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Claremont Lincoln University

Faculty Center

Meet Stephanie Varnon-Hughes, PhD, Dean of Teaching, Learning & Leadership

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes, Ph.D., is CLU's Dean of Teaching, Learning & Leadership.   Dr. Varnon-Hughes is an award-winning teacher and interfaith leader. She is the host of the religion & culture podcast In Times Like These and the author of Interfaith Grit: How Uncertainty Will Save Us. Varnon-Hughes was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Inter-Religious Studies, a peer-reviewed journal, and its sister publication, State of Formation, an online forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders. She holds a Ph.D. from Claremont Lincoln University, an M.A. and S.T.M. from Union Theological Seminary, and her undergraduate degrees are in English and Education from Webster University.

Noteworthy Resources from Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes


This week's topic: Plagiarism! I know you all know that how we understand plagiarism is related to cultural differences and expectations.
This blog post is written for high schools and instructors who receive foreign high school students (specifically from China) and might need to understand the needs/strengths these students bring to their writing, but it's useful information and easy to read:
This article is written from an instructor teaching at a US institution in Qatar, it includes tips for suspending assumptions and "accusations," solutions, and additional information about considering the role of shame and guilt in some cultures:
Finally, this really excellent article discusses differences including low-income and first-gen students, including cultural capital, "Specifically, students in this study plagiarize primarily because they are concerned that not only are their vocabulary and writing skills subpar, but that they do not fit into the college student role."
All of that to say-- there's a lot going on!
You can check our catalog and syllabi for our policies on plagiarism. I also want to give you an example of how I handle it when I teach. Usually, the first time, and/or if I think there is confusion, I use it to teach and do not penalize.
If it continues, and/or is egregious, I give a zero for the assignment. I may or may not let them re-write. I tend to let them re-write, but it also depends on other factors. 
At any point, you can also write a notification of academic dishonesty and loop Dean Karen Kraker in. This means that the student is on notice, and also future actions can be taken if the student doesn't take it seriously and change writing/research practices. Please find a sample letter I've used attached.
When I communicate this, a phrase I use with students is, “The majority of words need to be your own. Whenever they are not your own, they must be in quotation marks, and your own writing must surround the quotes."
You can also share this resource and ask them to complete the tutorial before turning in another assignment:
I highly recommend you take the tutorials and try to pass the tests as well. They are much more difficult and time-consuming than I thought before I took them. So don't assign them to students lightly.

When Clair used to share this, she included this info:

"This is a free resource you can use to learn about what constitutes plagiarism and how to ensure you are appropriately crediting and citing sources. You will need to register to use the tutorial. Then you’ll want to use the menu on the right to select 'Learn through Tutorials.' This will take you through a series of lessons and videos to help you develop a more clear understanding of plagiarism. When you’re ready, you can take the certification tests to measure your knowledge.”

Finally, our own CTL has a section of resources on plagiarism:
Definitely point your students here and remind them to use Unicheck to sharpen their awareness of when and how they're using citations (or not).
I welcome additional thoughts and resources for thinking about this and supporting you as you teach and our students as they learn.
Thanks for your time and attention to this complicated issue.

The Future

Happy December! As we come to the end of the year and start to think about whatever 2022 might hold, this image was incredibly powerful to me today (attached).

I know I personally spend so much time thinking about the lines in black-- the past. Past decisions made, decisions not made, acceptances, rejections, and failures. I could have been on farm radio, reporting across the heartland on hog prices!! That black line ended after about a year or two (Stephanie aged 17-19)... but it's still there, and I still think a lot about flunking out of the University of Illinois.

What if we shifted? What if, instead, we spent more time thinking about the many possible lines in green still branching out into the future?  

And-- one note for the anxious, if all of those green possible pathways start to feel overwhelming. There is no "best" path. There is no one right answer that holds only success and no loss. This isn't about "getting it right"--it's about hope and possibility. And thinking creatively instead of letting ruminating paralyze us.

It is with great hope that we may lean into the green-- individually and as an organization, today and every day.





Peace and Goodness

I hope you all are experiencing peace and goodness this week as we prepare to take a break from our work.
This time of year, I always like to reflect on the generations of indigenous people who lived (and continue to live), worked, and created on the land where I currently live, work, and create. 
I am writing this from my home in Upland, California, on land belonging to the Tongva and Kizh people. The Tongva nation remains politically and culturally engaged in San Bernardino county, including advocating for missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in the state of California. In California, 91% of known murdered and missing indigenous women cases remain unsolved.

Kizh children were sent to "Indian boarding schools" in Riverside, California, despite the Kizh people having millennia of their own language, culture, religion, and complex social structures preceding Spanish colonization of the area.

