withdraw, show anger. . . or use a more skillful response, informed by wisdom that comes from informal and formal mindfulness practices. We’re asking folks in this hyper-connectiveness world to step away, examine themselves and get comfortable with those situations.”

Out of Mind into Mindfulness

Mindfulness has been described as the practice of purposely bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment, a skill one develops through meditation or other training.

“Equity centered development such as reading a book, listening to a talk or watching a video are great places to start, but these kinds of activities tend to keep us in our own minds. Adding mindfulness allows us the opportunity to integrate that knowledge with that which is revealed to us through our practice.” Sippel said.

The integration of mindfulness practices at Minneapolis College continues the work of the Equity and Inclusion Division, accessible to all members of the community.

Key was receiving the “Shark Tank” innovation grant of $25,000 to conduct an 8-week course of training into Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction with Equity, a 5-week online Introduction to the Mindfulness and Equity course, a one-day Mindfulness and Equity Summit and a half-day Exploring White Identity workshop.

Sippel since applied and received a sustaining grant that was made available from the original innovation grant to host a second Mindfulness and Equity Summit in early 2021. The grant also was used to produce a Mindful Path video and a Mindful Path video with audio description.

Mindfulness Enters Curriculum

This work reinforced that of instructors who have embedded mindfulness into curriculum. For example, mindfulness is a key component in the Addiction Counseling Department. “Mindfulness practices support and sustain recovery,” Sippel said.

With support of a Student Life financial contribution, Sippel led the way to convert an old library copy machine area into a “Room to Breathe” for Minneapolis College community members to use for silent meditation, prayer and guided mindfulness practice sessions.

“Transformation is experienced when we engage with and challenge the habits of the mind and the patterns of thinking around issues,” she said.  “And mindfulness practices cultivate our ability to stay with discomfort that comes with that awareness.”

Snowballs, anyone?

MORE ABOUT SIPPEL: Sippel grew up in Austin, Minnesota and earned a Bachelor’s in Music, Fine Arts and Women’s Studies. She has a Master’s from St. Catherine University in Library Science. She has been in her current position at Minneapolis College since 2007. Sippel said she incorporates mindfulness into courses she teaches in Library Information Technology and Information Studies.