Life University Makes Change with Center for Compassion

Life University Makes Change with Center for Compassion

By Life University

Life University, located northwest of downtown Atlanta, is known primarily for its flagship Doctor of Chiropractic program, which boasts the most chiropractic students on a single campus in the world. Others may be familiar with its top-ranked men’s and women’s rugby squads, which have won numerous national championships against much larger D1-A competition. Or perhaps, people are familiar with its annual holiday Lights of LIFE display that lights up the Marietta campus for more than a month from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. However, one of many things you may not know about this small, private university is the significant global impact it is making through its Center for Compassion, Integrity and Secular Ethics (CCISE) and the initiatives that the center has implemented. Two of the most notable initiatives from the center include the Chillon Project and Compassionate Integrity Training.

Chillon Project

The Chillon Project provides high-quality, credit-bearing degree programs to people in prison and formerly incarcerated people in Georgia. Life University offers two degree programs through Chillon at Arrendale State Prison, a maximum-security women’s facility in Alto, Georgia. Currently, 17 students are earning their Associate of Arts in Positive Human Development and Social Change (A.A. in PHDSC) at Arrendale; eighteen have completed the A.A. in PHDSC and are now earning their Bachelor of Science in Psychology. Additionally, eight students who have been released from Arrendale are currently taking Life University classes online. Chillon also includes full scholarships for correctional staff and formerly incarcerated students who began Life University degrees while in prison. These scholarships enable students to complete a Life University undergraduate degree of their choice.

The degree programs offered at Arrendale reflect Chillon’s aims to empower students to be compassionate leaders and agents of social change. Courses emphasize critical analysis of systems, an understanding of our interdependence and common humanity and the development of inner strengths such as resilience, compassion, emotional intelligence and ethical mindfulness. Thomas Fabisiak, PhD, director of the Chillon Project, says the program embodies Life University’s guiding principle of Lasting Purpose: “Give, Serve, Love and Do.”

“No matter our circumstances, we all share a longing for a loving community, for chances to create and grow and for ways to give generously of ourselves,” Fabisiak says. “There are a lot of people in prison who are not just smart and talented, but who want to excel and give back to their communities, inside and outside of prison, and will gladly do so when offered the opportunity.”

In October 2020, Life University began providing online classes to students at Arrendale because of the pandemic and thanks to technological and staff support from the Georgia Department of Corrections. The school plans to move back to an in-person model of instruction as soon as it is safe to do so.

Compassionate Integrity Training (CIT)

Compassionate Integrity Training (CIT) is a multi-part training program that cultivates basic human values as skills for the purpose of increasing individual, social and environmental flourishing. CIT is based on cutting-edge developments in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, trauma-informed care, peace and conflict studies and contemplative science. The development of CIT has been aided by the collaborative work of a team of experts with both academic and applied backgrounds in these fields.

By covering a range of skills from self-regulation and self-compassion to compassion for others and engagement with complex systems, CIT focuses on and builds towards compassionate integrity—the ability to live one’s life in accordance with one’s values with a recognition of common humanity, our basic orientation to kindness and reciprocity. And although CIT deals with the development of pro-social values, including compassion and integrity, it is based on a secular approach to universal ethics based on common sense, common experience and science, rather than a particular culture or religion. The skills taught in CIT are useful to people of any or no religious background while not conflicting in any way with particular religious values.

The CIT program has skyrocketed in popularity since its development, going from small-scale local groups taking its courses to now being all over the United States and the world through partnerships with groups such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Mahatma Ghandi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (UNESCO MGIEP); Charter for Compassion; Karanga; and the City of San Antonio, among others. The partnerships cultivated have led to exciting endeavors that have turned CIT into one of the world’s foremost programs for social-emotional learning. On September 21, 2020, the U.N. International Day of Peace, nearly 4,000 people participated in Skill One of CIT’s Global Lesson in Social Emotional Learning, focusing on “Calming Body and Mind.” It received overwhelmingly positive feedback worldwide. “Everyone can benefit from a calm body and mind,” one participant said. “Sometimes I feel like I let stress overcome my goals, and when I strive for better in rough times, I do better for my overall health and future."

In 2020, CIT set new records for enrollment and participation, with participants from more than 60 countries, according to Dr. Michael Karlin, LIFE Assistant Professor of Psychology and the Associate Director of CCISE. The world’s current state of affairs has brought many opportunities for CIT to expand its reach through virtual avenues, for which Karlin is grateful. CIT graduates now number in the thousands worldwide, and numerous translations of CIT are underway to continue reaching more people.

“Naturally, CIT lends itself to being a very personal course with the ability to connect emotionally with the facilitators and fellow participants,” Karlin notes. “It’s been a joy to see that those connections can carry over through virtual interactions as well.”

As one student in the new Self-Directed Learning version of the course (CIT-SDL) said, “I’m so glad that I enrolled in this course. Learning about self-compassion has been amazing. Often, I treat others with lot of love and care, but now I realize that I need it too. The videos by Mona and Maurice are so refreshing and thoughtful. I hope I could meet them someday. They are so warm, and I feel a connection with them. This skill has definitely helped me a lot by giving me strength to look for my happiness within me. feeling so calm and clear now.”

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