It has been a little over three weeks since a vice-president said the n-word during the Gender Equity meeting at Santa Barbara City College. During this time, the suffering and trauma experienced by our employees of color has come forth. And it is not only the trauma being experienced at my place of work, but a much deeper societal and generational trauma. An unhealed trauma for which we all have a role in addressing and healing. I am also watching some members of the white community quickly fall into the racist=bad and non-racist=good dichotomy (source) and that prevents us from being able to move forward and truly address the systemic and structural racism within our work environment.
These three weeks have been a personal struggle as I make an effort to speak the truth of racism, honor and support those who are traumatized and have experienced oppression, and to also honor my deep-seated beliefs of nonviolence, reconciliation, restorative justice, and social equity. My Buddhist vows guide me by saying, “As members of a spiritual community, we should nonetheless take a clear stand against oppression and injustice. We should strive to change the situation, without taking sides in a conflict. We are committed to learning to look with the eyes of interbeing and to see ourselves and others as cells in one Sangha body.”
I am striving to change the situation and also working very hard to not take sides. But I have a side, and it is the side of justice! And this is my pain and my struggle. Seeing through this to the middle way is my path.
During the recent Facing Race conference, I picked up a journal called Othering & Belonging from the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. The essay I read this weekend, An Evolutionary Roadmap for Belonging and Co-Liberation, speaks straight to the heart of the matter for me. Written by Sonali Sangeeta Balajee who has worked in the field of racial equity, primarily in government, to more fully integrate and prioritize healing. Her essay shares a framework in the following key areas: beloved; be still; behold; believe; becoming; and belonging, co-liberation, and well-being. I loved how she writes, “spirit-based practice is inseparable from social justice, and when realized, is the highest form of political consciousness.” She honors “being still” while at the same time acknowledging “anger and frustration as necessary emotions and movement builders.” Encouraging the reader to “bear witness to hope, as well as grief and anger.” Ultimately, the reader is reminded that “merely learning about belief systems that breed supremacy and superiority are not enough. Knowledge alone doesn’t interrupt or disrupt.”
Those are just a few highlights. Read the entire essay because it is important and has clear and practical ideas. I will continue with my struggle for the middle way where truth is honored, people can heal, and society is transformed. Therein lies my hope.
The sense of community, of joy, of celebration, and of suffering was palpable. Last week I attended a conference on race in Detroit. My first conference of this type. And despite many years of personal work along with anti-racism trainings and workshops, I realize that I still know very little.
I see and hold the native and First Nation peoples who lived on the lands before us, who cared for it as we do, and lived their lives in community. Here in the Ojai Valley, where I write these words, these are the Chumash people. Today I also honor our diversity, whether that be gender, religion, ethnicity, national origin, age, physical or mental abilities, sexual orientation, gender identity or political affiliation.
The bi-annual conference was created by the organization Race Forward, creators of the fantastic Colorlines publication, and the name of the event was Facing Race: A National Conference. The conference week also celebrated the election of 100 women to Congress, including 40 women of color. Each of our general sessions were started with a music, dance, or words from the local creative community. We also had a “conference weaver” who lead the 3000 people in song. For the opening session, we sang together:
We are the children of ones who did not die
We are the children of the people who can fly
We are the children of the ones who preserver
We are fearless
We are strong
And we’re ready to carry on
This was also one of the only conferences that I’ve attended that truly acknowledged and displayed the richness of the local community. Detroit is an inspiring place where the community works for food justice, water justice, and social justice. We were reminded early on by a local speaker from a nonprofit who said, “if you are a nonprofit, and you don’t have the people you serve on your board, then that’s a change that needs to occur.”
As a white male amidst a predominantly non-white audience, I immediately became aware of my whiteness. An experience that many, if not all, people of color experience on a daily basis. A clear reminder of my privilege and place in society. The other new experience for me was that probably 80-90% of the presenters throughout the conference were people of color. What a gift! The opening plenary featured Rashad Robinson, adrienne maree brown, Favianna Rodriguez, Bree Newsome, and Jeff Chang. These folks inspire and remind us that we need to change the narrative. Furthermore, if we want to move the needle and create narrative change then feeling comfortable isn’t going to help us. We need to step into those spaces where people may disagree or not understand. We live in a society that is organized around a lie and the symbol of white power flies above everything. And through conferences such as this we are building the conditions for people to be free and recognize new possibilities.
