The Ombuds Office at the University of Kansas is offering virtual walk-in hours to students, faculty and staff to join a discussion based on empathy.
The discussions, titled the Ombuddy Cafe, have been hosted through Zoom meetings by the Ombuds Office every other Monday since June 22.
The Ombuds Office is an independent office at KU that provides an informal space for students, faculty and staff to share personal issues or conflicts. They may offer coaching, discuss available options or refer to other offices on campus based on each case.
University Ombuds D.A. Graham said the Office is impartial and should be known as the “University’s neutral,” meaning it will not advocate for an individual or the institution.
The Office is always confidential and only required to report when an individual plans to harm themselves or others.
“Conflict transformation is what we focus on and we do that through compassion and communication,” Graham said.
Issues that can be consulted at the Ombuds Office include work issues, University policies, disputes among community members, etc.
“Our job is basically to help folks in the community have a healthy happy engaged learning experience,” said Graham.
Graham said the Ombuds Office is based on two main principles: compassion and communication. These principles have four components: observations, feelings, needs and requests.
Graham said the Office came up with the Ombuddy Cafe when taking into consideration these parts and components, and putting empathy as the core emotion.
The University of Kansas International Affairs office hosted a virtual panel Wednesday for five international students or students who were studying abroad to share their COVID-19 experiences.
“Empathy is my ability to hold space for you,” Graham said. “Allow you to be vulnerable in that space.”
Any member in the KU community can join and share personal troubles. The cafe is based on hearing all individual’s experiences without judgement or advice, but rather only empathy.
“That’s what we try to teach people: how to have power with each other, not power over another person,” Graham said.
The most recent session on July 6 welcomed six people and lasted one hour. Everyone had time to talk, both in the large group and with a partner in breakout rooms. Everything discussed was confidential.
Each person was encouraged to tell how they spent their previous week and both positive or negative experiences they may have had, while the rest listened and put into words the speaker’s feelings after they finished.
Graham said this is a way to empower assertive communication instead of creating alienation or disconnection between people.
“It helps me fill my kindness bucket because it takes KU, which is really huge and very impersonal, and makes it very personal by the connections I make with all of you,” said Billie, one of the attendees.
Deanne, another attendee, said she looks forward to these meetings every week.
“It helps me feel grounded,” she said. “It’s such a learning opportunity for me. I feel better.”
The next Ombuddy Cafe discussion is scheduled for Monday, July 20.