Be the Change You Want to See

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“Be the change you want to see.” That’s considered a famous quote by Gandhi. And while he did speak of the power of transformation, over the years his words have been abbreviated into a pithy bumper sticker.

Gandhi’s actual quote about change was this:

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

Why do I think his original quote is more powerful than the abbreviated version? While they both speak to the symbiosis of personal and social transformation, his original quote has that great last line: “We need not wait to see what others do.”

Here, to me, he is speaking about having the courage and conviction to stand up and be heard when others are afraid to, start a movement even while others seem comfortable standing still.

Have you ever been in a meeting and someone says something racist, sexist, or something so blatant against an oppressed a marginalized group? And then there is dead silence.

Do you sit there, wondering who is going to be the person to say something, to call out the transgression? Why is there silence? Why isn’t anyone saying anything?

Should you let this moment pass and then address the person later one on one? What is the impact of changing the culture if we pull the person aside and confront them privately? And do we let those who were afraid to speak off the hook because everyone heard it, but no one said anything?

I understand the discomfort. Why do you have to be that person? How will you be viewed? It seems like a career risk to speak up for what is right sometimes, I get it!

But the question we need to ask ourselves is, who are we harming by not speaking up? The students? A colleague who needed your voice because they didn’t feel strong enough to stand up for themselves?

Silence is often misconstrued as consent as if the mute party were cosigning to what was said. And isn’t silence and fear how cultures remain stagnant?

I have found myself in these situations. I remember early in my career my heart would start to beat a million miles a moment and my voice would shake as I spoke, but I knew I had to say something. I couldn’t just sit back. Actually, I didn’t want to sit back because I didn’t agree with what was being said and I wanted to have a conversation with everyone in the room so we could reach a positive conclusion and outcome together.

What I found was once I broke that unbearable silence, there were often one or two others that would feel the same way. Culture isn’t something that is easily changed, but I continue to chip away by calling out transgressions and backing up my colleagues when they need my voice.

Don’t let a moment of silence deter you from speaking up for colleagues and students. Silence often results in policies being implemented that sometimes harm our students.

We need not wait to see what others are going to do but have the courage to do what others can’t. If we all commit to speaking up and out, we can collaborate on changing a culture of oppression and marginalization.






Let’s Celebrate Each Other

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We can do better. We need to do better in supporting one another.

When I was appointed to as the Associate Vice President of Transition and Retention Services (a newly created position), I began to hear the whispers. “Why her, she gets everything?” “She sucked up to get that position.” “I’ve been here longer and I deserve it more than she does.” “What makes her qualified for the role?”

The interesting part is the people who were stabbing my character were the very same women and women of color telling me how happy they were for me, how well-deserved I was, and how wonderful it was to see a black woman advance. I have to be honest, I was shocked by the response. I never expected to get the negative reaction I got.

Then I started to think about the times I had done the same to other women who had been given positions I envied. The truth is, I’m guilty myself. I haven’t always been consistent with celebrating other women of color’s successes. Perhaps it’s because there are so few women of color advancing.

We must do better with celebrating one another and getting more of us beyond the concrete ceiling. Although I will be forever saddened and disappointed by the whispers I hear from time-to-time, they serve as a reminder to better support and celebrate other women of color’s successes as they advance and to do everything I can to create opportunities for them along their journey.

What Has Been Your Path?

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“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

What has been your path? This is a question I have been getting asked a lot recently. It must be a sign that I’m aging! The funny thing is, I used to be the one asking others this very question.

What I have learned about the journey is that my path can’t be compared to others. Navigating the higher education terrain as a Black Woman is not for the faint of heart, but it is also not the only journey being taken.

To understand your own path, ask yourself “What has been my path and how have I navigated the many disappointments, false promises, the systemic racism, the sexism, the judgments, and the assumptions? How can I remain positive even when negativity is walking beside me? Where do I find motivation and what keeps me committed to assisting students and other professionals?”

The truth is, I’m not sure if I fully know the answer to any of these questions. I know that the students give me strength on a daily basis and I want them to win! There are days, weeks and even months when the mental and emotional cuts and bruises are too much and I wonder if it’s worth it.

I do know that I thought the path would be easier. It looked easier when I was a Resident Assistant and even when I was an entry-level professional.

“If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.” ~ Barack Obama

So, what has my path been about?

I think my path has been about clearing the terrain for the Higher Educational Warriors who are here and for those who will come after me. In terms of remaining positive, that is definitely not an easy task, but I try not to take things personally and shield my soul from any negativity as best I can.

At the end of the day, I just try and keep walking on my path and I encourage you to do the same. Together we can make progress.



Honest in My Climb

tip tuesday-01Have you ever seen a documentary on ants? Though I personally don’t want to get very close to ants, I do find their behavior fascinating.

Ants have the whole collaboration thing down. Working together they can build pretty much anything and get themselves out of some sticky situations. For instance, they use their own bodies to form bridges to get from point A to point B. And if they need to go up, they simply form a tower with their bodies so others can climb higher and higher.

Check it out:

The thing about ants is, they work together in order to survive and thrive. They don’t step all over each other so they, as individuals, can get to the top; they work together so the entire colony can get to where it needs to be.

What has happened to collaboration in higher education? Are we always working together, wanting the best for the students and our colleagues? Do we always give others the benefit of the doubt? I used to believe that everyone in this space cared about each other and that that was why they pursued positions in higher education in the first place.

But what I’m witnessing more and more, is people crawling their way to the top, leaving a lot of carnage along the journey. What has this climb become about? Titles? Status? Salary? One-upping?

