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Home / 2016 Fall Magazine / Features / Mindful Activism at Work: Naropa Alumnus Sets a Course for Social Justice at CU–Denver

Jordan Hill
Photo by Sarah Hill.

Mindful Activism at Work: Naropa Alumnus Sets a Course for Social Justice at CU–Denver

by Billy Thieme


Even before he began pursuing an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies with a Peace Studies concentration at Naropa, Jordan Hill found himself naturally drawn to mindfulness practices. As he continued his studies, Jordan experienced a realization that fundamentally changed his view of these practices, and started a unique educational direction. His university journey ultimately landed him on a path towards growing diversity and social justice at the University of Colorado Denver.

“The core of my personal and intellectual path—which I found during my undergraduate and earlier educational experiences—has always been centered around how violence erupts in human affairs,” says Hill. “Part of my studies led me to a strong identification with the work of Sudarshan Kapur (the founder of Naropa’s Peace Studies Program). I felt I had to take advantage of the chance to learn with him, and so I started my master’s program at Naropa.”

Jordan Hill Mindful ActivismPhoto by Sarah Hill.

In 2016, Hill’s experience and path led to his being unanimously elected to serve as CU– Denver’s director of the Social Justice Program, where he is planning to set a course to “… grow the number of socially conscious and engaged students at CU–Denver and to provide a diverse range of events that will move members of the Front Range community towards meaningful action that addresses local and global social justice issues.” He’ll do that both by directing all students pursuing the Social Justice minor, and through scheduling and sponsoring campus and other local events that promote social justice.

Hill adds that when he was nominated for the position, he highlighted the focused studies in the areas of peace studies and conflict resolution at Naropa as “… central to my qualifications for the position.”

“In the aftermath of my election to the directorship, many of the Social Justice faculty members told me personally that they were very impressed with many qualifications for the position,” Hill continues, “but—most obviously—my directly related study of social justice at Naropa.”

After completing his MA, Jordan left Naropa to pursue a PhD at Virginia Tech, and realized while he was there that he could help build on an already-active mindfulness and meditation community. “In this southeastern part of the United States, a more conservative part of the country, “ he explains, “I’ve learned that applying simple rituals, techniques, and traditions designed to create community, to create a space for learning in mindful ways, introduced these students to classes unlike anything else they’d experienced up to that point. And they started spreading the word about my classes pretty quickly.”

“As I began applying the pedagogy principles I learned at Naropa, it became obvious that Western human beings—those that don’t have these simple rituals that create community, sacred space—have a yearning for authentic teaching, connection with their teachers, and their curriculum,” he continues. He then began to apply what he was realizing about human nature to his studies of peace and violence, and had a startling realization.

Mindful quoteHill began to understand that humans see violence as an external phenomenon. “It was evident to me that we see violence as something that’s ‘out there,’ something ‘out in the world,’ or completely external,” he explains. “The thing I learned at Naropa, and while I was pursuing mindfulness in the communities I was involved in at Virginia Tech, is that all the violence I saw ‘out there’ comes from habits, thoughts, and impressions within myself.”

“Realizing this root cause of violence changed my view of mindfulness in general,” Hill explains, “in that mindful practice offers me a unique opportunity to discover those internal habits and thought patterns that lead to violence and to address them, and then change them.”

On the way to his doctoral degree, Hill began to focus attention on the growing phenomenon of mass murder memorials, particularly in the United States. “Memorializing the places where these things occurred didn’t happen thirty years ago,” he says. “These events were something that used to be seen as shameful, and people just wanted to forget and move on as quickly as possible.” Now we have one here [at Virginia Tech], there’s one in Columbine, in Oklahoma City, and many more.” In fact, there are enough that Hill wrote his dissertation on the phenomenon, and plans to publish it as a book in the near future.

Additionally, in response to the tragic mass shooting at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, Hill organized a community sitting designed to take place at 4:16 p.m. on April 16, starting in 2012. By the time he was enjoying his final semester at VA Tech in 2015, the event had grown to achieve a large attendance, as well as national attention.

“In the West, violence is still seen as external, and we fight about gun laws and mental health issues,” adds Hill, “but fail to address the root issues that cause these eruptions of violence. We focus externally, instead of internally, and miss the chance to face the cause of violence.”

Alongside his current position as CU–Denver’s Social Justice Program director, Hill has also launched, an outgrowth of a project he started called “Critical Public Humanities.” The project is comprised of a group of mixed graduate and undergraduate student activists dedicated to consolidating and publicizing information about Denver’s constantly growing development plans. Its primary intention is to encourage activism to address what many see as gentrification of the city’s older, affordable neighborhoods. Hill also recently published a major collaborative research project,, that exposes the political and historical roots of housing discrimination, and was a recent feature story in National Geographic.

“Naropa showed me the way to be successful in cultivating mindful communities,” he adds, “and helped me develop tools to encourage students to look inward for solutions as well, and to spread that idea.”