Tag Archives: Diversity

Don’t be (color)BLIND! SEE DIVERSITY!

Don’t be (color)blind!  Instead, SEE diversity.  And other lessons I learned after inadvertently insulting people.

A few weeks ago while watching the Republican National Convention, I listened to Ivanka Trump give her speech introducing her father. I’ll spare you my opinion of her father as I don’t intend for this to be a political message. I’ve admired Ivanka Trump over the years as someone who seemed to be able to both work and raise her children. I found myself nodding along until she started to go down hill.

No. She. Didn’t. She didn’t just use the term “colorblind” in a positive way.

Yes. She. Did. How sad.

For many reasons which I will explain further if you care to read, I am sensitive to language that can be offensive to others. The term “colorblind” is an offensive term. For many years I used the term “colorblind” as a badge of honor to explain that I was a person who valued race and diversity. Little did I know how troubling that term was and how many lessons I had to learn. This, my dear friends, is a story about just some (of the most painful) lessons I’ve learned. Hopefully, you’ll be nodding along with agreement. If not, perhaps I might spare you the embarrassment I had to face.

So, I posted a note on Facebook about my disappointment at Ivanka Trump’s statement and the (to me) obvious lack of formal diversity training this kind of statement said to me. Then,at some point, I retired to bed with memories of my own journey learning about diversity, tolerance, racism, and more over the course of my career. .

I woke up to a sh*tstorm. Many people I knew agreed with me and added their thoughts to the concept. Several of my well-respected friends took offense to my comments and asserted their own “colorblindness” and simultaneous commitment to diversity, etc. Some of my friends argued with the others (though they don’t know each other). I felt badly for those who were getting a firehose of new information which they considered to be insulting their intelligence (these are very smart people, mind you). Everyone probably has now and again a post that takes on a life of its own. That one became one of those posts.

A few brave souls sought me out over the next few days by phone, email, and one in person to ask me to explain the concept further and admitted that they hadn’t realized that their use of the term could be offensive to others. I thought I would share the thoughts here to spare others possible embarrassment or unintended offense. It is surprising to me in today’s world how people do not come across diversity training either in their reading, workplaces, schooling, places of worship, or elsewhere. I shouldn’t assume that people would access information like this I now realize (another hard lesson), but it doesn’t mean that I should stand aside and not correct it.

I learned the hard way. Let me help you fast-forward your learning.

It was in the early 1990s when I first had formal diversity training. I have always considered myself a progressive person, open minded, and definitely not racist in anyway; however, what I was ignorant to were my own biases and privileges that I didn’t even see as a result of being born a white female. I’ll never forget the day when a family sat down in my office at Grace Episcopal Day School.

“How is it in this school that you can buy access to a teacher?” I replied, somewhat dismayed, “Of course you can’t buy access to a teacher.” “Yes you can”, the family replied, “Right here in our school at the school auction rich families can buy a bike trip or an afternoon with their favorite teacher.” I began to wince. This was, sure enough, one of the most popular silent auction items. Every year it got some of the biggest donations — and I had been not only proud of the dollars raised, but advocated in the teacher’s lounge for teachers to volunteer. It so happens that this family (a family of color) had banded together with Aunts and Uncles and a Grandmother to pull together funds to buy the bike trip with a favorite teacher for their daughter for her final year of school. They even took out a short-term loan to get it. They attended the silent auction and bid. They bid some more. When the bidding went over $1,000 for a half-day with the teacher, they backed out. Their daughter was devastated. So was I.

The important thing is that this family would never even come into my office if it weren’t for the fact that we had done some formal diversity training in our school over the course of the past year. As a result of an amazing woman who passed away, Sherryl Talton Gerald, parents in the school banded together to raise funds in her memory. Sherryl was known for bringing all of the different months alive, especially black history month. She created amazing activities during that month enriching the curriculum for all students. When she tragically died suddenly, the parents wanted to keep her work alive. I never had the honor of knowing Sherryl, but I am forever touched by her.

