Precedent is the Enemy of Equity

As a senior leader within the community college sector of higher education, I am constantly challenged by the notion of creating a “precedent” when trying to serve students. Our students are very different from one another. They each have unique challenges, backgrounds, levels of preparation, barriers, and goals. Creating solutions for them to be successful is not possible with a one-size-fits-all approach. I believe during this pandemic, we are all in a place where we need to be reminded that what worked before, may not work now. In fact, there is no “before.” Perhaps this is a chance for us to re-think how we serve students our students, all of whom are really struggling in unique and unprecedented ways.

Let me first note that this is not my preferred mode of operating. This is a learned behavior and perspective. For my personality assessment nuts out there, I am an ESTJ; Consistency is in my Top 5 strengths; in work environments I behave in the Dominance and Conscientiousness sectors of the DiSC. I’m also a Taurus for my Zodiac fans out there. In other words, I prefer a world built on rules, logic, order, convention, and certainty. Precedent used to be my favorite word. I used to want to practice law, and am still fascinated by legalese and interested in law in all its forms. The problem is, I do not work in a courtroom, I work in a college.

Higher education is an environment where policies, processes, and practices are created from a framework built on equality (sameness). Some of us in higher education are most comfortable in that environment (I’m looking at you Registrars, Financial Aid, and Business Office folks). This is why we are faced with the problem of creating or not creating a precedent when trying to serve our students. Complicating this is the fact that policies and guidance from external forces (e.g., state/federal laws, Department of Education, grant agencies, accrediting bodies), compel us to treat students the same, or at the minimum expect sameness in our approach to serving students.

I tend to try and use a better approach. One that continues to emerge as a powerful practice in higher education: equity. An equity lens calls us to make decisions for a specific student, based on their specific needs. When viewed from an equity lens, you can quickly come to see that what works for one student may not necessarily work for another. Even when the student and/or the situation are similar. Extended time on a test (formal accommodation or not), may be appropriate for one student in a particular situation, with a particular test, than for another. Forgiving a financial balance for one student with particular circumstances may make sense for one student, and not for another. Giving a particular disciplinary sanction to one student, and a different one to another student, even for the same infraction, might be appropriate given the unique circumstances of the student. In a world in which we look at each student and their situation as unique, the notion of precedent loses its relevance and its power.

This is easier said than done. Anything worth doing is easier said than done (think about that for a minute!) So I offer the following for my fellow educators – be it in the classroom or office – to adopt an equity approach to meeting student needs:

1. Commitment

This is not easy. You have to start with a belief that this is better, and adopt principles and philosophies to guide your decision making. That is the first step. Read up on equity mindedness, and get a real grasp of what it means. Dr. Estrella Bensimon at the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California does excellent work. I have learned a lot from her and her team.

2. Creativity

Think outside the box. I know its cliche, but what did you do to serve students during the last pandemic? What accommodations did you make last time students couldn’t come to campus? Exactly – old solutions and precedent won’t help you here. I find talking to and with other colleagues a great practice. Also read…a lot. Credible sources like the Chronicle of Higher Education and other higher education based publications. You’ll be surprised what they are doing at some obscure college in another part of the country!

3. Intentionality

To do this right you need to prepare before a decision needs to be made. Know your students. If you are part of the teaching faculty you should have a good sense of the barriers, challenges, and circumstances of your students. You also need to do your work to make sure you are not making decisions out of a desire to be a savior to students, or because you just “see yourself in them.” This is where your unconscious biases will get you in trouble. Do your work in this area.

4. Documentation

When you make a decision, explain it. Make sure the student and others who were part of the process know why it was made. Be specific, write it down, and file it. This will help you when you do peek back to know why solution A was applied to student A and not student B.

5. Time

As I said before, this is not fast work. It doesn’t have to take forever, but equity minded practices by definition take more time and intentionality (see #3).

6. Collaboration

Talk with your supervisor, direct reports, colleagues, and others about supporting your student and making decisions. There may be solutions right in front of you that you simply haven’t considered. It also models an important practice that others should be doing.

7. Compassion

You have to care. You have to empathize. You have to see the student and their uniqueness like you have a vested interest in their success. If this was your son, or mother, or best friend, wouldn’t you want care applied to the solution, as opposed to a cold and dated policy?

8. Strategic Thinking

Keep the big picture in mind. What is your real goal as an institution of higher education? Is that balance really unforgivable, if doing so guarantees the student will be finishing up their degree next semester? Also, aren’t they going to pay more back into the college than what their balance is? Is the time spent trying to fight keeping with precedent worth it? There are opportunity costs to every decision, so don’t be so narrow as to not see the big picture outside of your particular role at the institution. If you are a senior level person reading this, give permission and provide cover for your teams to apply equity minded solutions.

