Engaging with—and within—diverse adults

A theme “let your life speak” emerged clearly during a session on “Engaging with diverse adult populations,” for which three graduates of the Critical & Creative Thinking Program were asked to reflect on the development since they graduated of their work and thinking around the theme of the session.  The outward-looking theme—engaging with people who are different from you—turned out to be paired with the inward-looking theme of finding an authentic path for oneself.  Before trying to make sense of this outward-inward connection, let me set the scene with some notes from the session.

The first speaker, a community-college professor of English as a Second Language, described the evolution of his doctoral research project, which aims to shed light on the divergent post-secondary educational paths of Sudanese refugees in the Boston area.  A colleague challenged him to explain what he will give back to the Sudanese community through this research.  The speaker admitted to having been taken aback by this question.  I thought the question was appropriate; indeed it is a standard question to ask of any researcher going out into the field to study other groups.  Yet the speaker’s response made sense to me when he said, “I’ve always worked with refugees.”  He has a long record of committed teaching and service at his College.  He knows where his heart is, even if it took the probing question to make him articulate that.

The second speaker revisited experiences growing up and in jobs before starting the CCT Program that involved disability access, international dot.com startups, and adult education.  He explained that his time in the Program had allowed him to understand that he wasn’t happy unless he was involved in looking a the deeper qualities of people, ones that might not be obvious or might not be obviously relevant to the ostensible task at hand, but would turn out to be meaningful.  Meaningful for people especially in the sense of enabling them to be present—to get to a place where their voices could at least be heard.  That might involve disability access that is not limited to the minimal standards prescribed by ADA regulations, or recognition by American managers that “non-compliance” to their guidelines by their foreign associates is more a matter of cultural style than shirking of work.

The third speaker, a Diversity officer at a Boston-area college, spoke of strategic partnering—collaboration, facilitation, dialogue—to keep colleagues working across difference and to support students in their differences (gender, racial/ethnic, disability, etc.) so they were less likely to drop out.  A key reflective question for partnering, the speaker noted, is what is key to who we connect with and who we don’t.  Acknowledging what was key was something he associated with his CCT experience.  The Program had been a “studio” for him to experiment with the things he was passionate about—that was OK in CCT where it had been hard in his education and upbringing.  The result was, quoting Parker Palmer’s Quaker dictum, he was able to advocate letting your life speak.

My hypothesis about the integration of inward and outward angles of view that emerged in the session on engaging with diverse adult populations follows in the next post.

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

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