A few months after being on the job as Director of Development for Grace Episcopal Day School, a friendly woman came to my office to say, “What are we doing with the Sherryl Talton Gerald funds?” At the time, I wasn’t sure what fund they were talking about. “It’s December”, my parent said, “We need to plan something with the funds for this coming February”. Thus the work began. In a small school where there aren’t too many people to do extra things, the job fell to me and a band of parents. We launched a lecture featuring Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, President of the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). It was wildly successful. I became the defacto Diversity Coordinator while serving as Development Director.

It was also confronting. Some of the families who came to the lectures asked difficult questions of the speaker during the question and answer period — questions that hinted at subtle and overt racism in our school and problems they faced. These were systemic problems. Problems every school, workplace, and institution faces. I heard things like:

“My child doesn’t get invited to birthday parties.”
“We were invited to a birthday party at a private club and turned away by the valet driver.”
“My child’s teacher uses the term “colorblind” like it is a badge of honor… doesn’t she realize my child would rather be SEEN and appreciated?”

It was clear we had work to do. The head of school, Carol Franek, and I worked with families to choose a consultant to do some formal training with faculty, staff, and eventually the community. We hired Randolph Carter of East Ed. It was a very interesting process.

In classic form, many people in the majority (over)reacted to the notion of offering diversity training.  Some parents made wildly inappropriate statements (not unlike some things heard on the campaign rail this year).  Most felt they didn’t need it. Many said things like, “I raise my child to be color blind. She doesn’t need to learn about diversity, we practice it all the time.” These were the same people who questioned why we needed a “Parents of Children of Color” group. Questioning ethnic or racial groups choosing to sit together or share common experiences is often seen as threatening in some ways and critiqued. Beverly Tatum in her best-selling book, “Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria” is suggested reading on this concept. Here, I’ll save you time and give you the cliff notes: White people affiliate all the time. Tatum writes, “Is this self-segregation a problem we should try to fix, or a coping strategy we should support?” Answer: No and yes.

What I learned about families of color wanting to share common experiences is that many needed to share ideas about how to manage the racial discrimination already impacting their children at the youngest ages. Far be it for me to question this need. I learned the concept of “Affinity groups” and I learned to appreciate their importance. I started to become an ally.

Side note – we don’t question religious groups meeting together on Sundays or at other times. Why would we question groups who wish to share a similar experience at another time?

When the faculty went through their diversity training, a similar range of emotions and reactions unfolded. Some reactions surprised me, particularly from those who considered themselves to be very unbiased and open minded. As they heard from their colleagues and parents from diverse backgrounds, they had the privilege of seeing how their unintended biases and statements hurt people. They learned that terms like “color blind” offend people of color. They learned that appreciating diversity of all kinds enriches relationships, a school, a workplace, and a community. Trying to see past it, not talk about it, or question other people’s adaptive behavior is part of being in the majority. Some call this “white privilege”.

Side note – yes this is a loaded term. Yes this makes people feel uncomfortable. No, I will not try to find another term. If you find it uncomfortable, that’s the point. White priviledge is real and it is something every white person (in my opinion) should learn about as a citizen of our planet. If you don’t like it, get over it.

White privilege is not a term that was born in this election cycle. I was introduced to it in 1988 while attending Sweet Briar College by our Chaplain, The Rev. Susan Lehman. She shared Peggy McIntosh’s research which later became an iconic article, “Unpacking the invisible knapsack”. http://nationalseedproject.org/white-privilege-unpacking-the-invisible-knapsack

This concept of whiteness was a revelation to me — being responsible for it; recognizing the benefits I have by being born white; recognizing my role as an ally to those who face discrimination on the basis of the color of their skin. I got a great education at Sweet Briar College, but it was this concept introduced to me by our Episcopal Chaplain that is one of the best life lessons I took away. This was 1988 folks. I am simply astonished that in 2016 there are people who haven’t heard this term nor haven’t participated in formal diversity training.

