Deconstructing Collegiality and Constructing Courageous Conversations in California Community Colleges

July
2020
Adrienne C. Brown, Los Angeles Harbor College

On Thursday June 18, 2020, I attended the ASCCC Faculty Leadership Institute for the first time. I am grateful for the opportunity, and I learned so much from all of the sessions. In one particularly impactful session titled “Creating and Leveraging Collegiality for Leadership Effectiveness,” I became very engaged in the topic and in the chat. It was so impactful to be seeing a presentation on such an important topic, while at the same time I was witnessing some of the things that the presenters were describing happening in the live chat. I saw faculty expressing microaggressions in the chat box and not understanding why the Black, Indigenous, and other faculty of color were reacting so negatively to what these chatting faculty felt was innocent curiosity. When they saw the presenters mention that the current structures that we are using in higher education are from European origin, they responded by saying that does not make them bad. I agreed, European structures are not bad, but that is only one monocultural approach, so that is not the only approach we can use. We all see the student outcomes that result from our Eurocentric approach so let's explore other multicultural representative approaches so all are engaged. I specifically mentioned the Association of Black Psychologists and their use of the Mbongi structure in their annual conference. All campuses can explore culturally responsive, multicultural approaches from many cultural perspectives to structure our conversations and ensure healthier and more representative dialogue.

In a committee setting, I often see this play out as well, where someone's intent does not match their impact. More often than not, those who were hurt and offended by what was stated are often then labeled as “not collegial” when they have very valid emotional reactions to the offensive behavior or comment.  In the workshop session, I learned that the root of the concept of collegiality is a medieval European creation to vet faculty peers’ work to invite scholars into the exclusive collegium; it was designed to exclude. Today’s common definition implies a collegium where everyone is equal and represented; however, in our committees, we each have different positionality and power as full-time faculty, adjuncts, classified, and unclassified employees. People refer to collegiality as ideal “professional” behavior, but how do we define professional? Does it mean no emotions can be expressed? The workshop presenters asked us to consider power dynamics: are we wielding power to oppress or shut down another colleague? They also asked us to remember equity when interacting with colleagues: are we truly equal or are there systemic barriers for some?

Antiracism is difficult work; it requires each of us to look at our own flaws--something we often do not like to do. It is easy to point out the flaws in others. If you are new to learning about these concepts and want to engage in antiracist action, I recommend the following:

  1. Educate yourself. Do not rely on your Black colleagues to educate you; it requires too much emotional labor for us and results in negative health outcomes like muscle tension, high blood pressure, heart conditions, and other real physical health outcomes. Our California Surgeon General extensively researched race-related stress and how it negatively impacts the mental and physical health of our communities of color. Keywords you can explore are tone policing, respectability politics, microaggressions. Look at the research available, watch documentaries and movies, read books, take classes.  Do not ask us to teach you for free; it is killing us.
  2. Take classes and attend trainings. ASCCC provides a wealth of information on how we can wield the power of the Academic Senate to affect change. 3CSN provides intentional, impactful, culturally responsive professional learning where you will walk away a better person and educator. At the Basic Skills Initiative Leadership Institute (BSILI) Equity Institute and Facilitators Learning Community, they are doing the real authentic work, which is working on our own personal growth (information can be found on their website at https://3csn.org).
  3. Show us that you value antiracism and our healing by working with your local union to advocate for all employees in collective bargaining to ensure that adjunct faculty and staff are provided adequate health coverage; Black and other adjuncts of color are overrepresented in these positions and need full health coverage. Also, get involved in hiring and ensure hiring practices are bringing more diverse employees into our campuses and conversations.
  4. Bring your full self and share your authentic experiences in committee meetings, even if what you need to say is simply “I don’t know enough about this to make a decision”; ask to table topics you do not fully understand. Silence is complicity.  Al Solano wrote a blog post “Transforming Instruction in Math” (https://www.continuous-learning-institute.com/blog/transforming-instruction-in-math) where he coined the following term Institutional Conservatives (ICs): “ICs care about social justice outside of the academy, but don't apply it inside the academy . . . sadly many (not all), of my colleagues who claim to be social justice & equity warriors had/have no problem maintaining the status quo at their institutions.”
  5. Remember collegiality itself can be oppressive when it is used to maintain the status quo in our Eurocentric academic environment, and the term “collegiality” can be weaponized to silence divergent voices and to escape uncomfortable conversations. Under the guise of collegiality, we miss opportunities for vital discussions about race that could really impact change. As educators, we should encourage the space to challenge, disagree, and question any topic presented.

