I presented a workshop last week, and one of the activities that I asked the participates to engage in has stayed with me since. The activity was to identify an intercultural challenge you’ve experienced and to share that story with a partner. The partner than tells you, the storyteller, what values they hear being communicated. Your job, as the storyteller, is to then stay open to hearing from your partner the values identified, and consider whether you meant for those to be the values shared.
Because of this activity, I’ve now been hearing the stories that I share with others, and considering the values being communicated. (I highly recommend trying this activity at home, although doing so, is quite challenging.)
The institute at which I presented this workshop was the Harbor Institute’s Cross Cultural Fraternal Advisors Institute in Atlanta Georgia (check it out and register for next year’s institute here: http://www.theharborinstitute.com/ccfai.asp and https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2015-cross-cultural-fraternal-advisors-institute-tickets-11972290443). It was the first time for the institute, which is the first time I’ve ever participated in the first go around of a conference/institute/etc that wasn’t something I was creating from my own professional role on a college campus. It was an intense, rewarding, learning experience to say the least. I am quite grateful for the opportunity I received.
An aside: I mentioned in my last blog that it was going to be my first time in Atlanta beyond the airport. Now I can confidently say that I’ve been to the Atlanta airport, and to the Marriott Marquis Downtown. At this rate, it appears as though Atlanta is going to be a city I get to know building by building each time I visit.
I do know, however, that I wasn’t really there to “see” Atlanta, but rather I was there to be a part of an experience unlike many others I’ve attended. My saying that makes it sound as though I was more conscious of what the experience would be like than I was, which isn’t true. Yes, I was aware of the two sessions I would be facilitating, but I wasn’t sure exactly how the overall experience would go. I think that some of my unawareness of the atmosphere of the institute has to do with how much time, or shall I say how little time, I’ve spend considering (beyond research that I’ve read and interacting with students) what it means for members of Culturally-Based Greek-Letter Organizations to be advised by someone like me. I certainly think about it much more now as a faculty member in a preparation program, but I’ve only been doing that for three years if I also give myself the two years prior to becoming faculty that brings my “considering what this means” up to five years total, which really is not that much given that I’ve been working in the field for going on 14 years. What I mean by someone like me, is someone who is a White woman that is a member of a National Panhellenic Council organization….the description of someone like me is the description of most fraternity and sorority life advisors at institutions across the country.
So important to realize.
Seriously, I want to state again…I’ve spent minimal time given my professional career, beyond reading studies and various student interactions, considering what it means for Culturally-Based Greek-letter organizations to be advised by someone like me, and I don’t believe that I’m alone in that. I know that such organizations can often be the only place students feel welcome, especially at predominately White institutions, and I know some of the differences between my own organization and all other Greek-letter organizations. But I can see now how some of my own behaviors weren’t helping to successfully learn more about all of the organizations I was there to support, and I’ve come to this realization not just by participating in the advisors institute, but by engaging in the above storytelling activity I spoke about.
As a professional, I was hesitant to ask questions of the students because I was unsure if the language I was using was correct. I wanted Culturally-Based Greek-Letter Organizations to be at all of the same events that all the other Greek-Letter Organizations were at, even if I was asking the same four students over and over again to step up to the task, because I thought it would help them to feel included. I also though it would prove to others what Culturally-Based Greek-Letter organizations have to contribute. In essence, I was underestimating the students who joined Culturally-Based Greek-letter Organizations and I was placing on their experience my values of competition, community, and competence–without even realizing it! (This is not to say that Culturally-Based Greek-Letter Organizations don’t share these same values…but I had not asked). I was underestimating that they wouldn’t help me learn if I didn’t know the correct language to use, and I was setting up their worth as groups to be the same as other Greek-Letter Organizations as though all groups are the same. It is ironic to reflect back and see my behaviors and realize that they are connected to underestimating the students. One of my mentor’s once gave me advice, that I often still pass along to students, and that is to
“never underestimate the students”
yet, I can see how I was doing exactly that. Unfortunately, I can’t go back in time, and I don’t want to simply say that I will work to be more aware going forward. That sounds too simple. Too dismissive. I am grateful for my time at the institute this past week because it helped me to see how important it is to create spaces where such reflection can occur (including such reflection for myself) because it is through such reflection that true change can occur. I’m not sure that we do a good job of that as student affairs professionals. We blame time, energy, and other resources as to why we don’t spend time reflecting on the impact we have on our practice. Although all of those reasons maybe very true, I believe that we make time for the things we find important, and to be able to do that, we must see what we are currently viewing as important and determine if the values we are communicating and enacting are the values that we want to be communicating and enacting.