Happenings, book reviews, new publications, upcoming events, the latest from the blog and more.
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HCG is a broad-based group of trainers, teachers and experts from multiple disciplines committed to deep diversity, equity and social justice. The purpose of our newsletter is to share what we're up to and to highlight resources, organizations and folks in the struggle working for a more equitable and healthy world. We are so thankful to be in community with you and  welcome your feedback.  If you have content you would like to share with our online learning community of over 1,500 people, please send it our way.

“To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination.”  ―
bell hooks, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope
Table of Contents
  • HCG Highlight - Dr. Heather Hackman featured on Current Conversations with Robert Con Davis-Undiano.
  • Featured Upcoming HCG Presentations & Events - Hope to see you at the 2017 Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Conference/Expo & the YWCA Racial Justice Summit.
  • Featured Organization - The Facilitating Racial Equity Collaborative & Overcoming Racism Conference.
  • Conferences & Events We Support - A list of recommendations for upcoming conferences and events focused on racial, economic, social, environmental and food justice.
  • Recommended Resources - Videos, blog posts, podcasts, current research & other links we've learned from and liked recently! Let us know if you have something to add, or like our HCG Facebook page for more of this kind of content.
  • Book Review - "Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America" by Michael Eric Dyson, Reviewed by Dr. Heather Hackman
  • Climate Change Corner - "The Uninhabitable Earth: Hyperbolic Claims or Sobering Wake-Up Call?” by Dr. Heather Hackman
  • Training Tidbits - "Elevating Dialogue by Building Common Ground”
    by Dr. Heather Hackman
Current Conversations with Robert Con Davis-Undiano is a one-on-one forum featuring people who are making a difference in the world—scientists, educators, humanists, writers, and artists. The goal is to focus on people who function as “bridge builders,” or people in the culture who are making important connections between areas of knowledge. Check out this 38-minute interview with Dr. Heather Hackman.
Featured Upcoming HCG Presentations & Conference Workshops
“To Come Together, We Must Transform What’s Divided Us: Utilizing a Social Justice Lens for Collective Campus Sustainability Work”

Pre-Conference Institute with Dr. Heather Hackman

October 15
8:30 am - 4:30 pm

2017 Racial Justice Summit
Madison, WI

This year's summit will focus on  building collective liberation through 3 themes: Othering and Belonging, Racism without Racists, and Revolutionary Love.

Dr. Hackman will deliver the lunch & closing keynote address.

October 4  |  12-1:45PM

“An Introduction to the Role of Race, Class and Gender Issues On Campus Sustainability Work”

Conference Session with Dr. Heather Hackman

October 16
9:15 am - 10:15 am
Featured Organization
The Facilitating Racial Equity Collaborative (FREC) is a loose collective of organizations and individuals committed to overcoming racism in Minnesota. They have organized annual Overcoming Racism conferences in the Twin Cities since 2009. Since 2012, they have also organized a film and discussion series, Refocus the Frame: Turning a Lens on Race and Racism.

2017 Overcoming Racism Conference:
Awakening, Woke, Taking Command

November 3-4, 2017, St. Paul, MN

You can be part of the 2017 Overcoming Racism Conference! Propose a workshop - or invite others to propose one, Download the Request for Proposals and submit a proposal online here!

DEADLINE: August 1, 2017!

This year’s conference theme is Awakening, Woke, Taking Command. This Conference builds on previous conferences (Vigilance Now! and Disrupt Racism as Usual). We want workshops that meet people where they are at, but we want to emphasize that we are in critical times, and – ready or not – we need to act, each with our own skills.

We seek workshops that promote the work of Awakening, Staying Woke, and Taking Command, and moving from one stage to the next. We seek workshops that promote these skills at the individual and organizational level, and support movement building.

This is a time of great uncertainty. People are deeply worried about the direction of our country. It also is a time of great engagement. We seek workshops that tap into the current energy and give people direction. We seek proposals that speak to a broad audience, both people of color and white allies.