Side note – if you haven’t done any formal diversity training, get some. Need some suggested reading?  The links in this article. Should it make you feel uncomfortable? Probably. The truth is, we all have biases. Learning about those biases will make us better people in all situations. If you don’t like it, get over it. Life isn’t about being comfortable. Life also isn’t about unseeing.

So, back to the parent sitting in my office. Even after two years of diversity work, we still had our blinders on. While we had made some very good changes in terms of respecting racial, ethnic, religious and other types of diversity, we had major blinders on when it came to socioeconomic diversity. As the parent sat with tears sliding down her face, I felt horrified and embarassed. Of COURSE it was wrong to auction off a teacher to the highest bidder in a small community. I hadn’t seen it. My desire to raise funds and the wild success of rapidly-increasing special teacher outings blinded me to how it would feel to those who couldn’t afford them.

Then I spoke to the teachers.

It turns out, the teachers HATED these special outings. They were embarrassed to single out one or two children for a special outing and felt terrible when those children returned to class raving about it in front of the other children. They admitted they felt conflicted when it came to grading and disciplinary actions knowing a parent had paid so much for a simple afternoon for their child. With this, I visited the Parent Teacher Organization and the practice was immediately stopped. We still did teacher outings, but the teachers did something with their whole class and parents could contribute any amount for the special activity. Some of our best field trips resulted from this change.

Fast forward to this election cycle, it is stunning to hear elected officials, their family, and their supporters saying things that in a school, workplace, religious institution (at least some), or household sound and are deeply offensive. In some places, these statements would be grounds for disciplinary action, termination, or legal action. A frightening number of hate groups rally behind a leader who speaks in these terms.

Somehow decades of work, suffering, and laws to achieve social justice is now being lumped into a category of “political correctness” — as if it should be undone.

The person speaking this way is glorified for “speaking their mind”.

For me, the lessons learned about treating people fairly and with tolerance is an ongoing journey. I know I still have my biases and blinders and blindness. The difference is, I am not proud of it. And I certainly don’t speak of these things as a badge of honor. Imagine if I said, “I’m sexual orientation blind”, “I’m ethnic blind”, “I’m age blind”, etc. Sounds strange, right? Why, then, do we think it is okay to say, “I’m color blind.”

As Chair of the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee for the University of Maryland Senate, I have worked with many people to create policies for nondiscrimination, against sexual harassment, and advocating for LGBTQ rights. I am constantly learning lessons by hearing stories of people who daily experience discrimination in their lives. It is gut wrenching.

As a white woman in today’s world, I see one of my most important roles beyond being a wife, mother, daughter, and friend is being an ALLY. I now use my privilege to advocate for those who may not have the same ability to navigate the world as I do. I stick up for the underdog. I stand up against the bully. And, I call out racism — subtle or unintended — when I see it. I do the same for sexism and other isms. I especially try to do this for those I care about to help them avoid insulting others unawares.

These are my crib notes. These are the things I wish I’d learned earlier in life and I share with you now.

Don’t be colorblind. See color. See race. See ethnicity. See religion. See sexual expression. See diversity.

Then, appreciate it.

It isn’t political correctness. It isn’t politics. It is SEEING our fellow humans on this precious planet earth.

See.

Reference:

http://nationalseedproject.org/images/documents/Knapsack_plus_Notes-Peggy_McIntosh.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

DIVERSITY

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How NOT to speak about higher education — or women — or diversity — in 2015….

James Jones
James Jones — the Commonwealth of Virginia requests his removal in its injunction.

“Argue for your limitations, and surely they’re yours.” — Richard Bach

The announced closure of Sweet Briar College provides much fodder for every stage of grief.  The current President and leadership’s statements continue to horrify many alumnae and the public at large.  Each time the President takes the microphone or speaks to press, the quotes get worse.  The President of the Board, the President, the President’s wife and other leaders: How is it possible in 2015 that people could speak this way?

