From LinkedIn Article https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/reflections-aacu-conference-terry-watson/
I am blessed to bring Crawl, Walk, Run to the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) Conference on Diversity, Equity, and Student Success and to represent Penn State World Campus. The theme, Can We Handle Truth, spoke not only to the need to be together, conversing, strategizing, and hopefully collaborating but also to the elephant in the room, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (DEIB) being attacked throughout the country.
The keynote speakers charged us with simple directives. Mary Ann Villarreal (Vice President for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, University of Utah; Chair, AAC&U Board of Directors) reminded us to find time to rest and space to rejuvenate ourselves; to work in collaboration with one another and to develop new tools and practices. Not all old problems can be solved with old solutions. Michelle Asha Cooper (Vice President for Public Policy and Executive Director of Lumina's Washington, D.C. Office; Former Deputy Undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Education; Former President and Chief Executive Officer, Institute for Higher Education Policy) reminded us to "seek truth," no matter how hard it may hide. In a world where facts are no longer valued, history is being watered down, and civility is being demonized, "seek truth."
I enjoyed every session I attended and took away from it enough to re-spark this DEIB spirit in me. Two of the key points I want to highlight are:
Find the courage to talk about culture and build authentic relationships and trust. Be brave and step outside your comfort zone. A messy process equals unlearning. -Speaking Their Truth: Activating Studen Agency in Stand-Up Comedy Class
I love the advice to create brave spaces as well as safe spaces. -Advancing Social Justice in Higher Education: Perspective from Black Executive Administrators.
Although I missed the session on Banned books because it conflicted with another session, I was able to meet with the facilitators and have a wonderful conversation.
During my session, Crawl, Walk, Run: Moving Towards Inclusion and Belonging, I felt the love, the energy, and especially the vulnerability. Thanks to my colleague, Amanda Holdren, for helping out. Much love! Congrats to the folks who walked away with signed copies of my book; that connection was real. #8713 (inside joke).
So like I always do, here is my immediate self-reflection.
If you are uncomfortable with racism, ableism, sexism, or whatever “ism” you find yourself surrounded by, ask yourself, how and when will you make those “isms” uncomfortable around you?
So often, we are told to "wait" or "give it time." We are told or make space for others, not allowing the opportunity to make space for ourselves. The view is always the same during my four corners activity, which I have done multiple times. We are committed to the work but need help demanding the space around us to do the same. We can take the internal journey, infrequently visited and rarely traveled, but what does our final destination look like?
Show them who we are because the cost of silence is a burden too great to bare. Each story that was shared throughout my presentation and other sessions clarified this point.
Invoke your curiosity, and create space for others to pursue their curiosity. Be the love in the area when it's needed most.
Make sure to find time to reflect and re-identify your core. This work can be tiresome, but it is so necessary.
I loved my experience with individuals committed to bringing a sense of belonging to their campuses, and I look forward to AAC&U future gatherings.
About the author
Terry Watson is a professional speaker, author, and trainer specializing in disability equity in education, racial justice, and law enforcement. Mr. Watson has more than 15 years of working in higher education and is the founder of Strategies for Justice, the host of Moses' People Speak, and the author of Welcome to the Sick Mind of a Sane Person: Deconstructing Racism and White Supremacy.