Conferences & Events We Support
YWCA Racial Justice Summit
October 3-4 in Madison, WI

Soul Fire Farm's Uprooting Racism Immersion 
October 9-12, 2017 in Petersburg, NY

National Summit for Courageous Conversations
October 14-18 in Detroit, MI

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Conference & Expo
October 15-18 in San Antonio, TX

National Association for Multicultural Education Conference
November 1-5, 2017in Salt Lake City, UT

Overcoming Racism Conference: Awakening, Woke, Taking Command
November 3-4, 2017 in St. Paul, MN

Students for Zero Waste Conference
November 3-4, 2017 in Philadelphia, PA

National Race Amity Conference
November 17-19, 2017 in Cleveland, OH

Community Food Systems Conference
December 5-7, 2017 in Boston, MA

NASPA Multicultural Institute: Advancing Equity and Inclusive Practice
December 10-12 in New Orleans, LA

Social Justice Training Institute
December in San Diego, CA

Creating Change Conference, presented by the National LGBTQ Task Force
January 24-28, 2018, Washington, DC

Facing Race Conference
November 8-10, 2018 in Detroit, MI
Recommended Resources
Like our facebook page and check out fresh resources on the regular!

It’s time to close the instructional gap. In many diverse public schools in America, the lowest-performing students are black boys, and most of their teachers are white women. These dedicated, talented educators work hard for all their students, but they're not bridging the gap. Facing issues of race and privilege with a clear, compassionate gaze, The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys helps teachers illuminate blind spots, overcome unintentional bias, and reach the students who need them the most.

“We must come together to reform a bail system that is discriminatory, wasteful and fails to keep our communities safe."

INTERSECTiON PODCAST! New Republic editor Jamil Smith explores how race, gender, and all the ways we identify ourselves and one another intersect. He brings in journalists, activists, politicians, and everyday folks like you to fuel the conversation.
“Resistance Maricopa: Abril Gallardo” is one of a five-part video series from Colorlines featuring activists in Maricopa County, Arizona, who are fighting to protect communities and families from detention and deportation amidst a political climate that's growing increasingly hostile toward immigrants. 
They're also reminders of how the peer-review process works, and why peer-reviewed research remains the key to sound climate policies.
First-Ever New York City Cultural Plan Calls for Funding Institutions in Underserved Communities, Accessibility, Environmental Improvements
Indigenous Environmental Network Advancing Petition to Stop Financing DAPL and Tar Sands Pipelines.  Click here to sign the petition!
Stay updated on water protector news here.
Gulf Coast Environmental Justice Organizers launch the L’eau Est La Vie (Water is Life) Camp, the new hub for the Bayou Bridge Resistance

A queer oddball seeks approval from black peers despite a serious lack of hip-hop credentials. This short animated documentary takes you on a quest for belonging. Funded by the Jerome Foundation.

Join the mailing list to keep up on our progress and future screenings. Looking for educational distributors and communities who would like to host screenings.

Join the mailing list:

Directed, animated, written by Carrie Hawks
Editor: Veronique Doumbe
Sound Design: Mauricio Escamilla
end music: "Boss" by Quantum Split

How do we survive in the age of Trump? Kamau and Hari are here for you. In season 2 of Politically Re-Active, comedians and longtime friends W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu navigate the dumpster fire that is the US political landscape. The hosts answer questions and separate fact from fake news with help from today’s most fascinating artists, activists, writers, journalists and political thinkers.

"Justice Doesn’t Trickle Down: How Racialized and Gender Rules
are Holding Women Back"

By Andrea Flynn 

Why is intersectionality critical? Because: "In recent years, some progressive political leaders have suggested that improving economic conditions for women—by increasing the minimum wage, instituting paid family leave and paid sick leave, and expanding affordable childcare—will create the rising tide that will lift all boats. In partnership with the Ms. Foundation, this paper illustrates why addressing these issues alone will not be sufficient to improve opportunities and outcomes for women, and particularly for women of color."