The conference offered hundreds of sessions and this created a challenge for each block as I had picked three or four workshops but could only attend one in each block. Here’s what I attended:
It Doesn’t Have to Suck! Easy Management Levers for Anti-Oppression Lovers
This workshop was offered by Bex Ahuja and Tamara Osivwemu from The Management Center. These two were energetic and connected with their audience. I loved too how they set the stage to allow for interactions and questioning by creating an invitation at the beginning. They remind us that bad management disproportionally impacts those on the margins. But even with good management, there is also disproportionate impact if we don’t have an equity lens. We need good management within equity and inclusion lens. Further, the modern definition and understanding of management (command and control) is not built for anti-opression work. Managing with an equity and inclusion lens means there is no neutral path. We can‘t just stand back and do the status quo. Dismantling and removing supremacist power (in my management style) means recognizing and addressing implicit bias, assuming sameness, and the convenient story (it’s not us, it’s them) – these are the pillars of supremacist power. Bringing the race lens allows us to do transformative work instead of temporary work. Bex and Tamara offer a model of goal development that is both inclusive and equitable. Instead of SMART goals, we can have SMARTIE goals. When we re-imagine, we can ask who is this process serving (or not serving), who is this building power for (and who it’s not), and who benefits the most from these outcomes (and who doesn’t). We each have a “Choice Point” in which we have a choice to bring the equity lens to the organization.
Afro-futurism and Black Horror
Tananarive Due, an author and faculty member at UCLA, and Bree Newsome explore the healing power of horror and science fiction as tools for addressing erasure and creating visionary roadmaps to black liberation. A fun discussion that ranged from Black Panther and Get Out to Octavia Butler novels. Following a short presentation from each, they opened it for questions on a wide-ranging number of topics. As an avid reader of genre fiction, I have made a conscious effort to include more narratives written by people of color. For example, in the last year I have read Jade City by Fonda Lee, The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang, The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin, Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, Everfair by Nisi Shael, The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson, and The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin. Through these stories, new insights and experiences are opened up to help me to grow and learn.
Alignment, Alignment, Alignment! Institutional Changes, Performance Measures, and Population Outcomes
In this session presented by Kien Lee, Nora Liu, and Marcella Hurtado Gomez we learn about measuring racial equity. They have developed an instrument to review structural racism through policies, practices, and procedures that benefit (intentionally or unintentionally) white people in our organizations. The tool proactively seeks to eliminate racial inequities and advance equity. It identifies clear goals, objectives, and measurable outcomes. Developed from Race Forward’s Model of Change (normalizing the work, organizing the work, and operationalize the work). This team offered us six stages for racial equity.
Articulate the change desired by the community
Determine the ecosystem and identify and analyze the relevant data
Engage the community
Determine organizational strategies to end racial disparities and ensure equitable outcomes to opportunities and resources
Develop, implement, and evaluate an action plan
Communicate about the plan’s progress and outcomes – be accountable
Each of these stages has their own process. It is iterative and this means you may go from one to four and then have to return to one again. This could occur anywhere along the path. It may feel overwhelming. It’s not going to change overnight. But we need to know we are on the path.
Flipping the Script: Developing and Deploying a Strategic Narrative for Transformative Change
Gerald Lenoir from the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society presents findings based on the Blueprint for Belonging. This is a project in California to develop and begin to use a strategic narrative. A narrative to challenge the dominate view. The fundamental building blocks are to eliminate racialized inequality, an inclusive and responsive government, and empathy and bridging based identities. The last was the focus of the workshop. We had a great deal of interaction and conversation with others attending the workshop. One group exercise was to come up with a statement of who we are as group. The four of us (strangers) looked for our shared experiences, history, values, and visions for the future. It was a challenging exercise, but we came up with “A group who have all traveled internationally and work in the service to others and believe in justice, equity, compassion, nonviolence, and inclusion. To not causing harm and not pursuing harm. That all needs are met in a healthy society.”
