By Cassandra Moore, AACRAO Board Member and Director of Admissions and Enrollment Development, Ann Arundel Community College
I work at a college that is intentional about who is in the room when problems occur and need to be addressed! I want to challenge my fellow higher educational warriors to make this their practice, too! Be mindful and intentional about the people you invite to sit at the table. Yes, you might have met your representation goals, but do you really welcome everyone’s input or do you prefer to be surrounded by people who only agree with you? Do your colleagues of color feel as if they belong and their opinions are valued? Can they bring their authentic selves to the decision tables?
If those sitting at the table are not part of your lived experience, do you ask for their input? Do they feel that they can safely, and without retaliation, share their ideas that may or may not influence your decision?
Retaliation is an interesting word. It can be overt or covert, as in omitting people of color from a problem-solving discussion because their views do not align with the majority. This happens when leaders are only interested in having their decision adopted without the contribution of alternative perspectives. Is getting your way or preferred outcome your only concern? Instead of being afraid of an alternative lens, embrace it for better decision-making.
I don’t attend any meetings without knowing the agenda, why I am invited, and what is expected of me. I come prepared to contribute. I do not wait and wonder when and if I should speak. I speak and expect my views to be respected. It is because I am operating in an environment that values who I am and my perspective, my colleagues and I experience a high level of productivity and cohesiveness. Belonging in the workplace is an employee’s sense that who they are, and their contributions are accepted and respected by their organization and colleagues. Too many pay lip service, but their actions in meetings demonstrate otherwise.
When we value all parts of our colleagues’ identities, a higher sense of belonging occurs. As organizations, we must live our values, and when we espouse the value of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, we cannot exclude belonging, the sibling of inclusion. Belonging is at the heart of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
I always know when a minority lens is excluded from decision-making. Remember, the Nivea ad telling Blacks to re-civilize themselves? Or the Play Station ad with, “Play Station. Portable White is coming,” with a Caucasian woman holding a Black woman’s face? How did the decision-makers determine these examples were acceptable for public consumption?
How has your college or university demonstrated the value of Black students, faculty, and staff? Are they only elevated during Black History Month or when they are actually making great contributions throughout the year? Pay attention and be intentional, for silence means you are complicit.
We must learn that passively to accept an unjust system is to cooperate with that system, and thereby to become a participant in its evil. ― Martin Luther King Jr.
Black History Month is a wide and strong thread in the fabric of American history, acknowledging the many contributions of Black Americans who excelled through oppression and turmoil. Elevating the voices of the historically disenfranchised maximizes unearthed potential. Therefore, it is important to foster collaborative decision-making and increase opportunities for belonging in your workplace on behalf of the institutions and students you serve.