Here is how NOT to speak about higher education — or women — or diversity — in 2015

 “Sweet Briar’s rich-girl days were long gone.”
— Sweet Briar President and Chair of the Board, Paul Rice

Rich girl days?  Really?  While every School and College may have a percentage of students whose parents are able to pay for tuition without any loans or grants being taken and provide for many of the extras, Sweet Briar has never been a majority “rich girl school”.  Even back to the founding days of the College there were scholarships for financial need and students were able to work in all types of jobs to provide for their education and expenses.

Jones told The New York Times that for students who entered Sweet Briar in fall 2014, 37% are first-generation college students, 32% are minorities, and 43% received Pell grants — federal financial aid grants for low-income undergraduates.

To use this statement as a reason for the College closing is one of the most egregious Jones has made and has generated widespread ire.  To have this statement made as a negative is extremely unfortunate. Some have picked up on this statement and repeated it in front of current students and their families both on campus and around the country — as if this is a negative.  Colleges and Universities across the country are THANKFULLY becoming more diverse in many ways — racially, socio-economically.  Mr. Jones’ wife describes it this way in a public Class of 1969 webpage:

Then you thought about the cost of four years of college today. That cost is far beyond what an average American middle class family can afford without great sacrifice and careful financial planning. But, Sweet Briar had a world-class riding program, so surely there were girls from super wealthy families attending, weren’t there?

Evidently not, Mrs. Jones.  The majority of families in higher education today are described by the statistics your husband quoted and the average middle-class family.  Sweet Briar should embrace these students and their families.  A school of “girls from super wealthy families” is never a goal for even families who are blessed with extraordinary wealth.   Diversity is a blessing to all.

Mr. Jones’ comments not only appeared in print, but on a call with thousands of alumnae he was bold to say:

“I guarantee you that the students of today and the students applying are not of the same caliber as your generations.”

This phrase has been repeated by some in support of closure and is extremely disrespectful for current students and their families.

Frankly, students who are bringing in Pell Grant income may be, in fact, contributing significantly to the bottom line. I raised a question to the former President when I visited for my 25th Reunion and she said, “It is the traditionally full-pay families who are sometimes paying the least – because they know they can negotiate. ”

Every school has a range of socio-economic diversity.  To blame the closing of the school on a change in the percentages is irresponsible and offensive.

Sweet Briar is no longer the “horsy school on the hill,” current professor.

Horsy school on the hill?  Good grief.  One of Sweet Briar’s STRENGTHS which continues (based on this year’s award winning season) is its equestrian program. While a small percentage of Sweet Briar students ride horses and an even smaller percentage of students bring horses with them, to describe the College this way indicates a complete lack of awareness of the award-winning program as well as the successful athletes, including Lendon Gray, a three-time Olympian.  Our award-winning sports teams and incredible coaches are one of the hallmarks of Sweet Briar — and frankly any College or University.  Riding is something that gives us a niche and a good reputation.

Sweet Briar determined in 2011 that the alumnae’s changing demographics made it impossible to effectively conduct a large-scale fundraiser, Sweet Briar’s vice president for finance Scott Shank told The News & Advance.

2011 is a full enrollment cycle away from 2015 where we are now.  It is very unfortunate that the College did not conduct a professional feasibility study of its alumnae testing REAL issues and themes.  The last feasibility study of 200 alumnae was conducted by staff members (I have spoken to many alumnae who gave when I worked at the College and who participated in this study – they cited no confidentiality as staff were the interviewers; no theme of any concerns; no details about giving levels). This was a huge missed opportunity.  Alumnae assert that the College did not come to them and the fundraising ability they have shown — in incredibly creative ways — is inspiring (to this fundraiser in particular).

To say that the “changing demographics” made it impossible to conduct a large-scale fundraiser is completely offensive.  This was my reaction initially and then I heard from the editor of the leading industry publication in my field (when she read about Jones’ and Shank’s statements)

I didn’t attend Sweet Briar, but I have to say that as a person of color (and donor to causes I care about) this bit attributed to the institution raised my ire.