Action Resource: Daily Action Alerts. "All you have to do is text the word DAILY to the number 228466 (A-C-T-I-O-N). You’ll be prompted to enter your ZIP code and that’s it—you’re signed up. You will subsequently receive one text message every workday about an issue that we have determined to be urgent based on where you live. You tap on the phone number in your message, listen to a short recording about that day’s issue, and from there you’ll be automatically routed to your Senator, member of Congress, or other relevant elected official. In 90 seconds, you can conscientiously object and be done with it."
Book Review
Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America

by Michael Eric Dyson

St. Martin's Press
New York, NY
Dyson, M.E. (2016). Tears we cannot stop. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Reviewed by Dr. Heather Hackman

This book is a calling, a demand for an honest reckoning, and ultimately a truth-telling that any white person who claims a commitment to racial justice must read. Michael Eric Dyson, author of over 20 books and one of this country’s greatest thinkers and orators on race, wields a voice that is powerful, passionate, erudite, and deeply vulnerable as he expounds on surely one of this nation’s greatest wounds and the whiteness that will not let it heal. In page after page, he captures in remarkable detail the reality of race currently and historically while holding on to an agape love for white folks and this nation as a whole. I mention this not as a reiteration of the tired trope that in order to be heard black folks must be “articulate” or not “angry”, particularly as they speak truth to white power. I say this because it is a tribute to the depth of his compassion and wisdom and testimony to his role as both philosopher and prophet, pundit and preacher; speaking the fierce truth without apology and yet with a love for all humanity that makes the small and anemic reality of whiteness even more obvious.
I saw him speak for a brief while at this year’s White Privilege Conference in Kansas City where he shared that he did not mean to write this book – that actually he was working on a different one, but after the blatant murder of one more black man by police, he could not shake the need to pen this particular book. As he wrote, a sermon rather than an academic book, poured forth - a sermon for white folk, whom he says desperately need it. “I am beyond rage. Oh Lord, at the utter complicity of even good white folks who claim that they care, and yet their voices don’t ring out loudly and consistently against an injustice so grave that it sends us to our graves with frightening frequency. They wring their hands in frustration to prove that they empathize with our plight – that is, those who care enough to do so – and then throw them up in surrender.”
“What we mostly hear is deafening silence. What we mostly see is crushing indifference. Lord, what are we to do in a nation of people who claim to love you and hold fast to your word and way and yet they let their brothers and sisters murder us like we are animals? (pp. 31-32)” Amidst the rage there is his undeniable compassion for white folks despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that we have so deeply lost our way (as exemplified by our moral compass so easily being absconded by a president who represents the worst of what whiteness is). Dr. Dyson lays bare the complete and nasty truth of race in this country, and it is a blistering indictment of whiteness. In one section of the book / sermon, he explores the various elements of what he calls “white racial grief” and takes the reader through some serious reflection on “white amnesia”, “white denial”, “white appropriation of black culture”, “the white rewriting of history”, and finally the “white dilution of history”. The emphasis on history is a central theme of this book and affords white readers the broader picture within which to place the more current and personal elements of Dr. Dyson’s story.
I deeply appreciate the emphasis on systems and history in this piece and the way he describes their consequences landing on the bodies and in the lives of black folks everywhere. It underscores not only what we need to know, but how we have been lied to by this system such that most whites stay inert in our relationship to this oppressive system. If you are fearing that this is nothing but 228 pages of guilt-inducing white blame, nothing could be further from the truth. And yet, if you do feel guilt as you read it, do not take it as something he has done to you or to white people. Rather, consider the possibility that your reaction as a white reader could be coming from the place that you know or are now learning that there might just be something to be guilty of. There were more than a few moments when reading this that I felt overwhelmed by the consequences of my many years of silence or ignorance or indifference. In finishing the book, however, I felt deep gratitude rather than paralysis. Gratitude for the fact that Dr. Dyson, as do so many other folks of color and Native folks, took the time yet again to try and wake white people up to the atrocities that are playing out every day for folks of color in general, and in this environment of acute anti-blackness, manifesting in very specific and deadly ways for black folks.
