Addressing Students’ Mental Health in a ‘Sustainable Societies’ Class

A Collective Case Study in Intersectional Compassionate Pedagogy (ICP)


  • Phoebe Christina Godfrey UCONN
  • Julianne Frechette UCONN
  • Jessica Larkin-Wells UCONN



Pedagogy, compassion, intersectionality, mental-health, sustainability


On an average college campus, about 41.6 percent of students are suffering from anxiety and 36.4 percent from depression. We do not think we can address student’s mental health challenges without also talking about power/oppression in the classroom. What we present here is a case study of our attempts at intersectional compassionate pedagogy (ICP) that focused on creating authentic intimate connections and community as our pedagogy.

I, Phoebe, teach a sociology class, ‘Sustainable Societies’ for which I decided that there can be no ‘sustainability’ if a large percentage of students in the class is suffering from some form of mental distress. As a means of putting the wellbeing of my students at the central focus of the class, I recruited three former students to work with me as student mentors.

I, Jess, and the two other mentors modeled social sustainability by sharing leadership of the class. We explored in particular the power dynamics entrenched in positionality of race, class, gender, age and sexuality. We further intended to radically challenge the culture of isolation and disengagement on campus and demonstrate the potential for healing within the classroom by prioritising healthy and connected relationships between all members of the class.

I, Julianne was a student in this class, I saw myself, and peers begin to re-harness our natural willingness to self-express. The challenge was to shift our internal framework to one of connection to ourselves and eventually each other, in order to create a sustainable society for all.

We collectively believe that educators have a responsibly to challenge the oppression inherent in our current school system through creative pedagogy. This lofty aim requires thinking flexibly about what a successful education looks like. This is our story. 

Author Biographies

Phoebe Christina Godfrey, UCONN

Dr. Phoebe Godfrey is an Associate Professor–in-Residence at UCONN. She is the co-editor of Systemic Crises of Global Climate Change: Intersections of Race, Class and Gender, and Emergent Possibilities for Global Sustainability: Intersections of Race, Class and Gender, London: Routledge. She attempts to put into practice that which she preaches.

Julianne Frechette, UCONN

Julianne Frechette is an undergraduate junior at UCONN. She is a sociology major and is interested in health / healing, social justice and sustainability. She is currently involved in creating a mindfulness center on campus.

Jessica Larkin-Wells, UCONN

Jessica Larkin-Wells is an undergraduate senior at UCONN. She lives at the student farm, attempting to practice environmental and social sustainability in her small community. She has been learning to bake bread as an expression of the intersection of all her interests.


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