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.
As the world is continually made smaller through social media, I find some of us are lulled into thinking we “know” people and things because we read a post about it. Or that we are somehow worldly because we have a few friends in international places. My challenge for you is to go further in 2017. Do not hide in your own neighborhoods, with your own friends. I can think of no more important message than this: go places, and do things.
This is the way the world can be made safer – this is how we begin to dismantle hate and bias. No class or workshop will fully teach you how to value others – only your relationship with others can do that. Despite what you may hear from the highest political leaders in our land, the path to peace and happiness is through embracing differences, not hiding from them or sending them away. Here are some tips to get started and get the most out of your “going and doing”:
Locate a place that is “culturally” different from you (e.g., another part of town, another city/state/country, a place of worship where no one talks or looks like you, etc.). Notice these don’t require a lot of money to do this. Of course maybe you do have resources to spare and do want to travel across the world – that is good too.
Before you go, read something (objective/academic) about where you are going. This will help you a great deal in appreciating the “going and doing.” This means you look outside of the popular news media to gain understanding.
Tell people about it! You never know who may want to help you get there, go with you, or have experience in that culture. Share what your going and doing goals are so we can support you!
Meet someone while there and exchange information with them. Follow up with them on a regular basis. Wanna know how to lead and follow in diverse environments? Build relationships with people different from yourself – you’ll be forever changed:)
Write about it. Don’t let the feelings, the ah-ha’s, the anxieties escape you. John Maxwell said that reflection is like the crock pot of the mind – let the thoughts simmer until they are ready. You have to capture those moments if you are ever to make meaning of them.
Now share this with people you care about, and set out to do it!
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.
“While strolling through the fields of time, there’s many things to see;
But nature is the greatest sight, that there could ever be.
The greatest of them all to me is how the world was formed;
And why the roses have to live each day among the thorns.”
Image provided by bitrebels.com
My work places me in challenging positions. I have to have conversations with faculty members, students, and other employees about how to navigate difficult conversations, how to accommodate students so they can be successful, and how to see the humanity in people even when they don’t want or have to. It can be exhausting. I question why I do it, and how or if I will sustain doing it for the long run. I’m then reminded of an important reality, as I often am, through the gift of song. When the lyrics are good – I’m good. No matter the genre of music, I find a message that keeps me going. In this case I found it in Bluegrass. Having been raised in the Southern part of the U.S., I can appreciate some good Bluegrass.
The song A Rose Among The Thorns made me remember that one of the most beautiful flowers in the world, the Rose, exists amongst thorns. Metaphorically, good people, and indeed the good in people, are much like roses amongst the thorns. I don’t get to choose to be offended by the thorns and thereby lose an opportunity to appreciate the roses. I don’t get to be afraid of the thorns, and let that distract me from the beauty of people, or the value they bring to this world. There is good in people and bad in people. There are good people and there are bad people. You can’t have one without the other, and one shouldn’t stop you from appreciating the other. I will remember in my daily work that despite the selfishness, racism, bias, and bigotry in the world…I will continue to do what I do for the roses.
As I meditated this morning I came across a scripture, 1 Corinthians 10:23 and 24 that reads,
“I have the right to do anything,” you say – but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” – but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.(NIV)
In my daily work as a chief diversity/inclusion and senior student affairs officer at a public institution, the notion of rights and responsibilities is always on my mind. In our world, and in the United States in particular, we use our rights as a hammer and permission to do whatever we want. The debate about gun control, also relevant to college campuses, is one such example. The right to be be biased, or hate, is another. This scripture, Christian in its context but clearly applicable to us all regardless of our beliefs, states some obvious facts, “not everything is beneficial” and “not everything is constructive.” It applies standards to our rights, and asks us to ask if what I will do will add value to others, or should I do it just because I can. And notice these standards are not simply “good or bad,” those are too simplistic. Beneficial and constructive is the goal. I have the right to buy an AK-47, but is that beneficial (literally: favorable or advantageous; resulting in good.) I have the right to use most any names I want to refer to someone else, but is it constructive (literally: serving a useful purpose; tending to build up.)
As individuals we have rights, as a community we have responsibilities. The whole thing we call civilization falls apart if we don’t keep that in mind, and remind others to do the same.
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!