An Interview with Victoria Genetin, PhD

As a junior at The Ohio State University, I took a course called "Holistic Theories of Social Transformation: Spiritual Activism & Engaged Buddhism." Quite frankly, it changed the trajectory of my life.

Victoria Genetin created a unique class that examined the relationship between academia and spirituality, a topic often scoffed at by secular scholars.

Victoria was a teacher who genuinely cared about her students, and she helped me more than she may ever realize—my path toward yoga and peaceful activism was largely sparked by her.

Victoria Genetin, PhD, Peace to the People Interview

My journey towards peace began when I was twenty-one and at my lowest spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. 

One of my closest friends had recently committed suicide, leaping to asphalt from seven stories up.

Shortly after, I learned that my best friend and freshly ex-boyfriend of many years did you-know-what. 

At the time, I was furious. I was fragmented and lost. I felt betrayed and was consumed in my sorrow, haunted by grief and disbelief and rage and palpable angst. At the root of this anger, I was sad. 

I will never forget the day I stomped across The Oval on a beautiful spring morning in combat boots, my black pixie cut shaved asymmetrically, symbolically imbalanced.

The extraordinarily kind and gentle Victoria stopped me on my path and reached into her bag. She took out a book called Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh. She told me I could keep it.

I read the book and I bawled. Somewhere deep within, I softened. 

I will never forget the influence of Victoria Genetin, the teacher who first introduced me to Tonglen Meditation, the principles of mindfulness, and the work of Thich Nhat Hanh, Sisten Chan Kong, and Claude Anshin Thomas.

I thank her from the bottom of my heart for being an understanding and patient professor at one of the most volatile times of my life.

Kelli Schaffter, The Ohio State University

Without her, the initial conduit of introducing me to spirituality from a secular perspective, I would likely not be writing these words or teaching yoga in an attempt to spark self-love, social transformation, and peace to all people. 

Here is more about this amazing woman:

KS: WHERE ARE YOU NOW IN THE WORLD? WHAT DO YOU TEACH THESE DAYS?

VG: I am working at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I am an Instructional Consultant at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT). My work is focused almost exclusively on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I).

I develop and facilitate workshops for faculty and graduate student instructors focused on DE&I issues and provide one on one teaching consultations for faculty and graduate student instructors around issues of social identity, diversity, inclusion, etc. 

KS: WHAT IS YOUR ACADEMIC BACKGROUND?

VG: I have a bachelor's degree in Social Work, a master's degree in Women's Studies, a master's degree in Social Work, and a PhD in Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies.

KS: YOU OF ALL PEOPLE: WHAT BOOKS DO YOU RECOMMEND?! 

VG: I have had little time to read (books for adults) since becoming a parent. It's not an excuse, just a reality. 

As always, Nhat Hanh has to make the list. I'd recommend Peace is Every StepPeace is Every BreathThe Art of Power, and The Novice: A Story of True Love

I have read and re-read The Lover's Dictionary: A Novel by David Levithanover the last few years. It's quick and engaging and I just like words.

Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup, is kind of beautiful. I haven't read it in 5 years or so, but I often recommend it. 

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides, was a good just-before-bed read. And, Octavia Butler's trilogy, The Lilith's Brood, may be my all-time favorite. 

Oh, and Rita Mae Brown's Ruby Fruit Jungle is a fun, fast read, too. Oh, and I can't leave out Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. 

KS: WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR GREATEST INSPIRATIONS IN LIFE, THE PEOPLE YOU LOOK UP TO MOST?

VG: My mother, Judee, and my grandmother, Carol. They are remarkable women who have taught me so much about forgiveness, loyalty, compassion for others, selflessness, and unconditional love.

Of course, there is no doubt that I admire Sister Chan Khong and Thich Nhat Hanh, too. But really I look toward people or feel inspired by people who are doing the best they can with what they've got in this often painful, but also beautiful life. People who let themselves experience a range of emotions, who don't try to escape the tough stuff, but stare it right in the face and keep doing the right (or honest or thoughtful or compassionate or loving) thing any way.  

KS: FAVORITE QUOTES OR MANTRAS?

VG: "Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four brand new hours to live. What a precious gift! We have the capacity to live in a way that these twenty-four hours will bring peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and others."  — Thich Nhat Hanh

Also, "breathe."   ;)

KS: SUGGESTIONS ON HOW TO LIVE A MORE MEANINGFUL AND PURPOSEFUL LIFE?

VG: Oh, this is a big question. So what I can offer here are some strategies that I try to implement in my own life, but are in no way prescriptive. Some days I am more successful than others.

  • Put your phone down (I am terrible at this!) 
  • Connect with the people you love, everyday, in some way (and often that includes using the phone, a lot!)
  • Be honest. Say what you mean. Do what you say you are going to do.
  • Don't take more than you need.
  • Remember that what you do impacts people, animals, and places, even if you never meet those people, animals, or visit those places. 
  • Be kind. Really, seriously, be kind. To everyone, but especially to children, older people, and animals. 
  • Check your privilege!
  • Listen. Stop talking. Don't interrupt. Listen. 
  • Get outside. And, look up!

KS:YOUR FAVORITE HOBBIES AND PASSIONS?

VG: You wouldn't believe what a difficult question this is for me (or has become for me as an adult). As a child, I answered this question easily and happily. I would say time and time again, "Dancing! Reading, day dreaming, swimming, crafting." As an adult, I struggle to find the time to engage in "hobbies" or "special interests."

Even before becoming a parent, I am not sure that I ever gave myself enough time to 'just be,' to really engage in an activity or even identify a passion. There was a period of time in graduate school when I really enjoyed running. I ran every day and it was something that felt exciting. Then, there was a semester or 2 in my last year of my PhD program where I attended Indo-Row (indoor rowing) classes at the campus rec center 3-4 times a week. I loved these classes and how strong I felt in my body. I try to get to the gym now, but I almost always choose spending time with my family over attending a fitness class.

Eight months ago my 11 year old niece taught me how to crochet. I've been working on the same blanket ever since. And, I would love to learn to sew.

The truth is that whenever I am asked this question I get stuck in thinking about how much more (if any) time I should be taking for myself. 

KS: RESEARCH YOU HAVE DONE + ARTICLES YOU HAVE WRITTEN?

VG: My work has shifted a bit since leaving OSU. While I continued to teach for OSU through May 2016, my primary focus has been on faculty development. The writing that I do now is on developing materials for programming here at CRLT, though as I continue to work my way up at CRLT (and as my child moves through and out of toddlerhood), I will have more time to write and produce work in the field of faculty development (with a focus on DE&I issues, of course).

KS: YOUR FAVORITE MEALS?

VG: I love ginormous salads, like buckets of salad, made with butter lettuce. I could also make a meal out of chips and salsa. And brussel sprouts, roasted with garlic or steamed with broccoli and served with tofu on basmati rice. 

KS: YOUR FAVORITE COLOR?

VG: Purple, in all ways and all shades. Also, glitter. Is glitter a color? I love glitter. 

KS: AWESOME. THANKS A MILLION, VICTORIA! SO MUCH LOVE TO YOU!

PROFESSOR, MENTOR, LIFE CHANGER | MINDFULNESS + INTELLECTUAL MOTIVATION

Kelli Schaffter

Peace to the People, LLC, Columbus, Ohio