Equity & Diversity (12)
All things being equal… or not.
This series of equity and diversity workshops for the OED Certificate was a good course of action. Each seminar is focused on a different aspect of issues related to equity and diversity.
I'm certified… certified that I know how much I really don't know. I took the Office of Equity & Diversity workshops. I decided to enhance that experience with the Advanced Certificate by attending a 2-hour dialogue circle once a month during the past academic year. Today I received my certificate.
I've struggled with a disability for many years. I have bipolar disorder, which leans more towards the depression side. I have low energy but an active mind. This is an invisible disability. I'm medicated and participate in regular therapy sessions to cope with my challenges. For some, adaptation is not so easy.
I struggle with allowing these invisible, mental disabilities in as valid keys to accommodation. This is because of the struggles I've faced myself with past employers. I received "reasonable accommodations," but then faced push-back from other employees who may not have known the situation. This resistance led to my eventual termination. So it's clear to me, first hand, that discrimination for mental illness does exist. I've experienced it.
This day presented a student panel to discuss their disabilities. One was a student with depression, one was deaf, and one was near legally blind. Being a disabled student, I can relate to this panel. I think it was important for the workshop to hear the student perspective.
I can't speak for anyone's experience but my own. So when it was time to attend the GLBTQ and Ally workshop, it was sensitive. It is a community I began with at the age of 16 when I came out to myself. I wasn't active until I was 19, and I went through difficult adjustments of sexual practice and identity. That's now at issue here. Rather, I am examining the relationships I do have with other GLBTQ community members. One of the strongest assets of this community is that it promotes the individual voice. It allows each member to find their identity, at their own pace, and within their own boundaries.
I know I've discovered my own boundaries years ago when I was emerging from an abusive, same-sex relationship. I've been single now for more than 10 years. Some may say I'm playing the victim card. Others (i.e., Republicans) may say I got what I deserved. I've been involved with the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, and multiple Sheriff, Police, and emergency management departments. I take my time away from dating and relationships to be a very determined, specific, and planned time. I've advanced in my work, I've recovered from depths of disability claims. I've endured hostile, toxic work environments, and I've suffered the consequences of my own malicious actions. All in all, I've succeeded, though, because I'm still breathing and walking as a free man.
And I'm gay. And this is what I thought about when I reflected on the GLBTQ+Ally workshop. I've found my identity, and I've learned to tell my story.
Off the record, I see solutions at work for many arguments of inequity and homogeneous nature of various organizations. I refer to the collection of portraits in the Presidents Room, as if being a while male is a required demography for President of the University of Minnesota. What is the opposite of the white man? What will it take to balance the room or presidents? A single, atheist, gay woman of dark skin color. I jest. There is no one duality to the white man. The white woman? Some may scream white privelege. A black man for president? Sexist. A single, athiest, gay woman of dark skin color. I jest?
Then I sit outside my class during lunch break, discussing with my classmates how diverse our class really is. Most of the class is born outside of Minnesota. We have people born in China, Korea, Thailand, Mexico, and America. I hear people speak in their native tongue with their peers as I have my conversation. This is a culturally diverse community. The white man is in charge, in a way. The teachers are white male brothers. There are four white male students in the class. The population of peers is respectful and smart. Language is less of a barrier in this graduate class than it has been in undergraduate; this is due to better communication of ESL students at the graduate level... many are doctoral students. I think that I am able to comprehend and acknowledge this aspect of higher education demonstrates an openness to diversity and being a witness to others exercising their rights to higher education.
WIIFM. What's in it for men. This Office of Equity and Diversity workshop was about women and the glass ceiling. As is tradition, it is pointed out that the portraits on the wall of the Presidents Room is white men. We did a variety of exercises to discuss and demonstrate the glass ceiling, and what men and women can both do to overcome the negative drawbacks of a university run by men.
As I write this, I have to call out that, as a gay man, my interaction with women is general professional in nature, in the work place, in leadership roles. The Will Steger Foundation is entirely female. Do It Green! Minnesota is almost exclusively female volunteers. The Chair and Treasurer of Metro Skywarn, Inc. are female. They've all busted down the glass ceiling, and it's an attitude of respect and commitment all around.
Perhaps my glass ceiling is in the social circles. I don't associate with many people, much less women, in personal social circles. It's my lifestyle and diverse nature. Is it wrong? Absolutely not. It's a balance that works for me. When this workshop talked of equity in a diverse workplace, I applied that to the academic and professional standing at the University. While the men on the walls of the Presidents Room reflect the top link of the chain, I know the University is a diverse place. My staff adviser is a woman. Housing and Residential Life is led by women (H&RL is where my roots of diversity at the University began). However, I know there is unbalance in many respects, as well, at this institution. However, I'm not in a position to influence or sway the balance of power. As I said, there's a balance in my life, and one I don't wish to disrupt. I will be an ally, but as a gay man, it's truly less my concern than a heterosexual male would face in the social circles of his private life.
