GatorCast Ep. 15: Equity in the Community - Examining Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (Part 1)
By College Relations, Media Services and the Office of the President, August 26, 2020
President Johnson: Welcome to Gatorcast, the official podcast of Green River College, where we share conversations with the community about topics that are relevant to you. I'm Suzanne Johnson, president of the college. My guest today is Dr. Kathy Obear, co-founder of the Social Justice Training Institute. Kathy Obear is known nationally for her work in diversity, equity and inclusion. We recorded this podcast several months before COVID-19 occurred. And if there was ever a time now with all the events that have happened in our country over the past number of months, that we have struggled with COVID-19, economic challenges, and our black lives matter movement, it is now. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Kathy Obear. Kathy Obear, I am so excited to have you on this podcast. I have been hoping to get you for an episode or two for Gatorcast for over a year since we started this. For our listeners out there at the college, you know, that equity is a core value of our institution and for our listeners that are outside of our college across the country, equity, diversity, inclusion are core features and themes within our college community. We have diverse workforce. We have a diversifying service area that our college serves. Our students are becoming progressively more diverse. And our goal is to have equity expressed at all levels and in all areas of our institution. Now, for those of you who are listening, saying equity, equity, what does this mean? Don't worry, Kathy Obear, is here today to talk about this and what better guests could I think of to bring into our booth, but you Kathy. You've dedicated your work and life to diversity, equity and inclusion. You run the Center for Transformation and Change. And for those who do equity work, you probably do know Kathy's name. Maybe you've had the pleasure of working with her in one way or another. She's at most conferences dealing with equity out there. She does a lot of executive coaching and an organizational workshop, short-term and longterm. So welcome, welcome Kathy to our podcast today.
Dr. Kathy Obear: I am delighted to be here. Thanks for having me.
President Johnson: Well, I'll tell you what, what we typically do on these podcasts, no matter who the guest might be, someone inside the college or outside the college, I always like to start with some questions about you as a person and your life journey. We have a lot of student listeners out there and they're always asking me, you know, oh, you're a college president, how do you become a college president? I mean, they're asking questions, not that they all wanna become a college president. But they're asking questions about how people end up in the careers and positions they have. So, these stories that I'm learning about when I have guests on are always fascinating to me, because it shows the diversity of a person's life story. So anyway, let's start from the beginning. Who are you? Where do you come from? Tell me a little bit about your life and your life journey to where you are today.
Dr. Kathy Obear: I grew up in suburb of Washington DC in the United States. As I look back, didn't realize at the time, it was an all white suburb. And literally when you went across the tracks and my mother said, lock your doors, that's when I saw the only folks of color when I was really young, except on TV. And so the class cut to the housing that was on the other side of the tracks, some students, couple of kids of color and white students quote, lived there. But I knew they came to my same elementary school and I, that story just popped into my mind because I was a happy go lucky kid playing outside, not paying attention, equity, inclusion. You know, I knew there were white and black and no other racial identities that I knew of in different class backgrounds, but we all were just kinda hanging out on the playground or learning together. I never realized that the learning groups, the reading groups that we were put into there was a racial, probably class bias and who got put where. So I grew up pretty naive, even though it was a 1960s and I saw all kinds of Civil Rights marches and dynamics. I saw Civil Rights workers, not quite slaughtered, but with the hoses down in Birmingham, Alabama, and so Vietnam, all those images. Watching movies about the US saving the world and killing all the Japanese. There were so many ways that I was getting taught that white was right, and folks of color were deficit less than, and I'm noticing I'm talking mostly about race, but that's the work I do in the world. But early on, I was relatively clueless. The folks that I thought were unfair, or those other whites that were being so brutal to the Civil Rights organizers and workers and Dr. King. But in my family, we were all good whites, even though there were no people of color in my life, literally. No one ever came to our house was a person of color. And so I grew up in a white, upper-middle-class