It was 36 years ago this month that the first collegewide task force for diversity on which I served hosted a Women’s Week program. After a year of meetings with faculty about the need to make the curriculum inclusive, we were thrilled that Peggy McIntosh from the Wellesley Centers for Women had agreed to be our guest speaker. Her papers on white privilege had catapulted her to the top of the A-list as a speaker on issues of equity and privilege.
It was not until after this program that our task force realized what a dismal failure we had been in helping faculty to see that educating for diversity could revitalize their work, affording them the opportunity to rethink knowledge, evaluate their teaching methods, and effectively put students’ learning at the center of their efforts. Disappointingly, it seemed that few faulty beyond the twelve of us on the task force saw the point in making their syllabi and the curriculum more inclusive. The hardest blow—and most debilitating comment—from a faculty member after the Women’s Week program was that Peggy McIntosh was interesting and charming, but what did her presentation have to do with them?
This was not the first or the last time that I would hear a woman described as “charming.” A synonym for charming is “likable”—the standard to which women who run for high political office seem to be held. By contrast, many women are looking forward to the realization of what former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination Amy Klobuchar said: “I think what matters most is if you’re smart, if you’re competent, and if you get things done.”
I had an opportunity to welcome new faculty today and I told them that giving the obligatory “Welcome” before the main event was one of my designated roles in life it seems.
I guess it was because I could not sing solo and I didn’t have other discernible talents that I was always selected to give the “Welcome Address” when visiting choirs and other groups came to our church. I made the welcome something special. I made banners that said “WELCOME” with glitter and hung the banners across the pulpit, and I put a lot of thought and practice into what I planned to say. The visitors seemed to appreciate the effort.
When I welcomed new faculty at Montgomery College recently, I did not hang a banner, but I did ask something of them. I told them about when I first worked at a community college as a counseling faculty member. There was a bridge or walk across from the Student Services building and the building where classes were taught. Back then when faculty smoked cigarettes, some of them would take a smoke break on the bridge; others would come out between classes to grab a few rays. I made a habit of walking across the bridge to go from one building to the next just so I could run into academic faculty.
It was on that bridge between buildings that academic or classroom faculty and I discussed students who were obviously talented and bright, but their writing seemed to tell another story. Particularly disturbing was their inability to spell. We did research and discovered that there was something called dyslexia. This discovery led to a collaboration to get support for students who had learning disabilities.
It was on this bridge that academic faculty talked with counseling faculty about the veterans who could benefit from having someone to talk with, but who were reluctant to come to the Counseling Office. This led to the creation of a peer counseling program where some of the peer counselors were veterans. They were able to have the initial conversations with veterans and get to a point in their relationship where they could refer the veterans to the professional counselors.
A lot of work was done on that bridge between buildings for Student Services and Academic Affairs, and a lot of friendships were forged.
I asked the new faculty to see it as their responsibility to build a bridge between academic faculty and counseling faculty in Student Services in order to reduce barriers to student success.
Helping colleges and universities prepare for returning veterans and active duty service members was an interest of mine before 2004 when I was a guest of the Secretary of Defense and given the opportunity to tour the European Command. Since that tour, it has become a passion.
Because of this passion, I left my home located between Baltimore and Washington, DC about 6:40 a.m. on Thursday, October 25, 2012 to travel to Bethesda, MD, home of the Walter Reed National Military Center (WRNMC). Six other alumni who had also, at one time or another, been a guest of the Secretary of Defense to tour a military command were also invited to the WRNMC to learn more about warrior care.
This medical center is the flagship of military medicine with state-of-the-art facilities to support wounded warriors and their families. Rather than describe the facility, I’d like to tell you what I learned that was not on the agenda for the tour.
- I learned that service members are surprised that our “veteran-friendly” colleges and universities still deny them admission based on their high school transcripts that are often a reflection of immaturity and a lack of a sense of direction. Their poor high school record is one reason that many of them volunteered to serve their country in the first place.
- I learned that service members are furious that colleges and universities want to force them to use their benefits and spend their time re-taking courses for which they already earned credit while on active duty.
- I learned that these service members at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center work extra hard to overcome the fact that they have lost limbs, that they have other wounds, that they have to learn basic skills all over again because of Traumatic Brain Injury. Because of their hard work, when they leave the medical facility, they want to be seen as prepared for their next phase in life. They want the opportunity to fit in as much as they desire. They say that they understand the intent of our referrals to our offices for students with disabilities, but they do not want to be seen as someone not prepared for the challenges ahead.
Because of some of the things I learned, some service members ask, “Is this the way colleges and universities say, “Thank you for your service?”