I think it's hard to understand privilege when you are in the majority. That said, I have trouble with race and privilege. I don't understand it. It doesn't click because it makes so little sense to me to NOT be culturally diverse and equitable. I have worked in so many situations where there's been people of color, and we worked together just fine. The other day, I was talking about how diverse my Cooperative Learning class was. We have people from Mexico, Thailand, China, Korea, and America, to name a few. During lunch, a classmate and I were talking as a group of Asian women were talking in their own language, and it was nice to see diversity in action.
I know in my nonprofit work, they have made progress in being equitable and diverse. They've met and declared an equity statement, they have an action plan, and they had team meetings specific to the topic. That's nice and all, but they are all white women, with one woman of color (I just don't know her ethnicity well enough to identify her without her permission). I am a white male contractor. I'm the only male in the organization, outside of the Board of Directors. They identified the disparity, the inequality, and are taking steps to... dare I say, correct it. It feels odd to say you can correct privilege. I don't know the outcome of their efforts yet, but I wish them well
There were five tips for educators of equity and diversity:
- Assess the situation.
- Model the behavior you want.
- Model active listening behaviors.
- Use yourself as an example.
- Reframe. Reframe. Reframe.
We identified some challenges and strategies for addressing those challenges:
- Challenge #1: Saying the right thing. Strategies include: having a discussion versus proving right, keeping relationship, and be open minded & listen.
- Challenge #2: Building Confidence. Strategies include: practicing with friends, family, and work; and finding your own way.
- Challenge #3: Continuous Change. Strategies include: on-going learning and workshops.
Design in our daily lives should be seamless and unnoticed. Well designed items flow in and out of use, and we hardly think twice about using the things we do.
This changes, however, when you have a physical or mental limitation that restricts your use of objects designed for the masses. If you have a crippled hand, you may not have the dexterity to open a child-proof medicine bottle. The depth and breadth of accommodations this creates is vast. Do all objects need to be designed with accommodations in mind? No. But sometimes, universal design is the best practice.
Public spaces, generally, need to be available and accessible to all individuals, regardless of mental or physical limitations. This can be seen in wheelchair ramps and simple signage at building entryways. More complex design can be seen in ramps at pedestrian crosswalks. While it seems reasonable that wheelchairs benefit from these ramps, the textured panels also signal to blind walkers with canes that there is danger here. Bikers and strollers also benefit from these ramps. Universal design, in this case, promotes diversity.
Audience. Who are you speaking to? Who will see your message, and who will be affected by it? You don't always know how far-reaching your message will be.
This workshop talked of communication. Messages and strategies used to convey brand, design, media relations, social media, and crisis management are discussed. A person with a highly visible position, such as a Public Relations Representative, is encouraged to use extreme caution whenever they publicly post, regardless if it's a personal or professional channel. Given the longevity of messages on the Internet (does anything actually ever go away?), one must always be cognizant of the message they present, paying special consideration to nuances and biases that other groups may have.
Groups are self-identified. American Indians may prefer to be called "Indian" or "Native" or by their tribal name. "Lakota" may even be preferred over "Sioux." Each individual has a preferred name for their own being. We make attempts to be all-inclusive, but we can't have the Gay-Lesbian-Bi-Trans*-MTF-FTM-XXY-XYY-Poly-Asexual-Omni-Queer Cultural Center. Our title, GLBTQ and Allies, covers a great portion of the non-heterosexual population, but is accepted to be all-encompassing. It's important to be flexible in the titles you use on others. Adjust to what their needs and wishes are, an we'll have a lot better form of communication at hand.
Authenticity is matching communication and marketing to actual representations. One presenter, who is Lakota, told a story of how her college application materials contained too many pictures of American Indians, falsely representing the environment she would encounter at the school. The communication did not reflect reality, and that causes problems when expectations are not met.
Job interviews for high-level positions, such as U of MN Police Chief, use search committees to find candidates that meet strict qualifications and have specific experience that can grow and benefit the University of Minnesota community. When asking about serving diverse communities, we found that they should be specific, asking for specific strategies to determine their true commitment to diversity and equity.
This workshop was not as insightful. I never like meetings and committees. Not to mention, early morning is not my thing. The other workshops were afternoon sessions. Those who know me know I need my sleep, or I check out for the day quite soon. As it is, I usually need a nap to get through the day. Those are the facts of my own documented barriers to education. I know these, but part of the education process is to educate others. Now you know.
Moving beyond that, the topic of today's workshop was about working in groups and committees in the frame of equity and diversity. My word of the day was "inclusion." More about that later.
First, we talked about how we worked in groups and committees. I identified my persona as an evaluator and compiler of ideas that others share first. This is a complex process that my Think/Pair/Share partner also found in themselves. We talked about taking the Myers-Briggs Inventory, and compared introverts and extroverts.
Next, we watched a Portlandia clip about an ineffective group meeting situation. Entertaining and insightful, the video demonstrated assigned leaders versus informal leaders, the impact of distractions, and how obscure group dynamics can derail the momentum of the group and result in poor outcomes.
