From the Desk of Emmy | Pretending Diversity is part of the Conversation

Tonight in my leadership class, we had group presentations and a conversation about diversity and leadership in the organization. The target groups in presentations included 1) faith and spiritual-based leadership, 2) cultural and ethnic-based leadership, 3) women and leadership, 4) work and family conflict and leadership, and 5) an overall perspective on diversity and leadership. Each group was to identify the key leadership qualities of their target group, how the particular group lead differently from their counterparts, how the group was different from the mainstream, and the strategies that could empower our target group perspective in the organization.

Without going into depth and detail about what each group discussed, the presentations facilitated a thought-provoking conversation about race, ethnicity, and culture. The facilitators of the conversation asked questions to the class that lead to some colleagues feeling very vulnerable. However, one of the great things about being in the social work field is that we are not strangers to vulnerability, and luckily some student spoke even when they didn’t agree with what the person before them had said.

I don’t recall the exact question or statement that was made, but somewhere the conversation turned to how we really don’t talk about race and privilege. One colleague said something along the lines of how she constantly has to check her white privilege and acknowledge that she does indeed have that privilege in order for her to understand and work with clients of color. Another colleague piggy backed off that by explaining that she feels that in order to embrace diversity in the work place, we need to stop assuming we know information about ones culture, race, ethnicity, and openly ask questions so that we can learn and grow and understand people in a better and more cohesive manner. She said that we need to stop stereotyping.

Obviously, I had to speak after this. I had to share with the class about the doc Sarah and I are making and how these are the some of the messages we are trying to convey through our film. I shared how we want people to stop thinking that people of color are “complaining” and how we don’t know different races, ethnicities, and cultures just because we have a black friend, or a muslim friend, or a a hispanic friend or what not.

Following that, another classmate shared how she was surprised that we don’t talk about race and culture and ethnicity in our program – how we don’t have required class to talk about these issues and learn about them – and how this disappointed her. She said that she had her bachelors in social work, and in undergrad she had several classes that addressed race and ethnicities and identity, but that there is not one course at USC’s social work school that addresses these topics. Again, I had to raise my hand and agree with her; the only time we really talk about these topics is when we say we need to be “culturally competent” when working with our clients, but that’s really the extent of the conversation. And it’s true, we don’t discuss race or ethnicity or culture or identity nor do we have classes that are centered around these topics, which if you ask me, are fairly important in the world of social work.

I think we have gone through this program pretending we embrace diversity and cultures and have conversations about it all, but to be honest, we really do not. I mean, I’ve taken the diversity surveys the school sends out, but that’s really the extent to how I feel the school has addressed diversity. Tonight was the first time in my two years in grad school that I think I have really participated in a discussion about these topics, let alone had a professor that created a lesson around them.

My point is, I think Sarah and my short doc is important, especially for USC’s School of Social Work. While our documentary focuses on the black and white experience, I’m hoping it will open the doors for discussion about other races, ethnicities and cultures. I hope that maybe someone in the audience who is affiliated with the school will watch, and realize that we need to talk about these topics, we need to create classes that address them, and we need to do so in a way that is more than just telling us that we need to be culturally competent clinicians.

Seriously, USC, let’s stop pretending that diversity is part of the conversation, and actually make it part of the conversation.

That is all for now…

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