Cut from the cloth of truth-telling and inspirational preachers, Dr. Dyson does not leave us white readers in a place of despair. Though he did not need to do it (because it is not the responsibility of people of color / Native peoples to tell white folks how to take action), he closes the book with a very long list of what white folks can do. Two aspects of this list stood out in stark contrast to the vague, limited or ineffectual suggestions that can sometimes come from “to do” lists for white folks. The first is that Dr. Dyson started his suggestions with reparations. Yep, he just went right to it. Serious moments call for serious solutions and while this country has danced around “what to do”, we have never been willing to entertain the one solution that will actually change our current reality and give us hope for a healed future. Reparations are that step. By way of example, he cites Georgetown University’s admission of guilt in selling slaves to bolster its sagging economic position as well as its willingness to explore and offer reparations to the descendants of the 272 slaves that were sold. The second reason this list stood out to me was its specificity without sacrificing the connection to the larger whole of ending structural racial oppression. Getting down to specifics about what to do to end racial oppression can be a trap in that the actions can lose their connection to the ultimate goal and the need to dismantle the system as a whole. Dr. Dyson knows this and deftly ties the suggestions for individual whites back to the larger reality of racial justice. Thus, there is no reason at all for an even partially woke and committed white person to read this book and not know what their next step is in combatting racial oppression.
One note about this piece is that it is almost exclusively about the black experience in the U.S. That is not at all because Dr. Dyson reduces racial oppression to a black – white dichotomy, but because it is a personal narrative (sermon) and therefore is drawn from his life experience and the experiences of those in his family / community. He of course identifies the need for intersectionality and gives examples of his own intersectional work around gender and queer oppressions respectively. But the focus of the book is squarely on the black U.S. experience and the persistent and corrosive dynamic of anti-black oppression in our society.
Personally, the book shook me in all the right ways. I have long been a fan of Dr. Dyson, but this piece added to that admiration a deep sense of gratitude for his willingness to be exposed and speak a very particular kind of truth to white people in this country. Usually this kind of speaking up and out gets black folks killed in this land of the free, where “alt-right” (aka white supremacists) decry the limitations of their freedom of speech as they seek to shut down every voice that they do not like. If you know Dr. Dyson’s work you already know that he has never been timid in saying what needs to be said, but this book has a more personal flavor than other pieces of his that I have read and I am appreciative of his risk and ultimately the gift he gives white America. As Toni Morrison is quoted on the cover, this is absolutely an “elegantly written work to relish”. I highly recommend this book to any and every white person who is ready to make a change within themselves and in the larger society.
Climate Change Corner
“The Uninhabitable Earth: Hyperbolic Claims or Sobering Wake-Up Call?”
By Dr. Heather Hackman
You may have recently read an article in New York Magazine by David Wallace-Wells entitled “The Uninhabitable Earth”. If you haven’t read it, perhaps you have heard some summary coverage of it on other networks as it has made a splash. One day after its publication, Robinson Meyer from The Atlantic published a piece refuting many of Wallace-Wells’ claims and then two days after that, Chris Mooney from The Washington Post also put forth a piece calling into question the claims laid out by Wallace-Wells. Both authors cited climate scientists such as Michael Mann, a world-renowned climate researcher often in the public eye calling attention to climate issues, to refute the extreme claims of Wallace-Wells. And there is reason to refute the claims of Wallace-Wells scientifically, socially and politically.
Scientifically, he is taking only the top ends of the climate “possibilities” and in effect centering them as a normative “probability” in a manner that most laypeople would not be able to decipher, resulting in a misreading and misunderstanding of this current climate moment. More specifically, he misrepresents some of the science in his report (for example, the rates at which the climate has warmed overall) despite his claims that he vetted his article with many climate scientists. Second, one of the bodies of research regarding climate change examines the most efficacious ways to talk about it with everyday people without turning them off. The overwhelming consensus from this field of study is that you do not talk about the dire consequences because, psychologically, that tends to move folks to hopelessness and ultimately paralysis in the face of the changes that we can and need to make. And politically, the article has been challenged because it smacks of the kind of “dire consequences / extremist doomsday” reporting that many climate scientists get criticized for by climate deniers. For all of these reasons the article has rightly been criticized as problematic and misleading.