Lastly, I will share a personal story and email I sent to my chancellor, in response to the official district statement on the civil unrest. I received a very thoughtful response and look forward to positive change.

A Tale of Three Microaggressions

Picture with Two Students

I received an outpouring of emails and text messages after my first email to you, all supportive and many *confidentially* thanking me because they do not feel safe to express their authentic experiences.

What you see in the above picture is me standing with two students at a Black graduation celebration that took place in 2016. The two students I am standing with are both Umoja graduates who were celebrating that day. The three of us are all Spanish Speaking with Afro Latino roots. The two students, while they appear quite different physically, both have AfroMexican ancestry, while I have AfroEcuadorian ancestry.

Microaggression 1

The young woman at my right when she went to register for her own celebration was told by an African American faculty who made an assumption about her due to her having lighter skin: “The family and friends check in table is over there.”. On a day that should be purely celebration and joy, the first thing she felt at the registration table was hurt that poked at an old existing wound. That people judge her for the color of her skin and make assumptions and erase her identity.

Microaggression 2

Last week, I naturally slipped into saying something in Spanish in a meeting, and as often happens when people don’t know my story, a white-skinned Mexican faculty expressed shock at my ability to speak Spanish. I find reactions like this and the “why do you speak Spanish?” question hurtful every time I hear it. In one quick statement or question, people are making an assumption about me based on my skin color and erasing the existence of AfroLatinos, although *96%* of the enslaved Africans brought to the Americas were taken south of our border into Latin America and the Caribbean. It erases the painful past of my grandmother, a Black woman who was born in Ecuador, a victim of human trafficking brought to California at age 11, alone, and to become an undocumented immigrant farm worker. It erases the struggle of my father who was beat up and excluded by African Americans for having an accent and beat up and excluded by white and mestizo Latin Americans for having dark skin.

Microaggression 3

In the statement I wrote to you when I said, “The majority of the protestors in Downtown Los Angeles are Latino allies,” I myself erased all of these stories yet again, because what I really meant was white and mestizo Latino Allies. I made a mistake, and I am now calling myself out.

My first year at Harbor, I attended a culturally responsive training. It was the first and only time I sat in a room for a powerful training alongside staff and administrators, as they understood not only faculty need to be engaged in this work. I was deeply impacted by the stories of the custodial staff member who was in my small group. So, as I call myself out for a mistake, I am reminded that an additional suggestion I have for our district and campus is to bring these trainings back. I’m very concerned that there was only one occasion in a 7-year period where I saw this actively occurring as a campus-wide effort, and I would now also like to see as a district-wide effort. If people are attacked when they are honest and vulnerable, it will be counterproductive. If people are never given a safe space to express what they really feel and experience, we will continue to miss the mark. If only the affected groups are engaged in this work, we will not make progress. At the end of the day, we are all imperfect, no one wants to discuss their flaws; however, that’s the only way we can start to make plans to solve them.

I originally also said “faculty,” but this is also a need for administrators, staff, and students. Regardless of our varying roles on campus, we are all educators. We all need to work together to unlearn these harmful status quo behaviors. These emails I am sending are not about blame; it is about getting us all focused on taking a hard look at where we really stand and what we can do to affect real change.

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.