In the end, we must be courageous in providing support and help to students in a way that serves them and their unique situation. We can’t just throw precedent out, nor should we. We can look to the past as a factor in determining solutions, but it cannot be our only factor. It is not even the most important factor. We also cannot assume that the decision we are making will automatically apply to the next student. That student gets an equity minded analysis as well. While policies, procedures, and practices provide boundaries, they should not limit your choices in doing what is best for students. Choose equity.

Dr. Anthony

Privilege and Perspective

It warrants repeating that traveling, even within your own community, is vital to developing a more caring an empathetic mindset. It allows you to appreciate what you have, how little you know, and how much good there is in the world.

As I wait to board my flight to Vienna, Austria (country #2 on my Eastern European trip, I want to focus on my own privilege as an American citizen. How fortunate I am to be able to travel across the world and still have my language spoken, and be able to read signs, order food, and even hear my language on the radio. I also see familiar companies and brands that give me some odd sense of being comfortable and at ease. It was cool to see the Securitas company handle in security at the Berlin airport. They wore the same badges my security guards did at Louisville Hall when I was a Resident Director. Despite this privilege, traveling amongst others and in places that are unfamiliar is still challenging. That is the thing about privilege – while unearned and advantageous, it doesn’t mean life is always “easy.”

Having stated that, I think about conversations about privilege I have with my colleagues, students, family, and strangers. I am usually met with the futility of the guilt that comes with these discussions, and the lack of an ability to see the both / and dynamic of privilege. I can only examine my own practices and hopefully reflect how to best use my privilege in constructive ways. At the very minimum I don’t want to abuse my privilege. This means while I’m abroad I work hard to try to learn and speak the native language. I try to be conscious of what I wear or have, knowing that I may or may not have income advantages that others do not. I try to listen, and learn, and frequent local establishments, and most importantly share what I’ve heard and seen so that people in my circle can appreciate the humanity of others.

If only we could do more of this at our local synagogues and mosques, government debates, cookouts and BBQs, or with the people with whom we have little in common. If only. Take time to a) do some work on what privilege is, b) think about the privilege(s) you have, and c) make a commitment to not abuse that privilege, and even better, to share it to uplift others.

Dr. Anthony

Heading East

I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I last blogged. I’m going to do better. I find my blog let’s me make my thinking explicit: as much for myself as anyone else. It also serves as an important record of observations and experiences in my life. With that, I wanted to use my current trip to dive back in.

It’s been four years since my last trip to Europe. This time I’m spending time in Eastern Europe, starting in Berlin (via London) then to Vienna, and then in Slovakia over the next 10 days. This will prove a much needed opportunity to take stock of my own life and what I think I know, by immersing myself in the culture and land of others. I’ll continue to post through my trip with my ah-has, as I find traveling one of the greatest ways to discover yourself and the global community. I find it makes me a better man, dad, son, VP, leader, consultant, and citizen. I am blessed and privileged to be able to do this, so I hope what I write allows others to experience this vicariously through me, or it motivates them to book their next trip.

Dr. Anthony

The Power of My Black Hand

When I was an undergraduate at NC State University, I was a counselor for the African American Symposium, a per-orientation experience welcoming new undergrads to NC State and helping them get a strong positive start as an African American scholar. I hate I didn’t attend as a freshman myself. There is a poem by Lance Jeffers (1972) that was read to the incoming freshmen, and it gave me so much strength and sense of purpose and power. It helped that it was read by a legendary faculty member and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity brother, Dr. Lawrence Clark. I had the opportunity to read this poem to a room full of students today, kicking off our African American Read-In at Rochester Community and Technical College. I am so blessed to have had people and experiences in my life to remind me of my own power. I hope this poem can remind you of yours. 
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Here Are Your Flowers

There is an old gospel song that says:

“Give me my flowers while I yet live; so that I can see the beauty they bring. Speak kind words to me while I can hear them; so that I can hear the comfort they bring.”

It is a touching song that laments how we often wait to give people praise, love, thoughts, and gratitude until it is way too late. At their funeral perhaps, or on their sick bed. I want to take this time as we enter a new year, to say I love you to so many of those in my circle – and I encourage you to do the same. I’m doing it here and will find ways to do it more. Hear me when I say that your love, encouragement, and influence make me who I am today – even though you may not know it. I love you and appreciate you more than I’ve told you! Here are your flowers.

