This latest action taken at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville is so outrageous it warranted a blog post. Please read Fear of Pronouns before reading on…I need to make a few large points about what I consider the most important aspect of being “diverse and inclusive.”
Diversity and Inclusion
When I ask my institution, friends, family, and perfect strangers to be “diverse and inclusive,” it is not a static request. Being diverse and inclusive is not a destination, or a place in which one simply finds him/her/their self at a moment in time. Rather, it is a dynamic state of being, one in which you posture yourself such that you allow difference in language, being, understanding, and meaning each and every day. It takes work,and consideration from each of us, every day. I would go as far to say it is a discipline, not just a course. Like leadership, it takes practice and intentionality to get it right. I’ve come to learn that you can never be “done” with this work. By definition there will be some other way of being or knowing that emerges from either scholarship or the lived experience, that challenges us to think differently (diversely) about people, places, and things. Thus my call for a posture that we must take. As the outfielder postures him/her/their self to be ready for whatever may come, so must we posture ourselves. If that posture is needed in a game, how much more is needed in life? Statements such as the one below smack of exclusion, status quo, and the need for things to stay the same.
“That has the appearance of neutrality, but it is not neutral. It is not neutral because it does not say that men should be called by masculine pronouns and women should be called by feminine pronouns, which has always been the unwritten standard in our country,” ~ Family Action Council of Tennessee
This confuses me.Was it not the stated point of this guide – to assert that the “unwritten standard” is no longer appropriate? Have we not made other changes to language, pronouns, customs, and names because of changes in society? I’m pretty sure we have – as we don’t called Black people colored anymore, and it’s no longer acceptable to call women (or anyone) dames and broads in the workplace (or anywhere for that matter). Even assuming “Mrs.” as a title is no longer appropriate. The quote above is anathema to diversity and inclusion.
Don’t Tell Me What To Do
At the core of so much of the backlash around topics such as this is the strong belief from dominant* cultures that “you can’t tell me what to do!;” in particular when it comes to language, change, and making space for others to be who they are. I honestly believe that’s why non-Black individuals hate when they “can’t” say n***er, or other in-group words used by some cultures. The outrage is not because there is no real utility in the word, or that they even want to say it. It’s that they can’t; and some of those individuals aren’t used to being told no. It is un-American. I can say what I want. But many of us in this country can’t say what we want. Can’t do what we want. Some of us can’t even be who we are without serious consequences.
What is most perverse about this double-standard is that it uses the language of the oppressed to find its strength. Think about that. Oppression – the very thing that creates a need for a guide like the one at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, is the very same thing dominant cultures also use to say that they are somehow threatened or being mistreated. The very language of the White Power movement and similar hate movements is one of “we want our country back,” or “we are being wiped out,” or “stop censoring me.” Well there are others who feel they want their country back too (i.e., Native and indigenous populations) and who feel they are being wiped out (i.e., Black and brown and trans people) but their attempts to stand up and fight against that is met with hostility, lies, and #alllivesmatter. People lack an ability to really hear and see the “other” in our country. People lack the ability to make space for people to redefine what is our America. Not only do they lack the ability – they use everything in their power to undermine the good efforts of those trying to widen the circle. They actively sabotage the efforts.
You want to know how supremacy and privilege works – just look to the Volunteer State.
put on the office of diversity website;
to help people know how to better include people who have been systematically excluded or ignored or killed;
to make them feel more comfortable;
at an institution of higher education;
was ordered taken down by highest chief executive of the system;
because of pressure from the State Legislature…
That’s power. That’s frightening. That’s a problem. If you don’t agree – look HERE at the site before it was taken down. The language is welcoming, instructive, and in no way mandating anything. Was this really worth the threats and attention from the legislature? This is Tennessee’s biggest problem? This is the University’s biggest concern?
What Can You Do
Educate yourself on the “others.” Whoever they may be to you. You can’t care about something/someone you don’t know or understand.
Get to know an “other.” I mean really get to know that person. You can’t care about something/someone you don’t know or understand. No I didn’t make a mistake by repeating that.
Share your outrage about this – or engage folks in dialogue about why you should be outraged – not over social media. You need a face-to-face for this one. If you don’t know anyone – see #2 above.