This week, I am grateful for their ongoing work in my community and for the chance to learn about their histories and gifts.
If you would like to explore the landscape around you in this way--and what a lovely act of discovery with families and young people tomorrow!-- you can use this site:
The maps are incredible, immersive, and really illustrate the hundreds of languages, cultures, sciences, and religions that a single address or name can't really indicate.
Part of mindfulness includes situational awareness, and a willingness to explore the ground beneath our feet and how we move through our shared world. May we always celebrate holidays and family gatherings with a posture of curiosity and respect.

CLU Program Learning Outcomes


It's getting darker in many parts of the world in the evening. And with the end of the year holidays coming-- stress may also be growing.
It's time to remind ourselves of the importance of sleep.
Amazing! It reminds me of an organism breathing. Natural sleep is the only way this process happens. Lack of sleep has real physical and mental repercussions, short term and long term.
Attention to sleep is also important for teenagers, anyone who has recently been ill, or for times in our life when we are recovering from grief, trauma, or increased periods of stress (even good stress!).
In our culture, we often celebrate being busy and getting more done at the expense of mental health. I encourage us to tend to our physical needs starting with the most basic one: rest. Our brains will thank us!

Letting Go

As I watch some leaves here in Southern California drop to the ground, I'm reminded of the importance of letting go.
Holding a grudge can have a negative effect on our physical wellbeing, keeping our body in "fight or flight" mode and keeping our blood pressure artificially raised.
It's natural to ruminate on past wrongs. But letting go can have a powerful impact on our mental health and wellness.
This article includes 8 things you can practice to let go of grudges and resentment:
And this article from the Mayo Clinic includes reasons forgiveness can be healthy, and how to practice it:
Forgiveness can lead to:
    Healthier relationships
    Improved mental health
    Less anxiety, stress, and hostility
    Lower blood pressure
    Fewer symptoms of depression
    A stronger immune system
    Improved heart health
    Improved self-esteem
It's important to remember that forgiveness does not equal condonement. Acceptance (of past harm) does not equal agreement. Forgiveness helps us move on, and grow past the offender without continuing to bear physical and emotional burdens from the harm.
This article includes additional information about how to let go of a grudge:
I especially appreciate this framing and reminder: "The idea is not to re-traumatize ourselves by diving into the original pain but rather to attend to it with the compassion that we didn’t receive, that our grudge is screaming for, and bring it directly into the center of the storm. Our heart contains both our pain and the elixir for our pain." 
I invite us to gently consider whether any past wrongs are keeping us from inner peace and mental health. Examining resources to let go can open new spaces for growth and flourishing.

Types of Assessment


We are more connected than ever, but 22% of us "constantly feel alone."
Not only is this a wellness issue, this is a public health issue: "Doctors have also found that people who are lonely tend to have increased blood pressure, weaker immune systems, and more inflammation throughout the body." 
So what is someone working alone, from home, with nothing but a laptop and podcasts to do? This article shares 16 ways we can help support ourselves and feel connected:
Some of these relate to mindful practices we already have (name it, frame it; take the time to slow down; put your hand over your heart). Here are some others:
  • Give back to your community
  • Create something
  • Curate/monitor your social media usage
As we come into the final two months of the year, how connected or lonely are you feeling? Where would you like to feel more supported?

Staying Calm

This week, I'm sharing a guided meditation I found and have been using on staying calm in moments of heightened anxiety or feeling overwhelmed:
In this direct and calming 12-minute practice, secular mindfulness practitioner  Keziah Gibbons helps our bodies and breath return to calm
If you're more interested in learning about the physical effects of stress, this article, "The Anatomy of Stress: From Understanding To Managing Stress," describes good stress, bad stress, and all the ways this natural part of being human can help us feel excited and engaged...or take a physical and mental toll on our health:  
Schedule a time during one of your breaks during this work week-- spend 12 minutes practicing noticing stress, releasing it, and building your wellness practice. If you'd like to do it along with me-- please reach out and we'll do it together!

Self Talk

Let's talk about the little voices inside our heads: Self-talk.
My inner voice is often much more critical than the voice I'd use to speak to a student, my son, one of you, or even a stranger at Starbucks.
The way we talk to ourselves is powerful. These two articles help us understand a concept called "distanced self-talk." Instead of thinking to myself, "I'm struggling right now, I'm never going to get this right," I can switch to third person (distanced) and say to myself, "You're working hard right now, you're worried you won't get this right."
This can feel silly at first. But research shows that it's powerful, especially when we're experiencing stress. One of the things I tell myself frequently when I'm anxious or feeling stressed is, "You are doing the best you can." Now I know why that's effective-- I'm taking a tiny step back and distancing myself from the emotions that might be overwhelming me by using "you."
From the second article: "When you use the first-person pronoun I in your self-talk, you continue to identify with the negative, lizard brain voice. But when you refer to yourself as you, he or she, it neutralizes the rumination.  It helps you gain impulse control, especially during a climate of threat, uncertainty, and unrest like we live and work in today."
I invite us to practice mindfulness around the way we talk to ourselves this week. Let's be gentle with ourselves.