Michael Anthony (Dad, son, brother, friend, colleague, teacher and mentor)

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*photo courtesy of proflowers.com

The Push Back

I don’t know about other leaders, managers, or supervisors out there, but I love to be challenged by members of my team. I call that “pushing back,” and I can think of no better way to come to really good decisions, while increasing  satisfaction in our work.

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I do my best work with the people around the table (who are highly trained and highly skilled) say…”but what if we did it this way,” or , “the concern I have is…,” or “let me offer a different direction,” or, “I don’t think that’s a good idea…” This sends a few important messages:

  1. They are listening. If they weren’t, they would have nothing to say.
  2. They care. If they didn’t, they would not bother offering feedback.
  3. They are smart. Not only do they listen and care, but they have the wherewithal to synthesize what I offered and transform it into something unique.

Maybe it is better, maybe its not; but without the push back, how would we ever truly  engage our teams. Almost as much as I value it in my team, I value it from my supervisor. My President in a recent conversation literally said, “go ahead, push back,” when we were discussing a recent staffing and space issue. First she noticed that I had something to offer, and that maybe it didn’t sync with what she was thinking. She invited the push back! I love it. Doing that for me sent a few important messages:

  1. She is not afraid or threatened by me. My intelligence, or energy, or ideas. A real leader is not scared of their subordinates, rather they embrace the challenge and input.
  2. She trusts me. She knows I care about my job and about our work. She knows what I have to offer is given from that solid foundation.
  3. She values me. Everyone loves to be affirmed and agreed with; that’s not leadership it’s human nature. Leadership is inviting feedback when you know it will fly in direct opposition to what you think, say or feel. That is true guts, and true leadership.

I have not always felt this in my work environments. Ask yourself, how often are you invited to push back? How often do you invite the push back? I invite you to put yourself in a place where your input and expertise is embraced, and to embrace the input and expertise of those around you. It’s good medicine, both in your personal and professional life.

Dr. Anthony

Finding Your Genius

“Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Einstein

This quote (and that picture) gives me chills. We are nearing the end of the first month of a new year. Students are settling into new semesters, and some folks are settling into new jobs and/or resolutions.

I’m going to give you the some advice I was sharing with two student leaders earlier this month on a trip to the Twin Cities. In talking about their future goals, I wondered if they and other knew how much I love what I do? I literally make a good living AND live my passion. So often people assume those are mutually exclusive goals. I have heard students say, “I love playing piano and making music, but I’m going to medical school – I have to make money somehow!” Or I love this one…”I’ll go be a business person and make a lot of money, then I’ll do what I want to do.” I have an idea; what you should do is sell that time machine you have. You know, the one that gives you the foresight that you will be alive long enough to spend your whole life working, and then “do what you really want to do.” Let me suggest that you don’t have time for that. None of us do. And what happens in the midst of foregoing your true talent, passion, and genius? You get beat down, worn out, and spend your entire life trying to climb a tree, when you were meant to swim.

There are philosophers studying engineering; engineers studying psychology; great architects studying to be economists; and business women studying pre-med. There is something to be said about being “well-rounded,” but I personally believe, as do the authors of the StrengthsQuest works, that the best of the best leaders and professionals are not well-rounded, they are sharp. They know that they are fish, and they swim better than the rest. They reject the belief that what they did well in high school (an infinitesimally small moment in time) or in some random summer camp has set their path in stone. The best of us are explorers, willing to take risks on themselves to find and live their true genius.

Going into this new semester, or job, or experience, know that it is a new day. Life is too short, and life is too long to live it out of your purpose.

Stop.

Ask yourself if you are pursuing what you know you should doing. Either affirm that and be excellent, or stop the madness, and go be who you are called to be.

12 Things Killer Students Do Before Five

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As we start a new semester, here is my list of 12 Things Killer Students Do Before Five. I changed the time to 5, because come on – ain’t nobody got time for getting up early unless they have to! You will see some similarities in theme and practice to what killer employees do, but realistically, the start and end of the day for students can shift dramatically from a 9-5 work day. So I will shift some of the premise of this article just a bit.

1. They plan how to use their FULL day / including time between classes. Particularly as an undergraduate, there was so much time I wasted. I always said “I don’t have time to __________.” Until one day I was challenged to write out my day. Even as a type A, high “J” (on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) I was really bad at realizing why I couldn’t seem to keep up. I wanted to work out, go to class, be involved, and hang out with friends and just couldn’t find the time. Then when I wrote it out – a light bulb went off. That time from 2-4 when I didn’t have class, I would just chill it away, not intentionally, just because that was easiest to do. Rethink that – chill smarter. Use that time to study, or follow-up on emails, or check on family (see #8 below for what I’m talking about) and then you’ll realize you won’t need extra hours in a day.

