Diversity Session with Dr. Maura Cullen (Revisited)


Shout out to my failed version of this blog from over the summer. I went to check it out and found this gem and decided to revisit it. This article is a reflection on a diversity presentation that I attended at Richard Stockton College during my NODA Internship this summer. (The above picture is my two fabulous Head OL staff members and me during some downtime between training sessions.)

If I am being completely honest, Dr. Cullen gave one of the best diversity presentations I have ever attended. She was funny, she was smart, and she has the education and the life experiences that really make her a believable and outstanding speaker.

The thing about the presentation that most impressed me was Dr. Cullen’s focus on more than just the things that divide us as humans. While there was some talk on racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, etc; she focused on the feelings that come with any act of prejudice or any act that can offend others.

Dr. Cullen spoke about the difference between intent and impact. Intent is what we mean. Impact is the effect we have on people. For example, if I accidentally run someone down with my car, I didn’t intend to hurt them. But I did. I still left a lasting impact no matter how sorry I am for running them over. The same things happens when we say things to other people, especially when we don’t mean them.

To make up for it, there are 3 steps. 1.) Acknowledge that you have made an error in what you have said or done. 2.) Apologize, sincerely, for what happened. 3.) Make it about them, not you.

On the other side of it, if someone is saying things that offend you, you should remember to BAR. Breathe, Acknowledge, Respond. Take a deep breath to clear your mind so you do not just react to the situation. Acknowledge the other person’s opinion, even if it is absurd. Then rationally respond.

This clearly comes from Dr. Cullen’s book The 35 Dumb Things Well Intentioned People Say: Surprising Things We Say That Widen The Diversity Gap.

Dr. Cullen’s presentation was more than just talking about well-intentioned people and the stupid things we have a tendency to say. She explained privilege quite simply, in a way that this former baseball player can relate to. This was the quote she used to explain: “Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they’ve hit a triple.” Barry Switzer originally said that. Well. It is true. Some people hit a triple and work their ass off to get there. Those of us already standing on third base should have an appreciation and understanding of the hard work it took for other people to get there. Especially because sometimes we are the descendants of people who worked hard to get to third base. Not everyone can even make the team, let alone hit a triple.

Dr.Cullen’s advice was to treat everyone, equitably, not equally. Give people what they need and give them individual attention. If we as student affairs professionals do not treat our students equitably they will take themselves to an institution who will. Appreciating diversity is understanding the individual needs of a student and how their personal frame of reference and experiences affect them. If we gather this information and support the student through what they are going through, we can help them on their life long journey and help them to succeed.

I really enjoyed Dr. Cullen and her presentation. I learned a lot from her session. Here is a link to her book for good measure! http://www.amazon.com/Dumb-Things-Well-Intended-People-Say/dp/1600374913/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1374543595&sr=8-1&keywords=Dr.+Maura+Cullen


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