Racial Attention Deficit

Here is an important article our colleague Dr. Kendra Smith shared with me:

Here is the abstract:

"Despite efforts toward equity in organizations and institutions, minority members report that they are often ignored, their contributions undervalued. Against this backdrop, we conduct a large-sample, multiyear experimental study to investigate patterns of attention. The findings provide causal evidence of a racial attention deficit: Even when in their best interest, White Americans pay less attention to Black peers. In a baseline study, we assign an incentivized puzzle to participants and examine their willingness to follow the example of their White and Black peers. White participants presume that Black peers are less competent—and fail to learn from their choices. We then test two interventions: Providing information about past accomplishments reduces the disparity in evaluations of Black peers, but the racial attention deficit persists. When Whites can witness the accomplishments of Black peers, rather than being told about them, the racial attention-deficit subsides. We suggest that such a deficit can explain racial gaps documented in science, education, health, and law."

I have been thinking about my own attention and inattention all week since I read the article. One of the more powerful things I learned in my teacher training was that: Teachers, including female teachers, call on boy students more than girl students. EVEN IF they are aware of this bias. UNLESS they implement a mechanism to be more inclusive and equitable (e.g. using popsicle sticks with student names to call randomly, doing an audit at the end of each day to make a check by every name called on). I'm still aware of this bias-- that I will more naturally call on men and people who have learning styles I think are similar to me/people like me EVEN if I intellectually understand that I have a bias.

This part of the abstract is huge: "White participants presume that Black peers are less competent—and fail to learn from their choices." EVEN IF we have been "trained" or are "aware" unless we participate in an intervention, or require interventions of ourselves--daily-- we will continue to fail to learn AND fail to get access to what our Black peers offer.

One of the reasons I love working with all of you is that we challenge each other to become more aware and try to keep each other from failing to learn. May it continue to be so. 

Advocacy for Being a Better Ally

Here is a spotlight on key resources for supporting our colleagues and communities in Atlanta, in the academy, and all over the US.

This organizations FB group has very specific webinars, activist events, and immediate ways to support the community in Atlanta:

For those of us continuing to need resources on supporting BIPOC colleagues, students, neighbors, and family members, and to share with our neighbors and students (including academic-specific resources):

While the resources above specifically address issues of race, many of the lessons are relevant to other social justice issues and advocating for members of marginalized communities.

Nine Habits to Increase Your Energy

This article shares "Nine Habits to Increase Your Energy," but two things strike me-- they are really good habits, not just for energy, but for living. And, many of them relate to work culture and/or can be linked to the way we work at CLU.
The habits include:
  • Go to sleep early. (If you follow my Mindful Monday series, you know I'm a huge fan of sleep and sleep hygiene.)
  • Exercise every day. (From home, hop out the door and go around the block if you're feeling sluggish or stumped. When we're back in our beautiful offices, Claremont is a gorgeous location for a quick walk.)
  • Twenty-Minute Naps. (I nap almost every day. Ask me about the power of sleep!)
  • Do your hard work in the morning.
  • Set your intention the day before.
  • Sell yourself on your goals.
  • Get better friends. (And/or: appreciate the power of great colleagues. You are the folks I often spend the most time/energy with.)
  • Align your life.
As we come to the last three months of 2021, which three of these might you try for October, November, and December? Which seem most resonant with what you need right now?  You'll notice that goals, alignment, and intentions can be related to some of the mindfulness practices we've explored and that we share with students. 
What habits can provide you with energy and space this season?

World Values Survey

I found this incredibly illuminating graph illustrating different countries' values (and which countries are similar to one another), based on the World Values Survey:

It's interesting to see who we're kin to when it comes to values. This might be interesting data in some of our course conversations about culture and assumptions of similarities or differences.

Student COVID Courts

I found an interesting example of a way one on-ground university is keeping COVID from spreading amongst students— student-run “courts” to hear evidence and facilitate community reparations for students who break social-distancing and mask guidelines:

"To get that buy-in, the team decided to hand over enforcement of health protocols to the student body.” — the article documents the positive and negative aspects of this. Students are working hard to listen to one another and look out for vulnerable populations, but many students dislike the increased surveillance.