Challenge others to do #1 and #2. I am convinced this is the start of any healing or progress.
*in the U.S., dominant culture = white, male, Christian, heterosexual, cisgendered, able-bodied, English speaking, middle-upper income, to name a few.
Well it happened. I missed a day blogging. But I didn’t miss a day reflecting! I still did lots of that, and just literally ran out of time yesterday before I could post anything. So I’ll be combining my thoughts on Wednesday May 20 and Thursday May 21 in this post.
These last two days have been really hands on in exploring the vocational education system. Wednesday started with a sit down with the compliance and quality control folks for the ROC. In the U.S. these would be our accreditation folks, as well as those regulatory people on our campuses keep us honest with our learning outcomes and objectives. The meeting demonstrated the similarities between our systems of higher ed administration – where the government (who provides funding) wants to know that education is being administered to a certain standard (quality). There are teams of people hired to coordinate this centrally, with people within each of the colleges serving as liaisons back to the central office. What is really interesting, and something that supports student success in my opinion, is how deep the compliance area goes into the classroom. When a student’s attendance is too low, the compliance area knows about it – and wants answers. Funding is given to each student by the government, sometimes a significant amount. It is expected that students will take that funding to be students, full time, 40 hours a week, and not work other full time jobs. That money doesn’t necessarily meet the needs of students however, but there are government loans available at rock bottom interest rates (.012%). Funding is also given to the college’s based on enrollment – which creates a problematic incentive to keep students enrolled, whether it is in their best interest or not. This is why the compliance office has changed their funding model so that this dynamic doesn’t exist.
Everyone I have spoken to seemed to recognize a shift in public and government sentiment related to funding higher education. They have a long way to go before “education is a private good” mentality sets in, but I see Holland on their way there. A law was just passed that limited funding for students who want to continue their education from lower level high school through university. As I mentioned before, in Holland the line between high school and university is not always a straight one – and it can take some time to navigate the layers of the system. That time costs money – and the government is not as willing to fund it anymore. I met with the equivalent of a grants coordinator for the ROC – but I’m not sure I have much to say about that.
I have to use this post to make some observances about faculty (teacher) behavior in the U.S. vs. Holland. Caveat: my observations are limited to my experience – here and in the U.S., so this is in no way scientific. But my blog, my words haha. While there are similarities, I think there exists an ethos of care and responsibility for student success that doesn’t exist in the U.S. I think faculty in the U.S. are very particular about non-inteference of administration in the classroom. Faculty have dominion over the classroom, and I think they should. But that has to mean more than just teaching content. Where Holland gets it right (at least at the ROC colleges I’ve experienced), and where the student care comes in, is in the web of support built around students by the teachers. Teachers not only teach, they are mentors of at least 5-6 students each. I will meet with students during a mentor session next week and get their thoughts, but the literature is consistently clear that faculty involvement is the #1 factor in determining student persistence and success in college. As someone who manages student conduct, of course I have been exploring that work here. What I discovered is that all student conduct matters, from fights, to academic dishonesty, is handled first with the teachers, mentors, and a “care coordinator” (also a teacher) before it ever gets to the “student affairs” area. That’s a beautiful thing. Teachers here know students personally, and use that personal knowledge to support them in and out of the classroom. They serve as a coach, counselor, and mentor to students. It’s expected of them.
In the states I believe our teachers care a great deal about students (some more than others), but something is blocking the level of involvement in students’ lives that I witnessed here. It could be a) lack of confidence or competence in supporting students, b) lack of time – with large course loads with hundreds of students, this type of involvement is admittedly tough, or perhaps c) lack of commitment to students, or understanding of how important their role is as faculty. Whatever the reason, I wonder how we (as employees of our colleges) can encourage and expect more faculty involvement in the lives of our students. I cannot overstate the importance and impact of truly engaged faculty. We have many examples at Oakton, and we need to use data and relationships to understand what the best of our teachers are doing to keep students coming back and succeeding. Then we need to insist that others do it. If faculty want to have dominion over the classroom, then they need to own that in every way possible. That means not sending every “troubled student” to someone else to “fix them,” or it means managing your class more directly, not filing conduct complaints for “disruptive behavior” for minor infractions or disruptions.