up on the hill. So feeling that actually we were discriminated against or had less than because I had friends that had better clothes or their parents were doctors and lawyers. I was really noticing what other people had that I didn't from more of a marginalized space, whether it was as I got heavier in my junior high senior years and I noticed sizeism, as I started to recognize sexism, sexist comments, and not being able to be in the school play as the lion in the wizard of Oz, because I couldn't sing a low C, but the tin man couldn't sing it either. But he got as a young boy got selected. So just starting to see differential impact based on group identity, but it was always about what I didn't get or how I got discriminated against as opposed to how I was participating, perpetuating, colluding along. And so, I always wanted to be a teacher. And so I ended up going to college at a small Liberal Arts College on the Eastern shore of Maryland and came out with a teaching degree. I ended up going into student affairs quickly though. I never actually taught in a classroom after being student teaching, that's what it's called. I went right to grad school as going into counseling and guidance. But within a week of being there, I realized there was something called student personnel and student services. And as I met people and saw what they did, I'm like, ooh, I wanna do that, 'cause I've been in RA. So I ended up going into student affairs and still, at the individual level, I'm a good person, I don't have any biases. I wanted fairness, that's kind of one of my core values growing up. If something was unfair, and even to this day, it's usually the first place that I feel it in my body. But I did not understand the dynamics of ingroup, outgroup, privileged group, marginalized group, how systems structures were set up to privileged groups and create barriers for others. I just thought if you worked hard, I was taught that, I'm assuming we're similar ages. If you worked hard and you just pulled yourself by the bootstraps and anybody could make it. And I believe that hook line and sinker, and it was true for me. To my knowledge, I moved quickly academically, succeeded quotes. I moved up in several jobs quickly compared to my peers. And so I always attributed that to, I was just smarter and worked harder and didn't recognize that, oh, I might've gotten that promotion cause I'm an extrovert and charming and the glow of white privilege. So let me stop there cause I could keep going.
President Johnson: No, no, this is very informative and we're gonna pick up a lot of the crumbs that you're dropping there for some other questions I'd like to explore with you today. What led you-- Well, so you're mapping out that, you were in student services, student affairs world. How many years were you in higher education?
Dr. Kathy Obear: So after my masters, got a shout out the Buckeyes, Ohio State University. I then had seven years of work, a couple years still in residence life in a residence hall. And then at a community college, my next five years might translate into someone that's working with student activities, someone that's doing programming or leadership development, working with student groups. And so I did that for five years. And then in 1987, I went full time consulting.
President Johnson: 1987. So, you've been doing this for a very, very long time?
Dr. Kathy Obear: 32 full, and several years part time before that, 'cause it wasn't long after I got the second job that I realized, ooh, I like teaching and training. A lot of my work was administrative and supervision, which were not, I'm not saying I was horrible, but they were not my strengths. And as people saw me doing workshops at conferences, back then, at least for me in student affairs, I could sometimes get four to five workshops accepted and maybe some people still can, but I don't seem to. And so a lot of people would see me do regional workshops or national workshops, and they would ask me to start to come to their campus. I remember the first one was university in Northern Colorado. I was working here in Colorado State up in Fort Collins and I was just shocked that somebody wanted me to come speak. And it was my first indication that there was another way of being of service in the world than working just inside an organization. Now I notice, I just said just, here's what I believe is I'm supposed to be out doing consulting and training. And I just didn't know this was possible. And all my student affairs work gave me an incredible background of lots of skills and experiences that then I literally bring every day that I do a workshop, and my passion and my talent and universal, the universe gave me some skills and talents that I believe I'm better consulting than being an internal administrator. And if you wanna talk to any of my colleagues from 35 years ago, I think they will agree.
President Johnson: Okay, well, we'll do some background checks after I'm done with the interview today with you. So is 1987, was that around the time or is that the official sort of launch date for the Center for Transformation and Change?