Living History, Building Change, Inspiring People
In addition to the workshops, we had some great keynotes. Getting to laugh with Hari Kondabolu was different for someone like me who doesn’t care for stand-up comedy. He’s able to make us laugh without being disparaging. During the follow-up conversation, Hari also got serious by saying things like “I don’t think we should judge immigrants on how they do or don’t contribute to the economy.” He helped us look at what it means to grow-up in America as the son of an immigrant family. Thank you Hari!
Introduced by Alicia Garcia (#BlackLivesMatter co-founder), we hear the amazing Tarana Burke offer her insights and experiences as the founder of the MeToo movement over a decade ago. She talked of her work with women of color and sexual harassment and sexual violence. She reminded us of some very grime facts at the same time sharing how this has been an issue far longer than Hollywood getting all the attention – “Fuck Hollywood. You can’t take shit that’s mine. The MeToo movement is in our work.” Following her keynote, she was then interviewed by Linda Sarsour, organizer for the Women’s March. We are reminded by Tarana that sexual violence is a police brutality issue, a mass incarceration issue, an economic justice issue, a community health issue, a housing and homelessness issue, an LBTQI+ issue, and a racial justice issue. It is a human rights issue. And sexual violence also happens within the movement community. This is not about awareness. This is about action. What happens after the hashtag. This is not time for debate. It’s time to work. These are hard conversations. Expand your lens to include sexual violence. Find where you fit in. And “possibility is all we may have sometimes.”
As for white allies, we have work to do. We need to do our research. Seek to understand and expand our thinking and our hearts. That’s what I take away from this conference. The lived-experience of hearing and being with people of color for three days is something all white allies should experience. I do believe that we need to be vulnerable. We gotta find joy, people. Even in the struggle. Even in the learning and the mistakes.
And within the movements – race, environment, LBTQI+, sexual violence, women – we need to build bridges to create the larger “we” that links all of us. Step out of our silos. Perhaps as Chris Moore-Backman framed in his book, a movement of movements.
Thank you Santa Barbara City College and the Equal Employment Opportunity Advisory Committee for sending me to Detroit. And thank you for my two colleagues.
I’m planning on doing a 3-month media blackout during my already-established sangha sabbatical (July-September). It will be an experiment on my need to know (probably why I became a librarian and also something that’s been present in me for as long as I can remember). The experiment may allow me to open up some internal space for emotional and spiritual care. I’m seeing that life may not need to be so dense with content and I’m curious what I may discover without the constant text-based consumption.
I’ve already put my Medium and NY Times subscriptions on hold. Need to do the same with LA Times. Been unsubscribing from a few email lists each day to whittle down the noise. No consuming Twitter or Facebook, but may decide to push content to these platforms in via Hootsuite. That’s pretty safe. I trimmed back the podcast subscriptions significantly to only music and education related (but keeping Sword & Laser!). The Overcast app makes this quite easy to keep the subscriptions but not have them download constantly. And I moved the Unread (RSS) app to a back screen – that one will be hard and I couldn’t bring myself to delete yet.
What to keep? Probably my print magazine subscriptions such as Stack Magazines, Buddhadharma, and Lions Roar. Not sure about Wired or MacWorld just yet. Probably keep them too, but I don’t have to read. Right? The one social platform I’ll keep is LinkedIn. It’s mostly focused on education and helps me stay connected to my profession. Gotta have one doorway.
In the end, I won’t be to harsh on myself when I slip or end up changing my mind. It is simply an intention and a direction, but dogmatism isn’t helpful either.
Now what am I going to do with all this free time?
What does it mean to address equity and diversity in a community college setting? More specifically, as an academic administrator at Santa Barbara City College? I recently had the opportunity to reflect upon this very question and the topic feels important enough to share more broadly.
Why is diversity and equity important?