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2. They don’t pull “all-nighters.” Yes I have done it, yes you will do it if you haven’t already. But these should really be the rare exception, never the rule. In other words, this should not be your strategy for success. Rest [good rest] is important. It helps you be clear, focused, and less of an ass the next day. Remember, if you get thrown off one day, it starts a snowball effect. Not to mention the things you can’t control which will throw a wrench in your schedule. You may not get an entire 8 hours every night, but you can try!

3. They avoid hitting the booze. Saying “It’s five o’clock somewhere” and laughing about it only works like once. Every other time you are bordering on having a problem. I love to get a little “nip” as Ray Charles would say, but really? Practice being a functional and responsible adult during the daytime. It will be good practice for if/when you do start the 9-5 grind. Even if you don’t plan to work 9-5, many other folks do, and you will want to be in a good head space working with those folks.

4. They exercise. I don’t care when you do it, just do it. I feel a bit convicted about this  because I don’t do it as much, but I’m changing that, I did in college! Find time, your own time, and get it done. I actually felt like I made the hours longer when I worked out. I was sharper, felt better, and made better choices all around.

5. They identify and practice a ritual. Just like in the Jensen article, I recommend doing something everyday (other than your exercise routine) that gives you some “me” time. That “me” time is critical; at least it was for me. As someone who typically extraverts all over the place, it helped me to sit with my thoughts, and challenged me to remember why I was doing what I was doing. College is such a transitory period in the grand scheme of things, so whatever your ritual is, use it to center and steady yourself.

6. They eat…good food. Do I have to explain this? Of course I do. Eating gives you energy right; but it can be a recipe (pun definitely intended) for disaster if you don’t watch it! As someone who struggled with my weight growing up, and as an African American southerner, food was and is LOVE. You eat when around friends, you eat when you’re happy, you eat when you’re sad. In college you have meal plans, abundant fast food, and loads of free food every freaking week – so it can get out of control. The Freshman 15 is quite real. So pay attention – I mean you don’t need to be a prude; continue to honor your culture and traditions, but remember your body is the only one you get. Putting on weight is easier than taking it off. And for goodness sake you shouldn’t eat only at the end of the day! I did that a lot too, which really does cause problems. If it’s 5pm and you haven’t eaten, go get a sandwich or something!

7. They arrive to classes and meeting on time. The vice president of a large company once said to me, when you are late it tells everyone else in the room that your time is more important than theirs. Don’t be late. You miss out, you look lazy, and you lose respect. It’s your schedule, master it and be on time. I learned this the hard way just before entering my senior year in high school. I was in Army JROTC at Olympic High School in Charlotte, NC. As the new battalion commander it was my responsibility to oversee set up for the commencement ceremony with the rest of the cadets. Needless to say, when I showed up late, my normally gentle and caring Master Sergeant Benjamin Davis let.me.have.it. I never felt so small in my life. Not because he just chewed a quarter of my ass off, but because I knew he was right. Being late was not an option, and no excuse I presented was worthy. Don’t be late.

8. They check in. College is about endurance – it’s not “hard” I don’t think, it takes persistence. How better to persist than by leaning on those closest to you. When you are most busy, most overwhelmed, and most behind the eight ball is when you need your closest allies most. But you can’t just call on them when you are in trouble – you have to cultivate those relationships. You do that daily by checking in with the people you care about, and doing so often. This includes your family, roommates, friends, sorority sisters, pen pals, etc.

9. They tackle the big projects first. Not much need to explain this, but I have found that when I do this (in school and work) I get more done. Think about it – whenever you start your day, you tend to be most motivated, most focused, and most optimistic. Use that time to knock out the hard stuff, knowing your reward will be the low hanging fruit. Going after the low hanging fruit first (checking emails, sending out an agenda, making a few phone calls) will lull you into the false sense of accomplishment. Stephen Covey differentiates between the “urgent” and “important” stuff in your life. Thrive in the important, and manage the urgent.

10. They avoid too many meetings. I was very very, very, very, very involved in college. That was the bane of my existence my second year (where I earned a .6 GPA that first semester). No that is not a typo – that is a 0.6, just less than 1.0. Let me tell you, you have to WORK to get a .6! I was doing too much…of the wrong thing. I was “busy” sure, but busy doing what? Being over involved is what. And over involved is relative. That same load my senior year and “super” senior year (5th year), gave me an incredible amount of focus and purpose. But you have to work up to that – don’t spend too much time in meetings, clubs, organizations, at the expense of your academics.