Dr. Kathy Obear: Theoretically, I've had several different names. I think the first was the Human Advantage, and then Alliance for Change. What's different about both of those as I was an independent consultant, doing mostly trainings, mostly at colleges, universities, some K-12, some nonprofit, good bit of corporate through another consulting firm. And they were all mostly individual awareness in skill building. Some systemic organizational change. But after about, I don't know, 25 years doing this, I started really feeling there was something missing, at least in my work. And as I, even before that I'd watch, I'd come to a campus where it's a four-year or community college, and feel good about the work we were doing and talk about how they could do systemic change and culture and climate change. And then they'd call me to come back the next year to do the same workshop and I'm like, well, what have you done in the meantime? What are the policies and practices and how has the culture changed? And what does your data show about student success and graduation rates? And they're like, oh, we didn't really implement much of anything, you just do a really good workshop that people feel good when they leave. And I'm like, that's not what I wanna do in the world. I'm not saying that individual awareness and skill building isn't necessary, it's critical. But, it's not sufficient for really closing the achievement gaps and the opportunity gaps for our students, particularly those that have been so underserved by society and school districts and communities. The Center for Transformation and Change, that's maybe a five or six years ago, I realized that as I was getting into my mid-fifties, late fifties, I wasn't gonna be able to solve everything on my own. And I wanted to leave a legacy. And so what I did is I created an opportunity for more people to learn what I do and how I do it. And so to be honest, these last five years, I've put most of everything that I know into books, into virtual training programs that people can do online, into live executive coaching, where I can really help senior leaders apply tools and skills in the moment, whether it's getting themselves full of courage, unlearning some less useful attitudes and perspectives and skills and really thinking strategically. So, all that to say, a lot of my work is on my website and I give it a lot of as a way to people at no cost, so that more and more people can have the capacity skills and the tools to continue to train others, to individually create a work environment and services to those we serve that really supports success for the full breadth of differences. And that really helps create the policies, the practices and the culture for success. So that's what I do.
President Johnson: That's what you do. Just, just that. And so, would that be your answer to the question, if somebody, you know, where you're sitting at the airport and I know you travel quite a lot for your work, and so a casual conversation comes up with your neighbor at the gate, and they say, oh, what do you do? What's your answer?
Dr. Kathy Obear: I'd say I help leaders and organizations, create inclusive environments where people can succeed and really support the success of the full breadth of folks that are currently in organizations and those we serve. And then I'll say if they're they nod, well, sometimes I just say, I help organizations dismantle racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, so they can be truly inclusive, socially, just organization. So that's, if I have a sense, they can hear that language, but as you know, even on your campus, most likely some folks can hear that and be excited and others hear that and feel scared or feel resistance. So, I do adjust what I say and how I say it, depending upon my sense of the person I'm talking to.
President Johnson: Sure. Well, let's talk about some terms, 'cause I know we have a very eclectic listening audience. We have students at our college, we have students at other institutions. We have staff and faculty, employees at our institution. People in our communities listen, and across the country, we actually have listeners from across the country. They're probably all my personal friends. Anyway, but we have a varying degree of knowledge and understanding of terms that have already been expressed today in our conversation. And I know we're gonna be talking in depth about some of them later on as our interview continues. So, I thought it might be helpful if we take a few of these words, and sort of define them for our audience so that we are working from sort of the same working knowledge in terms of what these words convey or imply. And one of them is inclusion or as you said, inclusive environments. So let's take that one. What does that mean to build an inclusive environment?