My most productive meeting came with a colleague who is more closely aligned with student support services as I know it. The Studie & Loopbaancentrum (SLC). This loosely translates to Study and Career Center. If the first line of teachers and mentors fails to adequately help a student, or if other needs arise, they can be referred to the SLC. I noticed quickly they do a lot of what student affairs does in the U.S.: the center helps support student social and emotional problems (counseling center), studying habits (learning/academic support center), wanting to transfer (advising), disabilities (disability services), discipline (conduct), and career counseling. There is also a social worker that works with students who need additional support from community agencies/resources. You may be wondering about tutoring or remedial services, as I sure did. That again falls back on the individual colleges and…(you guessed it) teachers, to come up with solutions and additional support for the students. The decentralized nature of the discipline system, and the colleges each handling their own “stuff” does create challenges with administering services equitably and/or consistently. However, that is sometimes managed by regular meetings of the management of the different areas within the colleges. This provides some degree of consistency and coordination.
On Wednesday I experienced another first! I drove in Holland. All by myself. My host’s idea. Crazy right? I dropped Jerome off, with his trusting spirit haha, so he could manage a softball clinic near his house, and then I took off by myself with the help of “Tom Tom” (the GPS device) and made my way to Utrecht. Driving was interesting, but familiar. I am a good driver (I think, mom fix your face), and I drive stick well – so I did ok. Once I got going I did well – and it was nice to “learn” the city differently as I was paying more attention to signs and intersections and people. In addition to meeting with the folks from compliance and grants, I got to check out another college; this time the Beauty College. When we first arrived to Holland the Director of International Programs said that “you would know” when you were in a particular college; the smells, the sights, the students, would give it away. He wasn’t lying.
The Beauty College had a personality all it’s own. It was heavily female dominated, though in the hair styling program there are a few men. A faculty member greeted us, a man of Indian descent it seemed, who had amazing hair. He then introduced us to our own personal beauticians…we were about to get facials and a manicure or massage. Can you say #readdddyyyyyyyy! It was my first facial and their first time working on a man. I felt honored to be a part of these students education. As is the ROC way, these were students who need to practice, and who better than us!? It’s not too different from beauty schools and barber colleges in the U.S. Thank you Laura and Amber for being kind, connecting personally with me, and for being consummate professionals (at only 19 and 17 respectively.) And thanks for the DJ recommendation!
On Thursday I got to interact a bit more with students at the Utrecht Sports College location, and got to see them play volleyball as part of a rotation of activities. The facility (as have been many others) was state of the art. The skill at playing however was not! It was entertaining nonetheless.
I also got to step into an entirely different world, the Creative College. Here students work on media, art and design, and graphic design as well. There is a cohort model used in this college, where students (all of whom are Level 4 and level 4 only for four years) come in and take courses together based on their year. Even without that structure, each of the colleges group people based on their professional interests/paths, and therefore the people in the colleges tend to have similar attitudes and even mannerisms.
You begin to be able to tell who is in what college by what they wear, who they associate with, or what they look like. On the one hand it creates some powerful connections between the students, on the other I worry about what is loss in the intersectional and interdisciplinary experiences that could be if everyone studied together. Jerome and I talked about that and he told me there were exploring options for students to take electives in other colleges, to expose them to other interests and skills. I’d like to see more structure and cohorts at my college, though it is challenging with such a large population of part-time students who go at different paces. But perhaps there is a solution somewhere for that. The students in the creative college seemed more tech savvy, bookish, and “artsy,” and I enjoyed seeing their work. Very talented.
On a personal note, I’m still tired, but still thriving. Wednesday night was a chill night where I just rested upstairs while Jerome went to a training, and Sandra hosted one of her friends. It was important for me to take that break and do something “routine” to center myself. Thursday night, after work at both sites for the Sports College, we did dinner at home – another amazing meal. Following that Jerome took me to a colleagues house in Utrecht. I was invited to go to a live jazz concert at this new venue in downtown, and I was all over it. The lady who invited me works at the Sports College and was going to be singing. So I invited Marc (the colleague now friend) and he said yes! His place, which he just sold, was amazing. The views overlooking the city and the canals were out of a picture book.
We talked about real estate, and what’s next for him. He will be traveling to the U.S. in July – I think I have him on the hook to make Chicago his home for 3-4 weeks. I’d love to return his hospitality. We walked together through the city, past the train station, and through the really modern side of Utrecht.
