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Community Update

community updateFrom

 

Regina’s Board reports (February 2017)

As you are aware, the world in which we find ourselves seems to have changed. With the election of Donald Trump, many people feel as if the United States is a different place. For some, this country has become shockingly unfamiliar and for others, the forces of systemic oppression have just become more explicit and acceptable. And for still others, they finally feel as if they have a leader who has included them, who has seen and heard and felt their sense of loss and frustration. Regardless of which group you believe yourself to be a part of, perhaps we can all agree that we have been awakened from a Dream. For some folks this dream was the dream of an “America” that had made progress in being released from the grasp of various systems of oppression, for some the dream was of a country that served as a refuge for folks looking for freedom, and some folks are now feeling as if their dream of taking their rightful seat at the table of economic prosperity is about to be fulfilled. Regardless of which dream you were having, we have been awakened however gradually or suddenly to the sense of a palpable and deep divide between us and our neighbors, family members, and our fellow planetary inhabitants. With this, many of us are experiencing a profound sense of grief, confusion, fear, anger and unfathomable uncertainty.

To say that Naropa University can provide an antidote to the threat of the growing dividedness that we now face is only true if we can engage in collective self-inquiry, interpersonal engagement, and skillful social action.

 

These shifting dynamics are central to the work of the Office for Inclusive Community as they are not just happening “out there,” but they are a part of the landscape of Naropa University, and a part of the landscape within each of us.  

To say that Naropa University can provide an antidote to the threat of the growing dividedness that we now face is only true if we can engage in collective self-inquiry, interpersonal engagement, and skillful social action.

I have been delightfully involved in discussions with our current Lenz Fellow, Jennifer Woodhull, who is visiting us from the University of Capetown. One of the quotations from Rev. angel Kyodo williams’ Radical Dharma that we have been returning to again and again is from Bruce Lee, that “Under Duress, we do not rise to our expectations but fall to our level of training” (xvi).   Ostensibly, Naropa University is a training ground for cultural transformation. It is here, if anywhere, that we should be preparing warriors to transform the illusory divides that perpetuate systemic oppression into collective forces of change and liberation. This is necessarily rooted in what Rev. Kyodo Williams describes as “a visceral understand[ing] that we’re all in the same boat.”   So how do we do that? This is the question our office takes up on a daily basis and that guides our efforts.

How are we training ourselves in fearlessness?

 

Firstly, and this is the work that I am collaborating with Jennifer on, we have to begin to examine the paradigms that perpetuate an “us vs them” mentality and to live in the question of how to create a truly beloved community that doesn’t demonize or exclude anyone. If the absolute truth is that we are interconnected, what systems are in place, not just “out there,” but at Naropa University, that seduce us into a perpetual forgetting of that truth? How do we continue to support our community members in embracing their authenticity while also dismantling the paradigm of individualistic materialism? How do we create systems and spaces that foster radical inclusion and connectedness without bypassing difference and conflict? How are we working with power and its distribution? Are we actually walking our talk in how we work with power here at home and how we want to see power worked with in our larger social and political systems?

Secondly, how are we training ourselves in fearlessness? What practices are in place that train us in surrendering the illusory safety embedded in silence? To risk making contact with those we label “other,” and to demand inclusive spaces even for those who are not yet present? How are we training in the fearlessness required to speak to powers that feel greater than we feel? For as Audre Lorde said, “the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in our corner mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid.” So we must train in transforming our silence into language and action.

So we must train in transforming our silence into language and action.

 

In conversations with Jennifer Woodhull, we often come back to the idea that the possibilities inherent in these questions can be met with contemplative practice which trains us in clear-seeing, in facing suffering, in fearlessness, in realizing our interconnectedness, in compassion, and many of the other skills we are needing in this time of global social-spiritual crisis. And so the work of Naropa University, as I see it, is to bridge the gap between what we train in and what is needed, between what we say we do and what we actually do. And that is partly the work of the Office for Inclusive Community.

Highlights of our Ongoing Efforts

  • We changed the name of our office from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to the Office for Inclusive Community to reflect than not only does our work focus on supporting members of marginalized communities, but also works to engage all members in the creation of a radically inclusive/beloved community through critical consciousness raising and cultural transformation. Future efforts of this office may therefore include working more closely to support the university’s sustainability efforts and being more engaged in restorative practices of conflict resolution and community repair.
  • Community Development Offerings: Having established consistent offerings of Fostering an Inclusive Community Trainings (now required of all staff), we have now also established consistent offerings of a training on the Four I’s of Oppression. We have piloted several trainings this semester on Gender Diversity and Shadows of Gender which will become a part of our curriculum of trainings in Fall 2017 and we are also developing and will pilot a Being the Change Workshop/Training this semester as well. We view these trainings as the development of a tiered curriculum that is available to all community members. 
  • Each semester our list of Inclusive Community sponsored groups continues to grow. As of Spring 2017, we collaboratively hold (along with Student Affairs): Anti-Racist Whites & Allies, Community of Color & Allies, International Student Group, Queer Naropa!, Students of Color & Allies, Taking on the System of White Supremacy & Racism book group, Veterans Student Group, and Disabilities Advocacy & Support Group. In addition, we are working with some student leaders to develop a curriculum for a peer education group where students will facilitate conversations on issues of privilege, oppression, and creating inclusive communities.
  • The Center for Culture, Identity & Social Justice exists to cultivate beloved community and is rooted in self-love, intercultural comradery and social justice engagement. The center is also home to the Cultural Center Library which holds a collection that focuses on cultural and social issues literacy.
  • As usual, our Inclusive Community events calendar is chock full of offerings which invite beloved community-building and critical consciousness-raising. Some highlights of this semester are:

    • A support gathering for Faculty & Staff of color  
    • The continuation of the “Food and Justice For All” community meal and consciousness-raising conversation series every 3rd Friday of the month
    • Co-sponsoring with CACE the residency of Laura Rendon which includes a staff forum for working with underrepresented students
    • “Until We are All Free”: A series of art and story-based social justice workshops, the last of which is “Love & Dignity Beyond Bars & Borders”
    • The Clothesline Project: Fighting Violence Against Women and the Trans Community
    • Loving Action Now! A community gathering in which information, guidance, and support are provided for taking social action in the moment, grounded in loving kindness
  • The Community Restroom project’s Queering the Space campaign has transformed all restrooms into spaces which educate the community on issues facing the trans population and the impact that gendered bathrooms, and the gender binary, have on all of us.
  • Lastly, having introduced the faculty to a developmental model that helps one to locate areas of challenge and growth, the CACE and Diversity and Inclusion Cauldron Committee facilitated this semester’s faculty retreat to help both Core and Adjunct Faculty develop in this work