Dr. Kathy Obear: Now, especially that one, you'll find different definitions. For me, what I talk about is creating a work environment, a classroom environment, a campus environment, where all people feel valued, they belong. That their voices will be seriously considered. They have a chance to give input into decisions and practices and policies. Their perspectives and life experiences are considered when people are creating environments. And that people intentionally think about what could be some barriers and obstacles that in a community college experience, for instance, someone who is an immigrant and been not in the US for the last year, what could be some barriers in our language, in our practices, in our policies and just the culture and climate that could have that student feel that this is not a place for them. That we welcome them, but it's not at belonging. We didn't consider them as we were revising and co-creating a real inclusive environment. So for me, inclusion is about folks recognizing how most campuses, have been set up by people in privileged identities, for people in privileged identities. You could look at the history of higher ed and the current dynamics on most campuses. But even today, you have many well-intended people who are creating practices, culture, climate, classroom environments, that unless they're thinking about it, will create in their own image. And so people more like them, we'll probably find, for go to classroom, articles and videos and readings that reflect their life experience. But if a person like me, white cis-gender, middle-upper-middle class, lesbian, female identified person, I could keep going US born. If I'm not intentional, I have to cognitively think, how do I create inclusive classroom? Who are all the people I invited to be on panels? What's the content? Am I really talking about the full breadth of issues? Will people see themselves in the videos and in the authors and in the content, or that I have people read in the activities and the assignments I have people do. And am I eliminating barriers to learning? So am I having an accessible classroom from language and accessibility for different people, different disabilities, physical emotional learning mental. I could keep going, but that's what inclusion is. Who are all the people we're here serving, or need to be serving.
President Johnson: And then diversity, that's a word also that's used frequently, but can have many meanings depending on who's using the word or who's hearing the word. So how would you define diversity?
Dr. Kathy Obear: And you probably have done this already at Green River, but I think it's an important for like an inclusion change team and the top leaders with a whole community conversation to explore, not take a year doing it. But you know, a couple months, what are all the different ways we could make meaning of these terms? And here's how we're gonna make meaning. And there are so many campuses that have done this, that having somebody pull from 10 different websites. When I was starting in this work, this work has shifted significantly since 1980, mid-eighties, when I started doing it on the side, early 80s. Diversity then was the only term that I knew existed. Now, other folks were talking about oppression, racism, classism, I just wasn't paying as much attention. But most campuses, weren't talking about much, much less diversity. And when we did it back then, it really was everything, from what are all the differences can't we get along, let's value each other. Today, I think diversity has a very different and critical meaning, which is by demographics, who are the folks we are intended to be serving? Who are we serving? And who are we missing? So it really is, if the metaphor someone came up with this, who's at the party? Or who's at the table? Or who should be given our context of our region, our state, and the legislative imperative? So diversity would be the group memberships by disability status, class background, race, educational level, sexuality, gender identity, ethnicity, nationality, immigration status, religion and spirituality, I could keep going. So, when I do work with folks, I have something called the group identity cards. And I think I'm up to 36 or seven different categories of difference like transportation status, criminal background, survivor status, housing status, food availability. Those last five, were given to me by folks on community colleges that said, great strategy Kathy, to have the breadth of differences. But let us tell you a little bit more about the students we serve. And pulling out some of the less common thoughts when people say diversity, I wouldn't have thought about transportation status. So that's a category of difference, a diversity that if someone we just lived in New York city and my wife worked at a community college. And when she would hear some of her colleagues, mostly white privileged by class, say these students, they're just not paying attention in the classroom. She'd say, well, most of the students I know here are spending two hours to get three buses, one subway, and they're still having to walk a half mile. And then when they leave, they go home and they're doing parental care, elder care, as well as childcare. And they're doing all their academic work. Plus they have a job to support the extended family as well. So, when she told me that I realized I wasn't paying attention to the multiple intersecting identities, the differences. That particularly community college students often have four or five marginalized identities, if not more. How do we pay attention to all of those differences as we are creating classrooms, student services, working through financial aid admissions? So differences is, who's at the party and helping an organization, a small group, whoever it is? I really identify the full breadth of all the differences, privilege and marginalized among the students we're serving and the faculty and staff administrators that are on our campus.
