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From Compliance to Compassion (Part 2)


If you haven't read Part 1 yet; check it out here.

After being given a tremendous gift of feedback that was new to me, I started my social justice, equity, and inclusion journey focused purely on how doing the work would be advantageous for me. It wasn't initially helping others or making the world a better place, if I am honest with myself. I saw it as politically savvy, helping me get positions, be put on committees, etc. It was a move to expand my power. I made changes that I saw as beneficial for me. My goal wasn't building capacity to be more inclusive as a leader; contrary, it was about increasing opportunities for leadership. Pure and simple, that is what it was.

My focus was on "the right words to say" or "topics to avoid" that could hurt me professionally and personally. It was about navigating a minefield; NOT removing mines so that others would benefit. I wanted to be around different people, but I ALSO didn't want to be uncomfortable. I would avoid spaces which might be deemed challenging. As the vernacular moved from diversity to multiculturalism, there was a lot of opportunities to avoid the topic. Yay! Diversity is great. Oops. Multiculturalism is great! We appreciate and CELEBRATE differences! We aren't a melting pot, we are a SALAD BOWL! All the while thinking to myself, "I'm not sure I believe this, but hey, it's what I am told I am supposed to say, and I am no fool."

We lived in California, after all! We are ahead of the curve on diversity issues! The rest of the country is backwards! Look at how enlightened we are! We are making the world a better place! Look at MEEEEE!!!!! Give me my diversity badge!

Things honestly started to change for me as I watched colleagues I cared for (who did not look like me) start to leave the field (and our region) out of frustration. You see, serving on committees on campus, being with colleagues on committees, I had rich and deep relationships that I valued. These relationships provided data that created cognitive dissonance for me. I listened as colleagues shared how they navigated the field I loved, and those experiences were different than the ones I experienced. But I listened.

I am sure at first, I was dismissive. I likely said “but that’s not the field in general – that’s just a few problematic folks!” or "That's not how it is everywhere!" However, I continued to see great colleagues whom I cared for and respected continue to choose to leave this field I love so much.

They shared how tired they were. Tired of fighting to be seen. To be validated. To be heard. But I was starting to become aware of a pattern. I heard stories of feeling erased. Excluded. I will never forget attending a session for Black Resident Directors led by good colleague Sam Prater. For me, it was the first time I had been in a space in which the lens of the work we do as educational professionals was completely different than my own. I listened, and I engaged, and I probably said some things that were erasing. The message, though, was clear and one story in particular hit home.

A black professional (I won’t use a name here because I don’t want to out them) shared how they advised the Black Student Union on their campus. This was around the time of #BlackLivesMatter really started to gain steam. The BSU wanted to do a rally on campus, and the students asked this advisor to be a speaker at the rall