We arrived at the Tivoli – Van Den Burg, which is a beautiful performing arts center that could put the Kentucky Center (in Louisville, KY) to shame.
We walked up more flights of stairs than I care to remember to the area where the performance would be. The large brass band was made up of university and conservatory students. Then there was an acapella group who sounded like Take 6, though they were all white (Dutch) and a mix of men and women. They were incredible, and clearly well practiced with the band. To top it off there was a famous Dutch trumpet player who joined in and it was mesmerizing. After a few sets, complete with visuals on a big screen behind the band, Karen (the lady who invited me to the show) was STUNNING. Beautiful red dress, amazing stage presence, and a voice that could hang with any soul/jazz/pop singer out there.
After the concert and many beers, Marc and I walked back through Utrecht, to the train station, where I rode back to Amersfoort where Jerome picked me up and we went home. I’ve been a zombie today – so tomorrow, I’ll talk about today!
Big shout out to a critical colleague of mine at Oakton @DrGracia. She encouraged me more than she knows via Twitter. It’s tough to write daily – but I’m going to go, go, go. Thanks GNA:)
Tuesday was a good day. A long day, but one with more firsts and a great deal of learning. When I used to teach a student leadership course at the University of Louisville, there was a particular lesson about sustaining relationships that I really enjoyed teaching. In that section we would talk about the importance of “going places and doing things.” If you want to make an impact, if you want to clarify your values, if you want to create and sustain new relationships, you must go places and do things. Sounds simple, right? Well it is. I am fortunate to be able to go places far away and do things that require resources, but it wasn’t always that way. So hopefully this post, and all my posts, will allow you to go places and do things vicariously through me, while you also do your own thing.
The smallest and simplest things entertain and amaze me when traveling abroad. They help me put into perspective things I take for granted, and challenges me to think differently about what I do and don’t do, and why I do it. The ultimate hope is that I am a better person, educator, parent, and person because of all this perspective-taking. And then some things are just hilarious. Take for instance the size of the cups here in Holland. Mind you I am used to drinking 20 oz of coffee to start each day, and then I arrive here and see these baby cups that look like I should be using them with my daughter at a pretend tea party. Jerome always joked back in the states that our cups were huge, even the small ones. Well now I see why. Or take how I saw a traffic light that to me is yellow, so I commented “yellow light!” since I literally hadn’t seen one since I’ve been here – to which Jerome erupts in laughter and says in his Aruba/Dutch accent which is so endearing, “no man, that’s orange!” Of course we argue for 15 minutes about how the other is wrong, and the way the other does it in their country is crazy. This of course is all in jest, and we laugh at how some people are unable to overcome things even more banal than this in the real world. And so we laugh, and appreciate each other, and realize our differences are what make us the same in the end.
I continue to engage my Dutch colleagues in discussions about race, racism, and the challenges we face in the U.S. They are exposed to many of the same biased and incomplete media images that we are. I was happy when a colleague said to me “I didn’t even think about that, and I’m glad we talked” in reference to why “it” [race] still matters so much in the U.S. I was able to get reacquainted with the higher education system of Holland, which differs in many ways from the U.S. Most notable is how “layered” the system is, in that there are many choices after primary school that can lead students on many different paths towards post-secondary education. It also seems that the way the schools are funded, everyone has an equal chance at a number of tracks, and where they go largely depends on their own talent in school and/or their effort. It’s the closest thing to a meritocratic education system as it gets. Seems simple enough, but in fact I am confident there are problems and disparities that show up. In the U.S. the “meritocracy” doesn’t exist because students are not experiencing primary education the same way. There are vast disparities in resources and outcomes for lower-income people. That apparently is not the case in the Holland system because of the funding structure of the schools. Even so I learned where our system has values and faults, and so did Jerome. I am most affirmed in my belief that we (globally it seems) still rush our students to know what they want to do, well before they are able to understand who they want to be.That’s a dangerous practice.