President Johnson: You know, elaborating on the meanings of these words becomes so important because, when we think about being a community college and our communities that we serve as Green River does, the diversity of our population has tremendously increased rapidly on all dimensions, as many dimensions as you've already articulated and those that haven't been expressed out loud. And our student population, we have nearly 18,000 students at least headcount, that come to our institution. They vary on a multitude of aspects of identity and physical being. And so to have an awareness of diversity, as being those things, which are visible and those things, which are not, and so many are not visible. And to build an environment, which is inclusive to all of that variation, seems essential in the context of being able to fulfill the mission of a community college, no matter where the community college is and no matter what the community is, that college serves. That's a key feature of what we have been continuing to build at Green River in the context of building a culture, culture of caring. I know we have a mutual friend, Russell Lowery-Hart who uses that phrasing often, a culture of caring in the context of the wonderful work that the faculty and staff at Amarillo Community College are engaged in, in striving to have an environment where every student who comes to us feels that they belong. They're seen, and they're heard, and they can succeed at this institution and they can name one or more people that would care, if they didn't come back the next day. It seems so essential. And of course, as an organization, college is still an organization, right? It's still an entity that has hundreds of employees. We need that inclusive feeling and that honoring of diversity within the culture. You know, we are the culture that students come in and out of. And so if we are not an inclusive work environment, that can diminish our capacity to be an inclusive learning environment for our students. So I really appreciate your elaboration on these words, these terms, they're used so often, it seems like more often each day, and sometimes they can lose their meaning or value in terms of what it's really indicating, that we're striving to build. So let's tackle the next one, which will lead into a whole different angle of conversation. Equity.
Dr. Kathy Obear: A colleague of mine shared a metaphor once, 'cause I grew up and I think it might be in our constitution or something here in the US about equal, you know, everything is equal. And I believed that if things were equal, that was enough. What I didn't realize is, whatever metaphor you wanna use, literally, I was born on third base given my privileged status by race, disability status, class, extroverted. I could keep going, US born, citizen. I use English in a way that people assume I'm smart. And so, I was just born into so many privileged identities that I, if we use the baseball analogy, was born on third base, whereas most folks may be, get to be born on home plate, but a lot of folks aren't even in the stadium yet. So that metaphor of how was society set up, that some folks just have more opportunity access, support, and assumptions of brilliance so that my success, the system was set up for me. So equity, is really about thinking, huh, who are the systems set up for? And is it really fair? And I love the metaphor that I've seen recently on Facebook, my source of most good things, though some horrible things as well of a bike analogy, that if a company only made one bike, that I grew up on a two-seater, I mean a one-seater that fit my body when I was four and a half feet tall, that worked for me then, but as I grew, I needed a new bike. So that's one point that as we grow, we need new programs, systems, services to meet our needs. But the idea of what if somebody doesn't know how to balance, you need a two-seater. Or what if someone uses a wheelchair? And so they might have a bike where they move it with their arms. Someone might want a bike that pulls behind, a place where they can put two young children. So, the metaphor that one size does not fit all. And then in fact, we have to think about what is equitable? What are people's needs, by group membership, life experience, and then how to create systems that are fair and equitable. Not equal, because the same bike will not work. How I used to teach in a classroom was very exclusive to folks that thought like me were extroverts, talked a lot, thought as quickly as I do. And we're willing to put it out in the room. I teach somewhat differently today, thinking there are different learning styles, different ways of being. So equitable, who were all the people by diversity. What might be some different needs, not less than, just what are just some basic different needs based on their life experiences and how they get seen and treated in society. Therefore, how do we change our practices and systems to be equitable and fair? The other thing I'll say is California I believe, has a 20, 25 mission to close the equity gap, achievement gap, opportunity gap, different languages used. Because what the data has shown in my assumption is it's probably similar to Green River, that folks that are low income, immigrant status, folks of color, particularly if they have one or both of those identities, often are not graduating at the same rate in the similar amount of time as others. And so intentionally, not having a deficit model or blaming the victim, but looking at equity, what are our practices, services, classroom dynamics? How are we supporting people's development and growth, based on group membership to have equity in graduation, whether it's a degree, a certification, equity.