The pandemic has highlighted for many of us all of the ways we depend on one another, and the ways real dialogue and collaboration are failing in many communities (distrust, fear, unwillingness to take others’ perspectives, rise in illnesses, vulnerable populations and [so-called] front-line workers feeling unheard and expendable…)

I hope that the values and capacities of the Claremont Core might serve wider communities than just CLU students as we grow and move into the next year.

Resources for Understanding Conflict in Palestine

Accurate and helpful resources to think about the conflict in Palestine right now, and students might also be referencing this in their application of course concepts. As an inter-religious scholar who has long worked in Jewish-Christian and Jewish-Muslim dialogue spaces, I am also personally interested in ways to think about the criticism of the actions of the Israeli government/state that is not antisemitic. I have found these resources helpful in the past week:

Peer-to-Peer Learning

Please find attached a didactic I found really helpful when thinking about peer learning. That is, I spend a lot of time thinking about how we instructors plan for and facilitate learning. I do spend some time thinking about student agency and actions in her own learning. But I have not really reflected lately on how to facilitate peer learning.

That is our intention, of course, is the emphasis we put on the Discussion Board space and assignments. The attached figure really highlighted for me that I have a role to play in “activating” student-led peer learning. I also like the didactic because it gives us clear next steps as we work to focus on these learning “levels.”

The figure comes from this source, “Formative Assessment for Remote Teaching: Understanding Learning Intentions,” by Kathleen Scalise and Dylan William:

Mental Health Check

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the US. Please find attached a quick and helpful "temperature check" for how you might be feeling in a given situation. It gives us and our students/communities language to talk about how we're coping.

LGBTQ+ Resources

It's Pride Month! Here is an amazing conversation I had on my CLU podcast with PreK-12 literacy specialist and LGBTQ+ activist Courtney Farrell on being inclusive for trans students in K-12 spaces (particularly in PreK-3 spaces. I learned so much from her: ttps://

This website is geared to undergraduate student leaders, but they have a ton of events and resources. It's helpful to see how young leaders at the beginning of their higher ed journey are doing this work:

Finally, this issue of Diversity and Democracy from the Association of American Colleges & Universities is focused on LGBTQ+ contexts in higher education:

Gitanjali Rao and Research

“Observe, brainstorm, research, build, and communicate.” —Gitanjali Rao, TIME magazine’s first-ever Kid of the Year.

Ms. Rao, who is 15, invented Tethys, a device that detects lead contamination in water, in 2017, in response to her concern about the Flint water crisis.

She’s also invented Kindly, an app that flags cyberbullying in real-time, and Epione, an early diagnosis solution for prescription opioid addiction, which also has an app for mobile devices. Marvel also made her a superhero in their web series Marvel’s Hero Project, as “Genius Gitanjali,” for the work she’s done to help people.

Her quote that captures the research process— from observation through collaboration to communication—resonates for me with all the work we’ve been doing to build the three new Core courses (Invitation to Inquiry, Activating the Core, and Applying the Core).

Dismantling Racism in the Academy

Many of you may already be aware of a movement across North America today and tomorrow to educate ourselves and participate in teaching around actions against racism, policing, mass incarceration and other symptoms of racism’s toll in America.

Scholar Strike is both an action, and a teach-in.

You can learn more about #scholarstrike here:

From the organizers: "In the tradition of the teach-ins of the 1960s, we are going to spend September 8–9 doing YouTube ten-minute teach-ins, accessible to everyone, and a social media blitz on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to share information about racism, policing mass incarceration, and other issues of racial injustice in America. Participants at various institutions will be engaging in their own programming with students at their universities, and sharing with us their teach-ins and other activities. Scholar Strike has even gone across US borders, with our Canadian academic neighbors to the north engaging in their own action across Canada on September 9–10."

I will be taking time these two days to do some homework about the ways in which my actions and language propagate white supremacy - inside academia and out. Resources can be found here:

I welcome your own reflections on ways you are learning, and teaching, to dismantle white supremacy and support all of our students as they create positive social change in their communities.

Disability Scholars

Many of you know that a core group of us are working on DEI initiatives here at CLU, including incorporating a variety of voices of scholars and practitioners in our courses, a new course for all programs, and other resources for teaching and learning. 

Over the past few years, I’ve been learning a lot from these leaders and organizations. They include disabled academics and activists, and also “universal design” resources (everything from architecture to course design).

Constitution Day

Constitution Day s a requirement the federal government gives to schools and universities that receive federal funding. It has been in place since 2005. Usually, someone in the financial aid office or student affairs office makes the announcement. On an on-ground institution, it’s easy to miss, because it’s often just a flyer that goes up, or maybe a flyer with free food. For online, we have to send out emails (including to staff).

Specifically, the requirement is that schools “offer educational programming” around the Constitution, hence the language below about “learning or reacquainting yourself” with the document.