I am coming to understand that what the Dutch call efficiency is not merely getting things done faster, but getting things done better. I don’t think the end goal is simply to move fast, I think its to move with purpose – and things that don’t seem purposeful distract from their goals; in this case teaching the students. It wasn’t very “efficient” for us to drive out to a gym (which had a bar by the way – yes can I have another) for Jerome to asses a students work in organizing a basketball tournament. But the experiential “learning in action, learning is doing” model at the Sports College, recognizes that its the best way to assess whether the students really get it. It was amazing to watch – not only that the student was demonstrating his skills and what he learned, but it also benefited the community members with which he worked.
It’s not necessarily efficient to have so many shared, flexible spaces. Yes it saves on space, but it robs people of the privacy that we in US spaces crave. We would argue that it causes distractions, and lessens our ability to “get work done.” But what I observed was a lot of work getting done – better work, collaborative work, open work, and social work. It’s the kind of work that keeps you coming back, and silently holds you accountable to both showing up, getting things done, and learning to respect and honor the work that others are doing. I am reminded of the Hive that my colleague GNA started at Oakton – and I think how that creates that space if only for a short time each week.
I also couldn’t tell who the “boss” was around the building. Yes people dressed the same, but it was more than that. There was a collegiality that pervaded the space, and I want to study that more as I speak with the formal leaders of the organization.
At the end of the night, me, Jerome and his partner Sandra continued a conversation that Jerome and I started in the car. We were talking about the efficacy of the social sciences, and how its impossible to know things with a certainty – and how dangerous it is to judge based on what we think we know about people. This is particularly relevant in our work as we are helping students to think through their own success, next steps, strengths, and talents in a way that is grounded in theory, but imperfect in practice. You understand people’s pedagogy when you spend time talking to them. I wonder how I can do that more with my colleagues at Oakton – to truly understand where their talents are and their challenges are as we try to do best by our students. Speaking of students…I love students – no matter where I go. I got to see the students in action, being taught, doing energizers, using their technology to create videos and present them at the end of the day. The students at the sports college are kinesthetic learners by nature, so sitting still and being quiet was a challenge to say the least. The instructors handled it with such patience and love.
I was particularly taken with a student leader who is a Level 3/4 student, who is also one of the country’s top athletes in his sport (Cycling) and who I mistook as a teacher. He was so mature, poised, and helpful. Jason if you are reading this, thank you for being you, and doing it really well.
Other students were also very good to get to know, the clowns (and liars – you know who you are Jop) and the more serious ones. Each had their own style, energy, and sense of purpose. One student wanted to do more and be more partly because his dad said he should. He was so sure about what he wanted to do, at least it seemed that way. Just like our students in the U.S., they are just trying to figure it all out.
Personally I am doing well. I had the chance to visit a Pancake House for some Dutch pancakes for dinner. These are more akin to crepes in my opinion. We agreed they were somewhere between French crepes and American pancakes. I wasn’t a fan, neither was Jerome, but the service was excellent and the scenery was perfect.
When I prep myself for international travel I am reminded of the courses I taught and led to places in the Caribbean and Asia. I am reminded how powerful and effect the loss of routine can have on your mental and physical well-being. Not having your nightly cup of water; having to brush your teeth at odd times; nothing having your favorite food or access to your favorite music or “things.” Those things are what can set people off, much more than culture or country shock. I’m staying flexible in the face of my losses, and trying to stay present at all times. This is too important to let any loss overshadow the tremendous gains I’m experiencing.
First, way to go Missouri for trying to own your stuff and respond appropriately. This is a good read, and more evidence of problems across the academy. I don’t expect my colleagues who are part of the dominant culture (however that manifests in your space) to always understand, but you can try. This stuff is real, and has real impacts. I’m reading Whistling Vivaldi by Claude M. Steele now, pick it up – it’s a good one. It will also provide more evidence to the reality and impact of stereotype threat and how it affects us all.
It may be worth noting this line as an example: “I have to stop and think sometimes, ‘Are they being racist? Or, is that just how they act? Or, are they just not being friendly because they’re having a bad day?'” This is one of many Black/Brown taxes. It’s a tax others pay too depending on their many identities. While you’re asking that question, you’re not focusing on your studies, success, or other things we all think about and have to manage psychologically. This is why we have to do what we can, all of us, to create safe, accepting and welcoming spaces – particularly on college campuses.
