During the summer of 2019, Franklin College administrators met as a book group to enhance leadership skills while learning more about the experience of dominant and marginalized groups.
The book group, which concluded a month of weekly meetings on July 16, consisted of 14 members including Franklin College dean Alan Dorsey, associate deans, directors and department heads from the college. The group read and discussed Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? And other conversations about race, written by Dr. Beverly Tatum, renowned clinical psychologist and president-emerita of Spelman College. The 20th anniversary edition of the book introduces the unique racial identity development stages experienced by Whites and by Blacks and other marginalized groups. These stages of identity development frequently shape how identities are experienced, and also how they are interpreted and responded to by members within and beyond the identity own groups.
“Many academic leaders may be unprepared to engage issues of diversity and inclusion on campus. Our identities as ‘experts’ are often challenged in the D&I space in ways that leave us paralyzed,” said Franklin College senior associate dean Kecia Thomas, who organized and led the book group. “Participants have been very grateful for the opportunity to practice talking about difficult subject matter as well as reading a well-researched book that motivates both personal and professional reflection.”
“This new edition frames identity development against a modern backdrop of police shootings of unarmed Black people, BLM protests, the re-segregation of public education, and growing public expressions of racial resentment,” Thomas said. “Our conversations have helped us to better understand the experiences of our students and of our faculty and what they bring to campus. Our elevated appreciation of identity, how different groups might experience UGA and Athens is helping to prepare us to be better diversity allies and inclusive leaders for the campus.”
“Many of our students, faculty and staff work constantly side-by-side on creative projects, and it’s absolutely crucial that we foster an inclusive, diverse, and compassionate community where everyone feels welcome and valued,” said David Zucker Saltz, professor and head of the department of theatre and film studies. “This book club helped me to understand some of the unique challenges that people of color face, and why it’s so important, and difficult, to address these challenges openly and honestly rather than simply wishing them away.”
The goals of this leadership development opportunity included building leaders’ diversity literacy; exposing leaders to challenges faced by underrepresented students; building greater comfort in participating in conversations around diversity; and motivating leaders to engage and model more ally and inclusive behaviors.
The book club format offered a weekly reading guide as well as assignments for private reflection.
“It was a very positive experience for our group that I hope might serve as a model for colleagues on this critical aspect of our work life environment,” Thomas said.
Image: from left: Sandy Martin, professor and religion department head; Beth Woods, executive director of Franklin College IT; William Graham, professor and mathematics department head, ; Nancy Manley, professor and genetics department head; Jean Martin-Williams, Franklin College associate dean; Aaron Meskin, professor and philosophy department head; Kecia Thomas; David Zucker Saltz; Jamie Kriener, professor and history department head; Nakia Wade, Franklin College Human Resources Senior Manager; Thiab Taha, professor and computer science department head.