Diversity Training (First of MAAANNYYY)!

The much anticipated and much feared section finally arrived… DIVERSITY TRAINING!
I say much anticipated because it looked out to be a great section that is different from the rest, very much applicable, in a fellow counselor’s words “Giving us the tools to use all the information that’s been given to us.” At this point, as through most of the day, I’m in a state where the idea of “Suspension of Judgment” seems to really take effect. (Although i’m wondering whether it might not be a mind for of apathy, but possibly more on that later). Presenter – Frances E. Kendall – Ph.D. (Notice the degree… There was some deliberation about that in the halls afterwards)

Our day started with an introduction and a “Setting of the Ground Rules”. Francie highlighted how groups might look homogeneous across a group, yet be very diverse within the group itself, which linked with some of my reasoning about identity. Its interesting to note how, to use myself as an example, I might be placed into a “white male” stereotype, which I probably am, yet by background is very much different from many other persons placed in this category, and how this shapes my viewpoint.

Francie One
Originally uploaded by njoubert.

Goals of this section

Francie identified that a major goal of this section of training, and what is asked of us throughout the section, is “identifying when hot buttons gets pushed, and being able to sit back and work out your position on the subject first, before initiating a response immediately”. In relation to our work during CalSO, especially the Bear Territory section, and throughout life, situations might arise where we as counselors are put on the spot in a situation where we might feel extremely uncomfortable. As representatives of the university and employees working as counselors to assist new students, it is often necessary to be able to do this to effectively handle these situations – at least, that is what I believe Francie implied and what I tend to agree with.

I believe Communication Skills is another goal of this section, and this idea is echoed by several other counselors. Especially our work that involves situations where we work with out Co-facilitator might depend on us being able to communicate our needs, emotions, opinions or knowledge.

Example: During bear territory, a queer counselor starts the session by opening for observations, and a counselee responds with “There seems to be a lot of Gay people living here… I don’t want to live with Gay people! I don’t associate with Gays, and I don’t like them”. What do you do? How do you respond? How do you work the situation that your co-fac is possibly not able to handle this conversation? Do you know the co-fac well enough that you do know this, or is it an assumption? What do you do if there is consent in the rest of the group? What if the rest of the group harshly puts down this student?

Another Example: During bear territory in an Engineering CalSO, the group is talking about gender struggles, and a counselee talks about the lack of girls in Engineering. What if a male student responds that they don’t really belong in Engineering. Or a female student talks about how she believes she needs to flaunt her body to the faculty to get somewhere? How do we handle these situations, and how do we work with out co-fac if this comes up?

Ground Rules (and Tools) (and Definitions…)

What environment and tools do we need to facilitate successful conversation about the “hot topics” in our society, especially in the context of Privilege. Right here I need to stop dead in my tracks and consider the construct of privilege. In this context (which took me a while to process and understand), privilege refers to White Privilege in almost all the cases. As was given to us in our handout:

White Privilege is a system that grants unearned benefits, power, access to resources and influence, to white people based purely on the color of skin. The Random House Dictionary (1993) defines privilege as “a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only be a person beyond the advantages of most.”

Interesting, isn’t it? It was quite a different meaning than my personal definition of privilege, but none-the-less, I can adopt and apply it as necessary.

Now that we’re back on track, we can look at some of the tools and rules we need to discuss these issues. We had a little “scream out an answer” session (as I like to call it) to get some ideas floating about, which I nicely condense here:

  • Talk TO a person, not ABOUT a person (Confidentiality inside and out)
    • We discussed triangulation – the appearance of a indirect route of information if personal (or professional) issues between two bodies is communicated to a third party instead of communicated between the two bodies involved.
  • Suspension of Judgment
    • Slowing down the whole communication process, and listening before judging.
  • Respect
    • You might not agree with statements, but being willing and able to (at least) listen to them.
  • Flexibility with new knowledge and experience
    • Dropping all assumptions!
  • Not presuming an understanding
    • See the differences between your experiences and the communicated situation or viewpoint. Knowing that you might not understand this person’s issue even if it sounds similar to your own situation.

There ground rules were laid down partially in response to the interesting little chain of events that I call the “Intent-Impact dialectic” (because dialectic is such a cool word!)

Our Intent dictates our Behavior, which affects out Impact on other people.

We are responsible for all three parts of this chain of events, but we might have an Impact not dictated by our Intent because of various differences. It is even quite possible that someone else does not even need a response from me at all. This leads us directly to what is probably my most insightful section of the day…

Platinum Rule of Diversity

Do unto others as they want to be done unto.

How do we know what they want to have done unto? Ask them!

“What would you want me to do with this?”

“How can I help you” (ideal!)

“I am here if you need me” (following up)

Social Constructs

Francie talked about race and ethnicity as social constructs – completely made-up and, upon probing – also seen as a negative part of society. Specifically, she mentioned race as “a social construct to keep those in power in power”. We first discussed culture, ethnicity and race, and Francie led us to the conclusion that Culture is something a person associated with, and ethnicity and race is a given, born-with characteristic. Many of her ideas pointed to the constructs our society uses, but I was unsure how exactly she labels the majority of ideas in our culture as these negative social constructs. I believe that culture gives us the context in which communication can happen. That, because we mutually abstract out our [mutual] experiences, we achieve a context within which communication is possible, especially on a comfortable level.

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