And yet, when Dr. James Hansen wrote four articles in 1983 and then testified in front of Congress in 1988 about the likely effects of climate change, many responded to both his team’s articles and his testimony with the same general type of critique that Wallace-Wells is receiving. To be clear, Wallace-Wells is a journalist and Dr. Hansen is a very well respected climate scientist, but the overall point might still hold – when folks present jarring information that is “perceived” to be at the top end of the “worst case scenarios”, it is dismissed as fear-mongering and unsubstantiated. Of note is the fact that many aspects of what Dr. Hansen asserted in 1988 have come to pass, despite the protestations of politicians, laypeople and even some scientists. Interestingly, the article by Wallace-Wells came the same general week(s) as the Larsen C ice shelf broke off (calved) from Antarctica, information was released about the “sixth extinction” is arriving here and now rather than in the near future, and heat records were revised as this country experienced waves of record heat.
I’m not suggesting that Wallace-Wells is correct in painting a dire future, I’m simply noticing that there are two things to consider with respect to what he wrote: 1) perhaps even scientists do not want to think about the worst of consequences and therefore might themselves be predisposed to eschew any dire warnings of what is to come, and 2) that the science around climate change has changed considerably over the last decade such that it is not unusual to read a paper that has somewhere in its headline or abstract the phrases “sooner than thought”, “faster than expected”, or “revised estimates”. I’m not at all calling into question the veracity of climate science. Not at all. What I am simply noting is the fact that the scientists themselves have often underestimated their results, and thus when a harsher reality does present itself in the data, they often do end up revising their models and estimates to the more severe scenario. Knowing this, is it really so “out there” to even entertain some of the elements of the Wallace-Wells article?
The refutation of Wallace-Wells by scientists is, of course, totally understandable. Science as a body tends to err on the “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” side of things and therefore reports that could lead one to conclude the worst must be supported by a much larger body of evidence in order to pass scientific and peer-reviewed muster. Couple this with the strength of U.S. climate denial and the scrutiny that climate scientists experience that others in science and medicine do not, and you have reason to understand why some (but not all) climate scientists are loathe to give too much credence to Wallace-Wells.
I recommend you read the articles that have been hyperlinked in this post, starting with the Wallace-Wells article, and come to your own conclusions. True, some aspects of the current climate reality have pointed to some hope, such as the leveling off of global emissions, the growth of the renewable industry, and the EU giving the Paris accord some teeth despite the U.S. withdrawal. But, a leveling off of CO2, for example, is not the same as a reduction. For example, if my diet has been nothing but McDonald’s my entire life and as I grew I added one french fry every year, to simply stop adding french fries is not really a victory. I am still eating nothing but McDonald’s for every meal. Similarly, we need to praise the “wins” and changes, but be sober about what is really happening - a leveling off is still the release of huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.
And “sobering” was my response to the Wallace-Wells piece – I did find his tone and some of his examples to be on the hyperbolic end of things, but there was a visceral response as I read it that snapped me into a “whoa” that the techno-babble of the many climate reports I read do not. We will not steeply and quickly reduce the carbon levels without a deeply sober and urgent sense of “now”. Despite the potential inaccuracies here and there in “The Uninhabitable Earth”, I experienced a jolt that I needed and that we all need in the U.S. But why do we even need that?
Climate scientists may have an increasingly sharp sense of the scientific side of this issue, but I often find them woefully naïve about the social side of it. Revisiting the James Hansen testimony, by his own admission he assumed that he would take the data to Congress, they would be as shocked and worried as he was, and climate-based legislation would begin to work its way through our government. To the contrary, they not only did no legislating, they essentially laughed him out of the room. Why? There is too much of what it means to be “American” tied to our consumption…it is about our “way of life”, it has ties to the roots of class and race and gender oppression in this country, it is the hallmark of our economic prowess, and it is the sword we wield on the global stage – since we are the world’s greatest per capita consumers, trade with the U.S. is the ultimate prize. Thus, despite invalidating evidence, most in this country do not want to let go of our comforts, not until we have to anyway. Sadly, with the pace and processes of climate change, by the time we realize as a nation when that is, it will be too late for many of the most vulnerable.