This awareness has caused me to reflect on my own journey? Have I always been honest in my climb? What am I personally climbing towards and who have I hurt in the process?

Have I lost any of my integrity, or compromised any of my values along the way?  And do I still recognize myself when I look in the mirror?

These are questions I ask myself all the time. I ask my friends, I ask my wife and I ask my mentors. Have I changed? Have I hurt people on my journey? Even if months or years have passed, I still want to reach out and apologize to anyone I have stepped on in my climb.

See, my ultimate goal is to be my best self in serving the students, offering true leadership to my teams and providing intentional supervision. I want to collaborate with colleagues for a common good. I want all of us to care more about the students than the climb. That’s what feeds my soul and motivates me in doing my best work.

It’s been 19 years and yes, I have worked hard to get the credentials, the experience, and the salary. But I am committed to reminding myself every day why I have made the climb. I will continue to stretch, grow, and challenge myself in order to make a positive difference in others’ lives.

Higher Intentions

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Do you ever think about the type of higher education leader you want to be remembered as? Or how you’re currently contributing to the profession?

Is it your intention to make a difference in students’ lives, and to lift as you climb? Challenge the status quo? Advocate for change to better serve the students? Use your voice even when you think you won’t be heard?

Being clear on your intentions is good, but it’s not enough. And really, it’s not about – or shouldn’t be about – how you want to be remembered, but rather, what you can offer the profession RIGHT NOW. Screwdrivers are fantastic tools, but if you’re in a canoe in the middle of a lake and a storm is coming, a screwdriver ain’t gonna do squat to get you to shore. You need a paddle RIGHT NOW to make the situation better.

I remember Dean Bernadette Walker. She was direct and, to those students who didn’t know her, a bit terrifying. Thankfully, I got to see a side of her most students didn’t.

Dean Walker had a story for everything and would never hesitate to tell us when we needed to do better. I remember her telling me once that I needed to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. At the time, I had absolutely no direction or purpose and I didn’t receive her suggestion very well (most likely because the truth hurts!).

But looking back, her comment forced me to take stock of my academic life and aspirations. I started to value the degree and I wanted one, and nothing or no one was going to stop me from earning one. Her honesty also created a space for me to dream and determine how I could make my dreams come true.

Dean Walker impacted many students and her legacy lives on within many of us that pursued careers in higher education. She modeled the importance of lifting others as you climb, advocating for those whose voice is often not heard and having the courage to stand up for what’s right even when you’re the only one standing.

But perhaps her biggest legacy is that she never tried to leave one. She simply and genuinely cared about her students and did her best on a daily basis so that all of us could succeed.



My Thank You Letter to the Naysayers

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My Thank You Letter to the Naysayers

I have always been clear on why I pursued a career in higher education. My love for higher education was sparked during my student leader days and that love has never wavered. Of course, I never dreamed that I would be in the position I am in today, but I think I secretly always hoped I would be.

The naysayers have always been a constant and their voices have grown louder over the years, but that’s okay because they play an important role in my career and personal development. They keep my ego in line and force me to do a check and balance of my priorities. If I’m student-focused, am I making the best decisions? Do I make tough decisions even when it’s uncomfortable? Do I follow through? Do I walk my walk and talk my talk?

Naysayers are notorious for creating doubt, fear, and uncertainty, but I like to let my work speak for itself. And, at the end of the day, I really must thank all of the naysayers in my life who said I couldn’t do something.

Thank you, naysayers, for driving me and helping me to create better and better versions of myself. Thank you for allowing me to see my true potential and recognizing my passion to help others. I owe you much.

But remember this…

No matter what you say, no matter what you do, no matter how hard you throw those mental punches… you can’t break me.

So keep the chatter going and keep doubting me. But remember I’m clear on my purpose and duty as a higher education professional.

When you get, give. When you learn, teach. Maya Angelou

Ripple Effects of Hiring

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Filling positions is difficult. About the only thing more difficult is roller skating backwards up a rusty ladder. And even then, if things go wrong, you’re the only one that gets hurt.

Early in my career, when I was a manager, I didn’t look at the true impact hiring could have on a team or program. Back then, the criteria list was short and didn’t require I really dig deep into the candidate’s true skillset.

Sure, I was an attentive audience member for their initial song and dance they would perform during the general Q&A, but it didn’t go much farther than that.

Often, I would find out their true skillset, or lack of skillset, only after they were hired, and I would know I made a mistake.

This was something that I wasn’t able to pinpoint for years. What was I doing wrong in the hiring process? After much deliberation, the truth finally dawned on me: I was simply hiring and not hiring right. I was focused on completing my job, filling the position, instead of focusing on what influence that position had on the entire organization.

So, I started considering the needs of the team, not just the positional needs. What would this person be bringing to the table? How will they complement and enhance the team? What is their true skillset (soft and hard)? What is their motivation for applying for the position? What is their understanding of the role and the institution? How much homework have they done prior to applying for the job?

Nothing is worse than interviewing someone who hasn’t even bothered to look at your website, has no idea about your data, the organizational structure, the mission, the strategic plan or, most importantly, the students your serve. Well, okay, the one thing that is worse than interviewing these people is hiring them anyway, which I am guilty of.

I have hired wrong many, many, many times and have learned an important lesson: hiring wrong causes unbelievable disruption to the staff, the team, the department and the students. It even causes disruption to the person I hired, because ultimately the wrong person for the job must be let go.

Hiring right is so very important and ultimately, it is up to me as the hiring manager to do it well. While I may never be able to get up that rusty ladder on those roller skates, I am fully committed to always being cognizant of the needs of my teams so I may bring them someone who brings them exactly what they need to succeed.