Addressing diversity and equity is important because almost 60% of the students at Santa Barbara City College, where I am employed, are students of color. I suspect this is a common statistic for many of our California community colleges. It is important because the research clearly indicates that students of color are less successful in completion and retention. It is important because we don’t always know who the students are in our classrooms and what personal and systemic barriers may exist in their lives – whether that be race, gender, economic, or lack of educational experience in the family. It is important because the majority of faculty and staff may not be members of the student equity populations and yet they will be called upon to support and teach these students. It is important because we all have blind spots, and unconscious biases, that inform the services and programs of the institution. And as an academic administrator, and campus leaders, we need to have the most understanding and the clarity for addressing diversity and equity issues.
What can we do?
First, addressing diversity and equity always begins with oneself. Do we have awareness of what we bring to the institution? I am a middle class, white, cisgender, able-bodied, neurotypical male with a graduate degree. I am a father to an autistic young person with a developmental disability. And my mother came out as gay in her forties. All this informs the way I think, understand, and view the world. My worldview is also built upon a mindfulness practice that includes training on equanimity, understanding and compassion. This background helps me serve and be an advocate of diversity and equity but it also means there are inherent biases present. Personal awareness means that any employee can be a voice and advocate for diversity and equity issues. I see myself as a learner who must continually engage with my biases, both known and unknown. On occasion, this has been quite a surprise. For me, this means trying to be humble, listen to understand, acknowledge my ignorance, and use my place of privilege to support change and advocate for others. This is the exploration and conversation that I would encourage and pursue in this position – to help transform those already present in the institution to be more equity-minded and to help others to be learners.
Second, addressing diversity and equity requires us to look at the data. We have made great strides, but the systemic issues still remain. We have offered a great deal of employee education on our campus over the past 5-6 years. A lot of data has been presented, discussed, and open forums have been offered. This brought forward the opportunity to create the Student Equity Committee and the Equity Plan. These are big changes. And yet, our institution has moved at what feels like a very slow pace. I know these are large issues, and I also know how challenging it can be to influence change. This year as dean, I began to make data more accessible to departments who offer online courses. My office generated a report for each department and sent it to the chairs along with some very specific questions for exploring the data. We have the capacity to continue to expand this effort by getting the information directly into the hands of those who have the ability to impact student learning.
Third, in the area of faculty hiring – both adjunct and contract. Working with our department chairs and managers to transform the job announcement and the interview experience can expand the colleges opportunity to create an employee base that is diverse, inclusive, and equity-minded. Our Equal Employment Opportunity Committee is taking leadership with this and I’m honored to be on the team. Through this effort, we will automatically influence our student experience and hopefully student success.
These are three ideas, and perhaps another is to turn to those voices on campus who have experience and knowledge of diversity and equity issues. To turn to them and empower and support their efforts. I will be an advocate.
In conclusion, let me offer a short story from my perspective as a white, cisgender male. I remember my very first professional employment in 1994 and how they did a diversity workshop for all faculty and staff. It scared me just a little because I didn’t understand much of what was shared. But at the same time, it immediately became an interest for me to pursue because inequity seemed so clear. Since then, I have remained active in my professional and personal life by continuing to educate myself through training and workshops. For many of the last 5-6 years, I have served as a lead in bringing voices of equity and diversity to campus through work on the Professional Development Advisory Committee and the Equity Committee.
A couple years ago, I offered a deep listening workshop based on my experiences with meditation. In this workshop, we included a panel of student voices who came out of prison. During that session, I felt like many of the audience members “woke up” from something they hadn’t seen or heard before. It was a powerful experience. More recently, I put out an idea for our white employees who were interested in learning more about what it means to be a white ally. The response was very positive and a group of a dozen employees met over 8-10 weeks to read and study the book What it Means to be White by Robin DiAngelo where we explored the concepts of white privilege and white fragility.
We have much to learn as a collective community supporting our students on their path. And we have much to be inspired by for the caring and passion of our faculty, staff, and administrators.