The David Wallace-Wells piece may have holes in it, and it may be hyperbolic by today’s reality, but it could also hold within it some elements of a canary in the coalmine. The organization was formed in part because that was the safe level that science at the time said we needed to keep atmospheric CO2 in order to avoid the worst elements of climate change, but I also wonder if it was formed with the thought that we would “certainly be able to hold CO2 at or around that level once we mobilized and organized”. To their credit, 350 has been working hard to make a difference in this climate fight and they have done some amazing things. Nevertheless, the Mauna Loa data for June 2017 was 408.84 ppm CO2. I can feel your deflation as you read that. I know, it sucks. And so too does the content of the Wallace-Wells piece. But, I wonder if we can pull back from the specificity of his article and the legitimate critique of some of his assertions, and perhaps see a slightly bigger picture – this situation is, in fact, dire.

We have made some progress, but lest we break our arm patting ourselves on the back there is much, much more to do, and ultimately, we as the biggest consumers per capita on the planet (still! despite the growth in China and India) must dig deep in ways that run so counter to how we have been socialized as a nation that a sobering wake-up call might not be such a bad thing. So, read the articles and information in this edition of Climate Change Corner (and perhaps even follow the references these links lead you to) and after a deeper dive into the current science and policy, consider what you will do based on where you think we are as a planet. My only request is that you keep this in mind: just because information sounds bad or is hard to hear, that does not necessarily mean it is wrong.
Training Tidbits
“Elevating Dialogue by Building Common Ground”
by Dr. Heather Hackman

I have been asked over the last six months about the best way to help students on our college and university campuses talk about the current political moment without it blowing up. Some are trying to find ways of exploring “civility” while others are looking at dialogue circles, and still others in residence life and student affairs are just ignoring it altogether. In a conversation recently, I was reminded of the three “strands” that our group suggests for those in higher education to pursue in lieu of wading into the waters of direct engagement (and usually direct conflict) about this political moment.
Strand One: A Thriving Society
Underneath so much of what passes for political belief today are ideas of what it means to be an “American” etc. Even that, however, is too fraught a place to begin dialogue about this moment. Instead, we have been approaching this content from the perspective of what folks (in the room, if it is a training setting) believe a healthy and thriving society looks, feels, sounds and acts like. What are its constituent elements? What makes it healthy and thriving? How are folks even defining those terms? Clearly there is a lot that can be unpacked there, but the point is to help students get down to the core elements of what it means to be “healthy and thriving” on a large, societal level. From there, we can ask what the role of government is in maintaining this society. What are its responsibilities, agreements and commitments to the people of that society? How, in a general way, should it function? Building off of this, the third step is to then consider what a “leader” and overall “leadership” looks like with respect to the good governance and thriving society landscape just put forth. It is helpful to get as specific as possible in this third part of the exercise as it makes the final step, analysis and comparison of current political landscapes and levels of leadership across political spectrums, that much more precise.
In this way, we start the conversations from a place of values and our humanity with some possible touch points of shared vision. Engaging in this way I have often found that there emerges some common ideas about what constitutes a healthy and thriving society between folks who might not typically align politically.  
Strand Two: Systems and History
This is surely a broken record from our group (newsletters, blogs, etc.), but there really is no way to talk about this current political moment without a solid knowledge of systems and history. For example, I was talking to someone a while back in a training who asserted that everyone has a chance in this country so long as they follow the law. I then pointed out that until the early 1950s, no one who would be raced as a “person of color” could be a citizen and so how is it possible for them to have the same opportunities?  And given the role of generational wealth in “opportunity”, this historic fact becomes even more potent with respect to the meritocratic comment they offered. That is not something out of the deep past, it was just 65 years ago – very much a part of the lifetime of millions of people in the U.S. today. Without systems and history knowledge, however, we are prey to the mythologies of meritocracy, rugged individualism, and the like.
Any program on campus that hopes to have a conversation about this political moment, therefore, must be sure to place that issue or that political topic within a larger and deeper historic and systemic reality. And to avoid the criticism of placing a left-leaning lens of history, this is not opinion or a subjective view. It is not at all “opinion” that the U.S. immigration law said what it said. It is not opinion that convict leasing happened. Japanese internment and the paltry settlement during the Reagan administration are not “opinion”. This current climate will cast these, and more, as such, however, and so these conversations need to be backed in historical and systemic facts.
Strand Three: Ways of Being