President Johnson: So I think this is a really important construct for consideration, because so oftentimes individuals will say, I treat everyone the same. And that would, from their vantage point, then determine the outcomes, which is for those who work hard enough and who want it bad enough, they'll succeed. And those who don't, won't. It relates to this concept that you were bringing up earlier in terms of, your growing up years and believing that any individual who wants it badly enough, works hard enough, can achieve the American dream. And it being based on this concept of equality, the same for everybody. That's a different concept than equity, 'cause as you're pointing out, not everybody is the same. Not everybody is starting with the same advantages or assets or strengths than others. So if everyone is treated the same, it actually renders an inequality and an unfairness.
Dr. Kathy Obear: You reminded me of my graduate work. So my doctoral work, I remember one class where the professor only lectured, and that's not how I learn. I would listen, I would take notes. He'd assigned readings. I remember coming in early in the class and raising my hand and say, could you talk about this again? Because I read it and I didn't understand it. And he said, if you'd read the material, you would understand it. And I share that story because folks listening may be like, I was, I was like, I'm gonna teach the way I wanna teach, or I'm gonna do student services, the way I think is the right way, without realizing that not everybody learns or experiences or has the same needs. And so, he was teaching in the way everybody, but I didn't learn that way. And I did drop that class. But other classes were set up to be debates and I hate debate. It's just not how I learn. And I also find people raise their voices and it becomes an either or win-win, I mean, win-lose. So looking at our style of engaging, teaching, coaching, I agree, equity.
President Johnson: So equity is really centered on the hope and the goal of having everyone achieve or succeed in the context of whatever their life plan or goal or objective might be. The path that they take to achieve that equitable outcome from one person to another will look different. Some might be more independent in that journey. Some might need 20 or 25 different supports in that journey. Some might need something in between the two. That's where the meeting individuals, where they are, and in terms of what their needs are, allows for that equitable outcome.
Dr. Kathy Obear: Just had a thought, if we're talking to faculty, I remember when I was doing adjunct teaching, everybody had to write a paper and take written tests in the moment. And then I started noticing other faculty were creatively finding ways that people could do the final assignment in a video. They could develop a play that they put on for the class. And so, it really helped me realize that people learn and also demonstrate competence in many different ways. And so why have I only this very narrow way of saying what intelligence means and how you can demonstrate learning? So, yes, I agree. Equitable, is how can people best learn? How can people best demonstrate the competence? And not just have it one size fits all.
President Johnson: So let's then talk about diversity, equity and inclusion in relation to community colleges. I know you've done a variety of different work and efforts at colleges across the country. Some of them community colleges, what is this work look like at a community college? And why is this so important?
Dr. Kathy Obear: When I went through student affairs and higher ed early on, I only had experience with four year schools. Some public, some private. And I didn't realize my elitist classes belief that it was better to go to four-year than to go to a community college. Even though, I took calculus at the community college during my senior year of high school. I just always had this class attitude. And it wasn't until my wife started working in community colleges, I think she's had 25 years or so, that I really started understand the incredible mission of community colleges, that actually when I'm on four-year schools, I tell them to really partner with the community colleges in their areas, or to get on websites of community colleges across the nation to get practices and policies and systems that need to change. Community colleges in some ways have been set up and are doing incredible work with students who are now beginning to show up more in four year schools and dropping out because most four year schools do not