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Sunday, August 4, 2019

A new dimension of empathy

This is part II of the lessons I took away from the Executive Leadership Academy...

The other surprising and amazing aspect of the ELA was meeting the other fellows, many of whom were also women and people of color. Simply being in a room with so many people who are leaders on their campuses, who are deeply committed to diversity and inclusion, and who are not afraid to talk about that commitment in the context of their roles as leaders was a first for me. Again, I’m not sure I can explain it well but I am pretty sure it was the first time I have been in a room where I felt completely accepted, even part of the “in crowd”, not IN SPITE of being a woman of color who cares about diversity and inclusion, but BECAUSE of it. That feeling, in itself, has given me a ton to think about. In particular, I keep wondering: is this what white people (or at least white men) feel all the time, maybe without even being aware of it?

There is a quote I like that goes something like, “When you are accustomed to privilege, equity can feel like loss”. When I first heard that, I thought it captured in such a simple way the source of so much of the anger and violence we have seen from certain groups in this country in the last few years. And I thought I understood it. But while I may have been able to understand it on some intellectual level, I have to say that a big part of me only gets it on an intellectual level – I don’t think I have ever actually felt that same loss. Not that I don’t experience privilege in many ways, but I don’t believe I have ever felt threatened, less special, when that privilege has been extended to others.

But I keep thinking about how I felt for a brief moment at the ELA, and how I might feel about the world if that feeling were my norm and then that norm were threatened. I honestly have no idea if this is an appropriate parallel, but I believe it has added a new layer to the empathy I feel for those who are pushing back against all the diversity initiatives on my campus that I am so excited about. That has reinforced my belief that to be successful, we need to make sure we are truly being inclusive. At the same time, it has also added a new dimension to my motivation to make sure these initiatives are wildly successful, so that what I experienced does become my (and every other person’s) norm…

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