Have you ever had an “AH-HA” moment when you were doing your readings? That feeling is the best! It happens mostly when the text echos with my own situations and beliefs, or when the text enlightens you with insights you have never thought about before.
Recently I have had this great moment of inspiration when I was reading my library management class text on cultural diversity and training. The text explains that cultural diversity includes the followings: Different styles, disabilities; Individuals, intelligence; Variety, veteran status; Education, economic statues, ethnicity; Race, religion, Sexual orientation, social class; Immigration status; Thought processes, traits; Youth, years. (Evans & Alire, 2014, p.370)
Our instructor told us about a Big 10 diversity training workshop she attended back in the 1990s, where the presenter talked about the Diversity Awareness Spectrum. The workshop stated that there are 5 levels in the Diversity Awareness Spectrum:
- Naive: Acts with no knowledge or awareness of biases and prejudices and their impact
- Perpetuator: Aware but continues behaviors that reinforce stereotypes and intolerance
- Avoider: Aware but makes a conscious choice to ignore inappropriate behavior
- Diversity Change Agent: Acts as a role model. Takes action when appropriate and addresses behaviors when important. Take risks.
- Fighter: Attacks all actions and confronts all behaviors. Always on the lookout for injustice.
When I was reading the text, a light bulb seemed to have lightened up above my head! I asked myself, where in the spectrum am I living in? In my private life, I hate to be involved in “political sensitive” arguments because I don’t think ignorant people are worth my time and frustrations- most of the time I just ignore and avoid those ignorant people and move on with my life. At the same time, I don’t want to take any risk ruining my “name.” I worry if my friends would see me as a troublemaker that they would avoid me.
Yet, it’s a different story at work. I can’t just quit my job or stop talking to these people. When inappropriate behaviors happen too often, the work environment becomes toxic. Work would become a tiring and frustrating chore. I know that because I also had those feelings in my previous job, where coworkers would make inappropriate comments about people of color. I held grudges against them for a long time. But, now that I think about it, besides getting angry, I didn’t really let them know what they did and said really were inappropriate. I was afraid to let them know. Maybe they had been living in the “Naive” level for their whole life that no one had taught them what’s appropriate and what’s not. I missed an opportunity to become a “Diversity Change Agent.” I was the one who contributed to their “naiveness.”
What about in the library setting? Fortunately, I am lucky that most of my current coworkers are not in the naive level, and even if things do happen, the library has a great report structure. But what do we do as a Diversity Change agent when we receive inappropriate comments from our patrons? As mentioned in my previous post, I think library staff should come to work feeling safe. Staff shouldn’t have to tolerate inappropriate, uncomfortable comments or behaviors. While we ban these patrons from coming to the library, is there something more we can do to maybe help them understand what is appropriate and what is not? (Yet, this is a difficult situation, as I am not their teachers or parents. What are your thoughts on this?) And of course, this is under the assumption that the patron is living in the “Naive” spectrum. When I reflected on my previous experiences with library creepers, most of the time I just felt angry and reported to the security guards. I didn’t express my concerns and feelings of injustice towards the creepers firm enough. (I might have told them what they did was inappropriate, but do they really understand?)
I realized I might still be living in the “Avoider” spectrum, both in personal life and at work. But in order to become a responsible citizen in this society, I need to change. I need to become a Diversity Change Agent. It is not an easy thing to do under the current political environment, but if I really believe in diversity and inclusion, I should become a change agent to help. To do this, I need to first reflect on my part to see if I have any biases, including the unconscious ones. I also need to understand what all the -ism mean – racism, sexism, classism, elitism, ageism, heterosexism/homophobia, etc. I might be familiar with the actual racism/ sexism experiences, but I need to look at the issues more objectively to see what I can do to help.
Verna Myers had written an excellent book on becoming a culturally effective person. She explained that everyone had been influenced by or shaped by all kinds of the -isms mentioned above. “Systemic oppression of various groups…will continue until ‘good people’ become the culturally effective people and even then will take big changes to dismantle.” (Myers 2013, p. 2.) Some of the tips can be found on her blog, and I especially love the first two: (1) Expand your comfort zone, and (2) If you don’t want to say the wrong thing, pause before you speak. So many times I see something and I quickly jump to my own conclusion and assumption, which is usually far from the truth. This happens because I do not have enough understanding on what is going on with these things, and in order to expand my worldview, I need to expand my comfort zone.
I believe as we strive to become Diversity Change Agent, we can create a world that everyone will feel safe living in as we realize it’s OK that we are not all the same and no one should be discriminated just because he or she doesn’t fit in. We all deserve equal rights in this society.
Myers, V. A. (2013). What if I say the Wrong Thing. Chicago, IL: American Bar Association Publishing
Evans, E., Alire, C. (2014). Management Basics for Information Professionals: Third Edition. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
Cover photo: Colors. under license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Alice Law is a MLIS student at Wayne State University.