have equity inclusion built into their way of doing things. And community colleges, because they were set up to fill this incredible gap, whether it's rural students, first generation students, to college, immigrants students, students of color, students with disabilities, I could keep going, but the mission is really to serve all in the community and not just the few that can make it through the systems that we say, show intelligence, when we know that SATs, GREs, ACTs actually are so racially and class biased. So, community colleges in and of themselves, mostly not all, but mostly seem to have already incredible diversity, as you've already said, among I'll bet, 20 to 30 different categories of difference and many folks with one plus marginalized identity. And so I think to me, colleges that I've worked at, attract staff and faculty who really wanna work to close the achievement gap and provide support and services to folks that in the US and who come into the US from other countries have been underserved and have had discrimination and oppression as part of their life experience. I'm not saying everyone, but that seems to be a true pattern. And so instead of being at an R1 where publishing and getting tenure and being a national well-known might be the driving force. I'm not generalizing, but that does seem to be somewhat. Community colleges may have folks that are incredible researchers and incredible speakers at conferences, and yet I have found that faculty and staff and leaders, generally share this passion for learning and teaching, as opposed to only research and then leaving the teaching to teaching assistance and others. So the opportunities for staff, faculty, administrators, and community colleges to leverage that passion and core values. To then also realize, 'cause here's the gap I see. Many people I run into say, we have an incredibly diverse student population we've arrived. Without looking at what are the achievement gaps? What are the climate survey data telling us? What's the revolving door among staff and faculty, particularly of color? What are we noticing about--? Are we truly living up to our core mission? And so reminding people about what our mission and passion is, and then really gathering a good bit of data to see how close are we to achieving our mission. That's been where I think some community colleges begun to make some headway. Whether they're looking at poverty, whether they're looking at race, whether they're looking at immigration status, all of the above intersecting first-generation to college, immigrant students. So having many lenses of diversity, inclusion lenses, as you're analyzing who is coming, who is succeeding, who's not, what's the gap. And instead of blaming people, deficit model, or they're just not working hard enough. Truly inclusive equitable organization starts with, let's make sure that there are no artificial barriers to success, so that if someone does not succeed here, according whatever their definition is, is 'cause they literally did not put in the time and effort. But we're gonna make sure that there's, we're not doing anything to create barriers or obstacles, and we're creating the supports. Community colleges have not had the attention. I don't think that four-year schools have over the years. And I wonder if part of that is I could be wrong. I think folks are understaffed at some level, if not a large level. And under resourced by the state. And so folks are just doing so much and there's so much need, that it's hard to also be thinking strategically longterm, analyzing policies, practices, ways of providing our services in classrooms. So, community colleges are beginning, I think, at least the ones I've been working with much more about, yes, we have incredible diversity here. now let's look at issues of equity, inclusion for everyone or what some people are calling social justice, but that's what I mean by inclusion.
President Johnson: And for the listeners here, Kathy, actually has been doing some work with the Green River College and has worked with me for a number of years now. And I know is having an impact and how we think about and work toward a more equitable institution at all levels. Kathy, I'm wondering if you have noticed any particular themes that come across in your mind, in terms of some of the obstacles that community colleges face in doing this work. I know you work across the country. So not just particular state or region. Are there any themes, some common obstacles that seem to emerge in doing this DEI work at a community college as an organization?