Back in 2008 at the University of Louisville, there was a pretty big shift about to take place within a long-standing office on campus. To complicate matters this office was steeped in tradition, and had long served the university’s African-American student population in many important ways. At the same time, there was need for a new direction and vision, one that was more inclusive of other students of color and traditionally under-represented students on campus. I was tapped to lead this important transition, and to literally rebuild a center that would both honor the traditions and work of the past, while moving boldly into the future. One need not live in Louisville, KY to understand that this was going to be a challenge.
When working within the “diversity and inclusion space” there is an analogy used that I can only imagine is borrowed from the budget and finance world. Groups of people (typically clustered around race/ethnicity) will often speak about and vigorously defend their “piece of the pie.” This piece of the pie refers to their slice of the college’s resources that are committed to “diversity and inclusion.” As you can imagine, this is problematic on so many levels, and it showed up during this important transition that I was asked to lead. The prevailing question I was faced with, very loudly from those in the community, alumni, students, and faculty, was; “what about our piece?” Underneath the surface of that questions, was this: “how are we going to get ours, if we let all those other people get theirs?” And, “we don’t have enough already, how are we going to share with them?” These are real questions, born out of real oppression and frustration, and I understand it all too well. As a Black man, raised in the southern part of the U.S., I know well how this “pie” is often doled out by some faceless entity(ies) that expect the recipient(s) to make it last. This can be in the form of public assistance, quality education, financial aid, space, or other resources. The problem is, I think we continue to ask the wrong question. Which leads us to have to ask the same questions time after time.
By way of providing a solution to this dilemma, I would like to offer advice that Dr. Marc Lamont Hill shared during his keynote. We need to reframe the questions that we ask. Instead of saying “what will happen to my piece of the pie,” let’s instead ask:
“Who made this pie?”
“Why is this pie the current size it is?”
“How do we get a bigger pie?”
“Is there different kinds of pie we can have?”
“Who else doesn’t have any pie?”
This shift is beyond mere semantics. As Dr. Hill said in his keynote, this change literally requires an epistemological shift. Asking “what will happen to my piece of the pie” is a deficit way of seeing the world. It assumes limited resources, perpetuates siloism in our lives, and necessitates competition in and amongst communities that are intersectional and oftentimes similarly marginalized. Furthermore it ignores, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that “injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” Even if the injustice is being committed to someone different from you. And as if that isn’t enough, this deficit thinking ignores the fact that people are, by design, interesectional beings. I am Black AND (Christian, male, cisgendered, able-bodied, etc.). We force people being oppressed already, to oppress other parts of themselves and pick a “side” to defend. This is the worst kind of torture.
The latter questions, however, redirects the solutions and places the onus of those solutions on the institutions and systems wherein the real power and privilege lies. These questions allow us to own, defend, and advocate for the multiple and intersectional identities that we all have. It also helps us to build allies in our struggle, and deconstruct the real privilege and power systems that create the pie in the first place.
I will incorporate this reframing into every meeting I attend, and every conversation I have. Whether it be in the realm of the personal or professional aspects of my life. I will encourage (and push) those in power to do the same. What questions have you been faced with that need to be re-framed? Where in your life are you asking the wrong questions, and how can you make a change?
Having “officially” worked in the two-year / community college space for just over a year now, I want to re-affirm my total faith in these institutions, and hope to help others gain or renew their appreciation for what they do and can do. Instead of talking about attending them though, I wanted to share this great article from the Chronicle of Higher Education written by Rob Jenkins. For my colleagues, students, future students, etc. thinking about teaching – you really need to read this. I am thinking of a companion piece about working as an administrator in two-year colleges. I think it is equally awarding, particularly for those talented Student Affairs folks out there. Happy reading, and share your thoughts!
I like how this particular institution is using data to drive this conversation. Data have to point the way to solutions, like a compass. But it can’t stop there.
Now that I work in the two-year college space, I know first hand how BIG a conversation this is! I wonder about what several stakeholder groups have to say about this: faculty, students, parents, and tax-payers. These developmental courses cost, many don’t earn students’ credit, and in some places they still aren’t preparing students to succeed at the next step. There are financial aid implications, time to degree implications, and student esteem and efficacy implications. I know, as is the case at my college, that the Achieving the Dream network is doing great work in getting colleges to start addressing these questions, identifying these critical data points, and using evidence to make better decisions.