By the way — news flash — one of the most generous groups of alumni are those who received scholarships and support themselves because they feel a duty to give back.  Some of the world’s leading philanthropists did not come from wealth — someone helped them.  Chances are, your “changing demographics” may actually be the source of great support in the future.

In response to why the College couldn’t adapt or change….

Here’s more from Jones’ conversation with IHE earlier this month on Sweet Briar becoming co-ed:

Jones said that, at Sweet Briar, going coeducational did not seem like a simple solution. He said that such a move would have required lots of money for scholarships and facilities, and he wasn’t subtle about the purpose of the spending. “We would need scholarships to basically buy males,” he said.

Buying males?  Are you kidding me?  I have two sons, one college age.  He is not “for sale”.  He chose to attend a small, liberal arts College in the Midwest.  As a parent, I would have loved to have him consider Sweet Briar (albeit with a different male-counterpart name).  I imagine there would have been many more interested and they would not have to be “bought”.  Even if it is true that merit or scholarship support might be necessary in a greater percentage initially, to frame it as “buying males” is just disgusting.

The Chair of the Board, Paul Rice stated (when dismissing the possibility of going co-ed)….

Rice elaborated on the projected increased spending in The New York Times.

“You don’t just take ‘ladies’ off of every other bathroom door and put ‘men’ up,” Rice said. “You have to add programs and facilities, athletics. All of these things take significant investment and time.”

This is the Chair of our Board folks.  Obviously, a co-ed environment requires some adaptations.  There are men and women’s bathrooms in every facility on campus as it is.  How do you think we get through Reunions?  We have men and women in dorms, attending events and classes all across campus. It would not be terribly difficult to allocate a dorm for male students.   We have sons of current faculty and staff who attend Sweet Briar. With the new athletic facility, a key asset was available.  Furthermore, the College has capacity for far more students than it current enrolls, so even a small percentage of men initially could no doubt have been accommodated.  To hear this decision dismissed so callously down to labels on bathrooms doors is embarrassing and does not instill confidence in the decision making or deliberations  of the Board.

"Leave it to a man to destroy what a woman made" - banner hanging on the bell tower.
“Leave it to a man to destroy what a woman made” – banner hanging on the bell tower.

In the initial announcement about the closure of the College, the President seems to indicate that people just don’t chose a College like Sweet Briar anymore.  He wrote,

“While the College has long been part of my life, as my wife is a 1969 graduate…..The board, some key alumnae and I have worked diligently to find a solution to the challenges Sweet Briar faces. This work led us to the unfortunate conclusion that there are two key realities that we could not change: the declining number of students choosing to attend small, rural, private liberal arts colleges and even fewer young women willing to consider a single-sex education, and the increase in the tuition discount rate that we have to extend to enroll each new class is financially unsustainable.”

This statement is telling because it seems to be that there was just a small group of “key” alumni who convinced themselves there was no hope.  He then refers to them as “us”.  Clearly, he left out the voices of thousands of alumni and his own faculty and staff who had very brilliant ideas (and who debunk with facts and figures the statements of why they needed to close).

It seems President Jones, the Board Chair and others have forgotten that there are HUNDREDS of current students at Sweet Briar College who HAVE chosen to attend a small, rural, private liberal arts college.  There are also HUNDREDS of small, rural, private liberal arts colleges who are open and have smaller endowments than Sweet Briar.

Mrs. Jones, the President’s wife, uses some of the same language in the Class of 1969 webpage where she issues a public comment.

Why were the grounds not pristine as they had always been? You noticed the peeling paint, the shabby parlors, the rotting balcony about to fall off of Alumnae House, and that uneasiness grew…. Maybe you just wanted to let this new president know that it was not “the Sweet Briar way” to have the campus looking like this.

Shabby parlors?  “The Sweet Briar Way?” Actually, due to surging enrollment, many of the parlors had turned into dorms and office spaces.  That isn’t such a bad thing.  And, yes, deferred maintenance was a problem, but no one had thought to appeal to the alumna who have since offered to organize a Habitat-for-Humanity like work project along with funding to catch up.  Some people find older homes charming….

