By Miguel J. Johnson
The City College of New York’s (CCNY) Colin Powell School hosts a "Conversations in Leadership Series," where industry leaders are invited to share their life experiences and how they rose to prominence. On Tuesday, September 19th, the topic was “Transcendental Meditation” (TM) with Rick Goings, the Chairman Emeritus of Tupperware Brands, and Bob Roth, a TM teacher and CEO of David Lynch Foundation, a non-profit that provides scholarships to TM courses. The conversation was moderated by Susan Goings, the Chairman of World Federation Youth Club, and the wife of guest Rick Goings, and it aimed to teach students mindfulness practices through TM, which settles the body into a state of restful alertness by reciting a silent mantra.
While the student body generally accepts the importance of mental health in professional and academic life, the choice of speakers for the event puzzled some students. In a small survey to gauge student attitudes about the event, 100% of respondents answered "Yes" when asked, "Do you think this is a timely discussion?" But 100% of respondents answered "No" when asked, "Have you ever seen or heard of the speakers before?"
Students like Fardin Khan, a senior double majoring in Human Biology and Public Health Disparities, are enthusiastic about conversations around mental health and recognize its direct relationship with physical health. "I was having difficulty breathing, and I was having shortness of breath. My doctor told me, "This might be some form of anxiety that's causing it."
After implementing mindfulness practices into his daily life, he reported miraculous results. "I practiced breathing exercises and meditation right when I woke up instead of going right on my phone. To be honest, that helped me be so much more productive."
While Khan agreed with the premise of the talk, red flags were raised when he learned Rick Goings would be involved in the discussion. "Sometimes executives do things for the sake of [public image.] Performative mental health events don't do much to actually help people suffering from [mental illness.] They are more for personal gain."
An anonymous respondent to the small survey wrote, "...I would be surprised to hear about 'Meditation and Mindfulness' from [Rick] Goings." Another respondent wrote, "I am also very confused why [an executive from] Tupperware is in this conversation."
When choosing a speaker, Bob Roth and Susan Goings wanted a well-known “titan of business” who was well-acquainted with TM. Rick didn’t give a clear answer when Susan asked “When did you start meditating and why?” But, he’s been an active spokesman since at least February 25, 2010, when The Guardian published “Rick Goings: Tupperware’s alpha male lifts the lid on what women want,” which describes Rick Goings as someone with “a daily routine of transcendental meditation.”
Ruby Farber, a senior double majoring in Political Science and Anthropology with a minor in Philosophy, also attended the event, and she wasn't buying the picture Bob Roth was painting. "From their conversation, I got nothing that separates TM from any other form of meditation… anything that makes it worth paying for."
According to tm.org, a website that offers a Transcendental Mediation course, full-time students can pay one installment of $420 or four installments of $105 over four months. The course fee includes: one-on-one instruction, 3 group sessions, meditation tune-ups & lifetime support from TM instructors, the TM app, and access to TM events and group meditations. At the “Conversation in Leadership,” Bob Roth also promised full-ride scholarships for TM courses to the first 100 students who signed up for classes. The Paper reached out to Bob Roth to follow up on the scholarship offer but have not yet gotten in touch with him.
Hadeeqa Arzoo Malik, a senior double majoring in Political Science and International Relations with a minor in Human Rights, probed the discussion from a religious perspective. "I question [why] it's more palatable or marketable to present this very watered-down version of meditation, which is rooted in some of the most popular Asian religions."
Bob Roth, to the surprise of students like Malik, claimed that Transcendental Meditation’s “origins predate Buddhism and Judaism and Hinduism and Islam." Most reports of the founding and popularization of TM trace back to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a Hindu religious leader born in Rajim, India, in 1918. However, Bob and Susan claimed that it existed thousands of years before the Yogi.
Some students recall last year’s weekly protests over prayer room space, and question the college’s commitment to serving the mental and spiritual needs of its students. Malik remembers how Muslim students fought for 6-weeks for adequate space to pray and ground themselves. "[Last Fall] we were advocating to implement our meditation and spiritual practices into our daily professional and academic lives, but when the Muslim label was put on it, then it became an issue."
This Fall, the Colin Powell School formally integrated mindfulness practices into their onboarding course, Bridges to Success, to make these lessons available to more students. Dean Andrew Rich stated, "We're working with Josh Wright, who is a professor in Psychology. He'll come back several times over the course of the semester [to integrate mindfulness into the curriculum.] It's a pilot,… a much broader initiative focused on mindfulness... with a very open mind with respect to what might be of interest to students."
It's still being determined how the rest of the campus plans to implement wellness into their curricula, but the appetite for expanded mindfulness infrastructure at City College is undoubtedly present.