Dr. Kathy Obear: Well the first place, I wanna go is personal. When I started attending some of these kind of workshops, 35, 40 years ago. I was like, you're talking about other people because I'm a good student affairs person. So I think one of the key obstacles is to help individuals get more willing, to be a learner and to look at their own practice, to look at their own classrooms, the services they're setting up, how they're doing registrar, how they're supervising custodial staff. So to really be willing to say what I'm doing is pretty good or maybe not bad, but what more could I be doing? So getting people into that growth mindset, that learning mode to not well design workshops, as well as supervisory opportunities. And I have people go to what up in your state, Dr. Robin DiAngelo from Seattle talks about this fragility. She particularly talks about white fragility. And my guess is she also says this can be any kind of privileged group fragility. So at the individual level, folks that believe like I did for so long and still do, I'm a good person, I have good values and intent. And a lot of what I do is useful. But I'll turn around, and when I get asked to look at something or feedback, or someone is feeling disgruntled with a workshop I do, it's easy for me to go into defensiveness and yell, but, and they're the problem as opposed to, well, maybe I didn't meet their needs, what can I learn here? So that's a huge part. And that's where training, education and development, professional development, programs set up, not blame, shame, judge, but to really develop focuses, critical analysis of what are we doing, that's useful. What could we be doing more or without that blame shame? So that's one of the obstacles. One I alluded to earlier is just resources. And unfortunately, a trap is to go there and say, we don't have enough people, we don't have enough money. The state just cut our budget. Our students are so needy, we can't, and all of that may be true. And any organization I've worked with there is still potential to develop the internal capacity of a cadre of trainers that can go out and do six trainings a year, not 100, but six or a cadre of what I call inclusion partners that can be embedded into different units, to help leaders really strategically think through what needs to happen around policies and climate training of chairs. Or a few people who are faculty that can help other faculty think about how to create inclusive classrooms. So there's always opportunities, even within the context of the resource, lack or seemingly lack that most community colleges seem to be running into. Another barrier, is if senior leaders think they know everything. And I know when I was a manager, I had that sense of arrogance. Well I'll speak for me, I have so many privileged identities. It took me a long time to get back to humility, that even at 63, I am keeping learning all the time and I have to, if I wanna keep up. So working with folks of all ages, but I find as people have more experience and, or get older, we tend to resist more. And I don't know about you in Green River, but I'm finding not only the students across ages that are coming in, have much more experience with diversity, equity and inclusion than folks, sometimes like me and even people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. And so some of the generational dynamics, I was just in a workshop last month, we were doing racism and it was a whiteness affinity space. And the voices of the two youngest people and the two people with the lowest quote status, who had the most to lose by speaking up and speaking out, their voices were the most crystal and useful in the group. And so, how do we not have this mindset that age and experience means we're smarter, better and we should be the leaders, but instead shift to go, huh, how can we be partnering with students and find out how they can be leaders with us? And the staff and faculty of all ages, but particularly some of these 20 and 30 year olds are coming in with competencies and life experiences that some of us in, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, didn't have. Another barrier if we go even farther out, our state legislatures. And again, I don't know enough about Washington, but I get to enough states where the legislature's, if you try to do something innovative around equity inclusion on a campus, a state legislature, will call up and demand you to stop or write something in the paper, to get lots of people voting people against the community college. And so, the community, if you're in a community that really values differences and sees-- I was just literally on a call with someone in Canada. And there's practices there, as you might know, that new immigrants or new Canadians, whatever language they're using, the encouragement is to go into Northern Canada, where there are more of a rural area, fewer people, younger people are living. And so, as we were developing a workshop for the whites and Canadian-born folk, especially how to create environments for immigrants of color, that and that are not racist and xenophobic and anti-immigrant, to really help people see the value. And so does your community really see the value of immigrants, of people who are currently low income and contributing in many ways, but not seen as a value to society in the same way, someone who is upper-middle class might be. And are people who, particularly by class and race disadvantaged in society, really feeling like they belong in the community. So I think some of those are some of the barriers, because when an organization like yours starts to talk about equity, inclusion, and people with some privileged identities and some marginalized feel like we're just experiencing prejudice all the time. Why should we create a place for other people to feel valued if I'm not feeling valued? So a trap can be only working one issue as opposed to all the intersecting issues. 'Cause a rural white male cis-gender, 52 year old person has the same, right and deserves the same kind of education as someone who's grown up in Auburn and person of color and came from a middle class background. I think that's one of the struggles is how do we bridge some of those divides that we're seeing in our nation? And how do we bring people together in a campus when there are so many ways people are feeling disenfranchised.
President Johnson: A lot to think about there with the different layers, from the personal to the resources to external communities. My experience in Washington has been a very positive one in the context of the legislature and support for our community and technical college systems. So, happy not to have any known experiences of the sort that you described in terms of state legislatures.
President Johnson: Hi listeners, this concludes part one of my conversation with Kathy Obear. The following episode, will feature part two, where we dig deeper into the conversation on equity in the community and equity as an important element of every community college. That's next time on GatorCast, have a great day.