The President’s wife went on to say,

Even though you knew the demographics information: students in 2014 were turning away from single sex colleges, they were flocking to schools in urban and suburban areas that offered more vocational type curricula, they were more concerned about spending their education dollars to be trained for a job than looking for a broad liberal arts education.

Mrs. Jones, you forgot to add the important lack of a Starbucks that your husband was quoted as saying on the call with alumnae about the closure.  Seriously though, there ARE people who choose small Colleges and liberal arts education still thrives.

The announcement of Sweet Briar’s closure ends with a quote by another 1969 alumna, Elizabeth H.S. Wyatt ’69:

“If we make the decision to close now, we will have a better opportunity to conclude academic operations in an orderly, compassionate and ethical way that pays homage to those who are here today and to those who came before us.”

This sounds like someone with their hands folded in their lap, speaking to a child.  Perhaps it was expected that Sweet Briar alumnae would behave like “good girls” and just take this decision and go quietly onto other interests.  But, no, President Jones describes our reaction this way:

“emotional, overwrought, irrational”

Patronizing has never had a better example than this.  This is classic male behavior and language.  “Irrational” is such a convenient word for men, perpetuating their sense of superiority.  This is CLASSIC sexism used to describe essentially what is a different way of being.  One of the reasons we attend Sweet Briar is to learn such things (I was a Psychology major).  Men tend to think they are logical and not use feeling words; women aren’t afraid to express and use their emotion. Emotion is the antithesis of logic. When men perceive women as being too emotional (or a way you don’t want us to be), men say women are being irrational. Crazy. Wrong. Overwrought.  Minimizing somebody else’s feelings is trying to control them. If they no longer trust their own feelings and instincts, they come to rely on someone else to tell them how they’re supposed to feel.   I suspect this is how a percentage of our alumnae are feeling right now (I’ll refrain from using decade generalizations) because they have people around them telling them how to feel and pointing out those who resist in negative ways.  I hope they can free themselves of this path and find their voice.

The press release regarding the President and Board’s refusal to step down refined the term to describe the #SaveSweetBriar movement as:

“well intentioned”

The number of alumnae who turned out to welcome students back from their spring break — traveling far and wide — outnumbered the entire population of campus.  The funds raised in 10 days exceed the entire fundraising goal for the year.  The faculty unanimous voted in opposition to the Board and President.   Dismissing this energy and commitment shows how out of touch the President is with the stakeholders of the institution.

To CBS, Mr. Jones was asked by the interviewer, “Was there anything anyone could do?”  Mr. Jones replied,

“No, there was nothing anyONE could do.”

Mr. Jones doesn’t think there was or is anything anyone could do because he is surrounded by such a small group of pessimistic people.  In fact, once alumnae, faculty and parents learned of the President and Board’s decision, THOUSANDS have rallied and raised MILLIONS.  Clearly he does not see the future and sees nothing that could be done.  The logical thing for him to do is step down and allow those who see a future and have more creative ideas to lead.

These are just a few examples of how NOT to talk about women, diversity and education in 2015.  Certainly not as leaders of an institution with current students, parents, faculty, staff and thousands of alumnae hanging on your every word.

This alumna is embarrassed by your comments and have found myself apologizing to people well beyond the walls of Sweet Briar — including leaders in higher education and the national media.

Who speaks for me?  Saving Sweet Briar!

Stacey Sickels Locke is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment and she feels a sense of duty that those donations are not used for the closure of the College or for any other purposes than the donors intended. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  As a volunteer, she has served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
James Jones
James Jones

Here is some suggested reading on this topic (and to avoid further embarrassment):

Business Insider:  Dan Gottleib’s Analysis on the College Closing

10 Words Every Girl Should Know

How Not to Sound Like a Sexist Jerk

How to Stop Sexist Remarks…One Conversation at a Time

Example of a Male Senator Using a Phrase Offensive to Female Senator

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