The next section of the session was more personal. We addressed challenges for group work. Our worksheet was designed to help you plan an action model. I struggled with this. As I said, I had checked out for the morning. My focus and concentration was horrible. I used this as an opportunity to put thought into the seminar I've been considering for the Youth Development Leadership M.Ed. program. Students are able to develop and "teach" a seminar for the department. The topic I've put together is, "The Quest for Prevention: Suicide, Stigma, Inclusion, and Awareness."
The OED Action Model has six steps:
- Purpose: Why do you want to do this?
- Goals: What do you want to do? Be specific.
- Resources: What resources do you have? What resources do you need?
- Method: How do you want to do it?
- Assessment: How do you know if you've done it?
- Growth: How have you evolved (both personally and professionally)? What do you know now about yourself and others that you didn't know before?
Three things that you need to always consider are alignment, congruency, and cultural strengths.
The walk-away from this exercise is not the details I wrote on my worksheet about the Q4P:SSIA project I may do for the YDL seminar, but the business card of a Coordinator from the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence, part of the Office for Equity and Diversity. He found the project striking, and would be interested in working with me on it.
Connections. It's all about the connections.
Today, I attended the second of ten workshops in equity and diversity. I sat next to a woman who knows the Executive Director of the Will Steger Foundation that I am Webmaster for, with whom I had just met with that morning. On the other side of me sat an Associate Dean. When I got home, I logged into a social media site to see a post from the former Executive Director of a performing arts school I attended in my youth. She is hosting some climate speakers from Europe this week who are on their way to the Will Steger Homestead.
The reason I mentioned the Associate Dean is that I was attending a leadership in the scope equity and diversity. She was most interested in where at the University each person was from. As a group, we compared leadership to being an ally. Can you do one without doing the other? It's not quite so simple. It seems you can be an ally without being a leader... but a good leader is an ally. Some people felt it was not possible to differentiate the two, but I think there's a distinction. I understand that being an ally requires some initiative and drive to be available for anyone to turn to you for support. Adding leadership to that mix means that you are willing and able to encourage and take others on a journey to positive social change. Hitler came up–he was an example of a bad person with good leadership skills. Just as in my Education of Gifted/Talented class, it was mentioned that you need not be gifted to teach the gifted, but rather, you have the interpersonal skills to listen, have compassion, and work with others.
We then had an art project at the table. We each reached for art supplies; I grabbed the pipe cleaners and began making a globe after someone mentioned the word, "orbit." We used that to demonstrate the multidimensional aspect of equity and diversity. Whereas many groups provided a two-dimensional representation of leadership in equity and diversity as their art project, we provided a three-dimensional aspect. Part of the exercise was to describe the art of another. I pointed out that, from a distance, you couldn't see the little penguin stickers that represented people. I sang, briefly, "from a distance," by Bette Midler. People laughed. I went on to describe people-shaped pipe cleaners as those who take on more of a leadership role. The lines showed how they were all interconnected.
And that was my It's-a-Small-World Day, including children (me) singing.
Today I attended my first of ten "Equity and Diversity" workshops towards the Equity and Diversity Certificate at the University of Minnesota. This also serves as a one-credit seminar for my YDL program. There are nine more sessions in the series for a total of 30 hours towards this certificate. The YDL seminar component requires 45 hours of work, so I need approximately 15 hours of work in the form of a journal, reflection writing, Website, or other component that will make up the remainder of my time. I hope this Website will serve as a sounding board for ideas, and perhaps be a part of the final project.
The take-away word today is "ally." Probably the earliest connotation of this word is the Allied Forces in World War II. Military forces that were "on the same side" were allies. It's commonly used in GLBTQ circles, as well. But "ally" goes beyond just being a friend. It entails working with someone, not for someone, like and advocate would do. We discussed the differences between advocate and ally, and found that ally is more likely to represent one who stands up for social equality, rather than fighting for one particular person.
On the bus ride home, I was thinking about the term "ally," and took away the other person: the oppressed, the negated and discriminated. Take away that person, or that group or identity, and focus on the person who becomes the ally. What qualities and traits become part of an ally? Persistence, the stick-to-it philosophy that no matter what, there will be the ally-minded individual; integrity, the quality that the ally's response to any situation will be consistent regardless of the subject; and compassion, the willingness to listen to and adapt to the needs and voice of the non-privileged communities around the ally. These are just three of the countless qualities and ally must possess to be successful in approaching, evaluating, and responding to a situation of equity and diversity.
One activity today was to reflect on a time I've been an ally. I had difficulty coming up with an example. That's not to say I'm not an ally to anyway--but rather, my past training and experience was focused on "diversity," not equity and inclusion. In what is now the third year of these workshop offerings by the University, I see a shift in institutional philosophy. No longer a selling point, celebrating diversity is just one minor facet of equity and diversity. Being an ally means fighting for the inclusion of all. It means respecting those who are not there (yet). I feel enlightened by today's workshop, and hope I can find my place to be a successful ally to any type of person.