11. They allot time for reflection. As I mentioned in #5 above, reflection is clutch! And this can be done a number of ways, so please don’t give me the “I don’t like to write my thoughts” line. You can reflect a lot of ways. Talking with a close friend, being quiet, blogging (which feels to me a bit different from journaling), working out, listening to music or using your hands to create something. John Maxwell (one of my heroes) says in his book Thinking for a Change, that reflective thinking is like a crock pot for the mind…it let’s your thoughts simmer until they are ready. That’s sexy, so do it. And really, it does go very fast. I remember my time in college (undergrad and grad) so vividly. The things that have happened since my graduation have also come and gone fast! (marriage, child, buying houses, PhD, changing jobs, moving, divorce, tragedies, etc.). Appreciate this season of your life, and make sure you are learning the most from it. You’ll never have the benefit of your current perspective again.

12. They take breaks and honor flexibility. Too much rigidity in your schedule can be a real problem. You need time to shirk responsibility, you need time to just let it all go. You also need time to be in a funk, or get sick, or just be lazy. Your body and mind will tell you when it needs a break, and you’d better listen to it. Don’t schedule your day so tight that there is no flexibility. I did that my first two years, thinking I was being efficient. We all now know how that ended (ahem, 0.6). But we are not machines, we don’t perform within specified ranges day in and day out. We just don’t. So it would behoove you to plan for “stoppage.” Just like a rubber band that is pulled too tight snaps, or a rod bent too far breaks; so will you break. Be flexible, and be better.

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Please, share this with someone who needs it!

Regards,

Dr. Anthony

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Purpose

I had an amazing opportunity to speak with a group of student leaders at DePaul University over this past weekend. I spoke with them about finding their “why” and what they should be doing/thinking at this phase in their life to do that. It is a message I have valued and personally held close for a while now, and I find myself continuing to refine how I talk about it.

In short, finding our why is about creating habits that position us to learn about ourselves, create and sustain powerful relationships, and pay attention to both small and large choices we make. Finding our why is also about not focusing on the “what” we do (or degree we earn, or the job we have). Those things are how we do our why, but definitely not the why itself. Finding our way is a discipline – one that requires commitment throughout life – not just through college, or the military, or parenthood. This is how people can live full, rich lives across a number of jobs and experiences. They know their why, and so how they live their why takes so many shapes. I believe I know my why, and it feels amazing. I want that for everyone.

Yesterday a member of our team at my college shared this powerful post. It is good – and says what I know to be true so clearly. Thank you for sharing my friend, and I hope it helps clarify how others can find their why.

Read post Everyday Calls HERE.

Dr. Anthony

Sweat the Small Stuff

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Much of my life I have heard the phrase “don’t sweat the small stuff.” Usually that is followed by “and everything is small stuff.” I lived by that quote for much of my life – using it to help me get through, over, and past my disappointments with myself and others. I used it when doing my professional work, realizing that there is always something bigger, badder, and worse that could have been happening. Lately however, I’ve begun to realize that the “small stuff” may mean more than I once believed.

Many of you reading this may have heard of the term microaggresions. If not, google it. These fall under the larger rubric of a micro-insults. They are a form of oppression so small and so slight, that it often goes unnoticed by the person using them. Like a paper cut, to the hearer, they very much so hurt – despite their size or the intention of those using them. Enough of them can cause a tremendous amount of lasting pain. This is often the “small stuff” that many are asked to not sweat. But that’s not really fair is it? I think we need to shift to sweating that small stuff very much, and the people who are subject to those slights should do the same.

The way I see it, if it is indeed that small, perhaps it should be easy to shift our language and behavior a bit to make someone feel like they belong, and that they matter. 

I also want to extend this conversation to the “small stuff” we see physically around our campuses that may lead people or communities to feel that they don’t matter. As I visit campuses across the country and indeed my own campus, I wonder how small changes to the environment can go a long way in helping the community feel pride and joy about the space they call home for much of the day. A fresh coat of paint here, a new sign there, a deep cleaning of this area. Some would argue, “but we have so many other big things to worry about.” And to that I would simply respond; then this should be easy! Like the great coach said in the quote above, the little details are vital. In what we say, how we present ourselves to our community, and what we do and do not do; it all matters. Just think about the big things you can make happen once you start attending to the small details I’ve mentioned in this post. People who feel valued do more and better work, people who have pride and joy in their work and learning environment are happier and more productive. I think that’s worth sweating the small stuff.