One of the byproducts of this current climate (and something that has been brewing for decades, actually) is the increasing inability to engage with each other in kind, “thought-full” and productive ways. An element of this dynamic is that we do not actually listen to each other. Occasionally, I peek at CNN and their 12-person panels where the de facto approach is to “listen” to your opponent for the places where you disagree and then “listen” for where you can interrupt them or talk over them. Much of what we see now in mainstream media is a bubble off plumb from the WWF. And this has seeped into our daily lives in toxic ways, as is evidenced by twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media where this same standard seems to inform most interactions.
Instead, it would be useful to deeply listen. Do not respond. Just listen. There are countless resources about active listening, non-violent communication, mediation, restorative justice and the like that can help you figure out how to frame this listening process. To be sure, this is much harder than it sounds. This country is not wired to listen with compassion and care, paying attention to the needs of the other and trying to understand something from a very different point of view. Thus, this will take some practice and a firm commitment to the value of true dialogue over the temporary thrill of being “right”.
Second, to be better in these conversations we all need to be willing to lean in to our edges. This is not the same as being edgy or on edge, nor is it the tepid and often ineffective “lean in” of building one’s self-esteem and asserting oneself more. To lean into one’s edge means to truly stretch your thinking, suspend judgement, ask yourself “what if I am wrong”, engage in thought experiments that follow the line of reasoning of others so as to better understand where they are coming from, and let go of the attachment to being right all of the time such that we can stay teachable.
And finally, instead of getting caught in guilt, shame and blame when challenged, try adopting a disposition of curiosity, empathy and humility. Rather than shooting down an opinion that is new to you, ask yourself where the information comes from. Get curious about the other person’s perspective or the points they are making. In my teaching I would occasionally have White college students not believe that Japanese Internment happened because they had never heard of it. I then showed them the evidence and as some got defensive I asked them to slow and instead ask “why” they had not known that? Why did it get left out of their education? Who made those decisions? To accentuate this point (curiosity), see what happens when you try to bring empathy to the perspective of others. We can get mad at coalminers for wanting to “dig”, but in all honesty what would you do if that were all you knew for work and had a family or others depending on you? What would you lobby for if you felt like your entire future hinged on that job? I’m not defending coal, I’m just asking what would we do as a society if we could be more empathetic to their challenges and fears? Maybe we would accept a “coal” tax so everyone who wanted it could be fully retrained and supported to work in another well-paying field? Ultimately, neither of these approaches work well without some measure of humility and the ability to simply admit when we do not know something. Contrary to the current bullish tone, there is great power in saying “I don’t know” and then being teachable.
If we want to try and have our campuses get past the mirroring of the contentiousness of the national climate, we should start by exploring the elements of a healthy and thriving society, the way that systems and history fit into this current moment, and ground ourselves in different ways of being that support these difficult conversations. If ever there was a moment for higher education to step up its game around dialogue and conversational skill building this is it. Otherwise, our campuses will simply be a microcosm of the political distancing and retrenchment rampant throughout the rest of society.
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