Being present for our students is a true gift we can offer and these experiences with students are one of the reasons why I’ve loved teaching and being part of an academic environment my entire professional career. As teachers, we have the capacity to change lives in ways that we may not always be fully aware of in the moment. I’m certain we’ve all experienced that moment when a student returns to share some action or word we said that had a deep impact. Our engagement with students can be a big responsibility that can be fostered in many ways: a kind word, a thoughtful smile, a note of encouragement, and even a criticism that comes from a place of wanting to push a student to learn something new.
For those who have taught classes in person, we may have an easier time being in touch with our students and the energy of the classroom. I may notice when a student is having a difficult day or week or even the entire semester. I can linger after class, arrive early, or have a student crying in our office. In those moments, my hope is I am able to practice with empathy and with understanding.
This being present for students may come naturally for you, and for others it may take some effort. But I know we all have this capacity for empathy and understanding. In my life, I have found cultivating this for myself first has allowed me to extend this more easily to my students. It has been through 25-years of meditation practice, allowing for a deeper understanding of my mind, that I’ve been able to bring this directly into the classroom. And just like our students, a beginners’ mind in myself can keep things fresh and help me to discover new ways to work with students.
How does this all extend into my online classroom? Do I know my students in the same way I might as if we are spending three hours per week in person? Am I able to identify a student in need or crisis through the work posted online so that I might reach out and connect to the student? And, within a primarily written medium, how am I being present for my students? We can create the conditions in our online classes that allows us to know our students better and be tuned into their overall learning experience.
Creating the Conditions for Learning
It’s the humanizing work. It’s the touchy-feely stuff that can help the student feel connected to the course material, to me, and to the college as a whole. The classes I’ve taught online – library science, technology, social media and marketing – are not necessarily touchy-feely topics. But as the teacher, we set the tone. In the online environment we need to offer a little bit more of ourselves explicitly. With in-person classes, students know I have a deep sense of humor, that I always wear black, that I like to pause in class and listen to student sharing, and that I like using the white board. These characteristics are part of my character. Online students don’t easily get this part of me, but these characteristics are critical for building a classroom relationship for our semester journey.
Creating a space where communication can be open and responsive to both student learning and student needs is key to building instructor-student relationships online. This means taking risks, and it certainly means taking more time. I write about myself, I share photos or videos so they know who I am as a person, and I incorporate personal life antidotes into the learning materials. More importantly, I create as many opportunities for students to interact with me so that I know who they are as humans. This can achieved through discussion, writing assignments, or video posts. I encourage students to share content they find that is exciting for them. Anything we, as instructors, can do to bring regular, meaningful student interactions into our online class is valuable. And we can build on this foundation to create a learning environment that is grounded in communication and trust. Creating an online classroom that is similar to how I spend 3-hours a week engaging with my students in a classroom is what I try to cultivate. My goal as an online instructor is to foster these human connections to inspire learning. In the end, when I support, guide, and inspire my students, I am nourished by our deep connections as they experience life’s difficulties and joys.
In over 15-years of teaching information literacy classes, I often used the Stormfront website as a teaching tool because they own an MLK domain. Most students didn’t even know about David Duke, prominently quoted on the MLK site, and now he’s front and center thanks to President Trump. On some level this is okay, because it brings white nationalism front and center, but it also means we can’t count on our leaders to speak out against what they represent.
It’s up to us whites to transcend white nationalism and cultivate a more pluralistic and fair society for everyone. It’s up to all of us to counter the white nationalist movement, recognize and transform our white privilege, pursue atonement and repatriation. We begin by recognizing that we live in a systemically racist society, that we each carry these seeds of racism (some conscious and some unconscious), and that we can become more literate about racism through dialogue, openness, and study.
This opinion piece, in the New York Times, is written by a former white nationalist. He writes, “The United States was founded as a white nationalist country, and that legacy remains today.” This is a critical recognition and one of the first steps we can take in moving forward.
This is an important text for teachers who wish to cultivate mindfulness in the classroom. It is a uniquely Plum Village approach and provides concrete examples from hundreds of teachers from around the world. I am honored to have had a very small part in the manifestation of this book through offering feedback along the way as well as a couple of antidotes.