As I mentioned in my bio and post Find New Paths to Explore, I work in higher education. If anybody has been paying attention to the news on this industry, you are aware that colleges and universities across the United States recently determined or still are determining if they will offer courses in person, online, or in a hybrid model. This week in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the article Colleges Hoped for an In-Person Fall. Now the Dream is Crumbling. describes how this field is pivoting with its Fall 2020 plans as COVID-19 cases surge across the country.
This past week, I have spoken to colleagues across the country and have heard of the wide range of ways in which colleges and universities will offer teaching and support services. Through our dialogues, I have heard a wide variety of thoughts and emotions on their respective institutions’ plans for the fall.
One colleague in this field told me she had been vocal about her disagreement with her institution’s plans to reopen. I will not name her institution or location, but it does have a large, dense population. Furthermore, she noted that many of her students come from racial groups (Black and Brown communities) that have been hardest hit by COVID-19.
When she described exactly what she had said in work meetings, I noted that she was being more vociferous compared to other people who had spoken with me. Other people might have shared her sentiments, but they were not sharing them in bold public statements.
Her response? She is a White lady so she can get away with it. She noted that others did not like it, but but she knew she needed to use her White woman privilege to advocate for safety on this matter. Although she had access to a car for driving to her institution, she knew that many of her colleagues and students did not have this luxury; many would have to rely on crowded public transportation. Based on her lived experiences, she stated that she can get away with being vocal in a way that others cannot. This is how she is using her power.
Her awareness of her privilege and interest in leveraging it to speak up for her colleagues and students reminded me of my post What Will You Do with Your Power? In this post, I wrote about another colleague in my industry. She also is a White woman and solicited consultation from me on how to increase diversity and inclusion––especially of Black people—in a networking group that she leads.
I always have held both of these colleagues with high esteem, but I have increased respect for them in light of their genuine interest in harnessing their power to amplify the voices of people who are marginalized.
Across the country, many employers and professional associations are brainstorming how they can show that they are being more diverse, inclusive, and equitable. This week, I attended the virtual panel Racism as a Determinant of Health organized by the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE). During this session, the panelists laughed about how many organizations are asking Black and Brown people to speak at events left and right ever since the George Floyd case made headlines. They were openly commenting on how obvious this shift is. They also emphasized how people collectively can promote institutional, structural, and systemic change on more profound levels.
How will you use your voice to promote institutional, structural, and systemic change? Workshops and panels increased diverse representation are progress; however, as the panelists at NADOHE commented about the dramatic increase of Black and Brown people being asked to speak at events, how will you promote diversity, equity, and inclusion beyond these workshops and panels?
There is a point where the public will shift its attention from the speakers at your events and assess your organizational structure and culture more closely. They will examine who works for your organization, who occupies formal leadership roles, who stays long at your organization, whose voice is amplified in meetings, and what types of policies and practices your organization promotes. Ultimately, these are the details that people will remember most after waves of workshops and panels come and go.
What do you want people to remember about how you used your voice?