Access and inclusion at (women’s) colleges

20 Oct

The NY Times Magazine published a thoughtful, complicated article about the changing the fact that “a small but increasing number of students at [women's colleges] do not identify as women [but as transmasculine, transfeminine, gender queer or agender], raising the question of what it means to be a ‘women’s college'” (

The implications of gender-inclusive admissions is rich and complex–I’ll let you read for yourself and just note here what stood out for me from an organizational standpoint. As Wellesley works out its policies and adapts to a shifting population and culture, its current practice is that “[o]nce individuals have enrolled and announced that they are trans, the schools, more or less, leave it to the students to work out how trans classmates fit into a women’s college.”

Hmm. What is “left to the students to work out” includes institutional identity, philosophy and language; access to resources and opportunities within the community; and the navigation of gender politics that suggest a white transmasculine student is both “the man” and oppressed by a cisgender feminist institution.

While I appreciate the honesty from within women’s colleges that they don’t know yet how admissions, student development, and their own institutional identities will evolve, I think that honesty can and should be paired with the responsibility to work with their students to figure out how the gender spectrum doesn’t just fit into a women’s college, but illuminates core values and, in some cases, compels an expansion of the school so that it fits its students.

Note: For a helpful explanation of gender concepts and terminology, I encourage you to check out Gender Spectrum’s helpful article “Understanding Gender”:

** Thanks to my friend and colleague JR for sharing this article.

Quote of the day

7 Oct

“No one should work full time and still live in poverty.”

–Senator Elizabeth Warren, Real Time with Bill Maher, 10/3/14

Whatever your political orientation, doesn’t this make sense?

And from the same interview, a not so fun-fact: “Student loans issued from 2007 to 2012 are on target to produce $66 billion in profit for the United States government” ( That profit, Warren argues, is how the US recovers the tax revenue lost through loopholes.

You can check out the full interview here:

Same-sex marriage: one state at a time?

6 Oct

Today’s news about the Supreme Court’s direction to allow appeals court rulings in favor of same-sex marriage to stand in five states arguably has greater reach than just Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin  ( Marriage equality seems imminent in other states that currently ban same-sex marriage.

Still, I found myself less than enthusiastic when I read the headlines. Irritated, even.

While this is good news for proponents of social equality, I can’t help but think it’s not good enough news. My issue is rooted in findings from a 2013 New York Times/CBS News poll that “[a] solid majority of Americans opposes a broad national right to same-sex marriage, saying the power to legalize gay unions should rest with the states — even as most support marriage equality for gay people” (

That troubles me. Why? Because this issue isn’t just about gay people or gay unions. It’s about unequal taxation, and access to health insurance and government programs that provide a safety net for families, as reported by a coalition of gay rights groups in “All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families” ( It’s about whether children should be penalized because some people have a problem with their parents’ sexuality. And the welfare of those kids shouldn’t have to wait for 50 independent states to slog through propositions, bans, appeals and rulings up the food chain of courts. It just doesn’t make sense in these United States that children in Wyoming should have fewer rights or protections than children in Massachusetts and have to wait longer for equal care just because they got born or adopted in a different state.

And I believe there’s something simple we can do about this. A professor of mine from graduate school said that the way we frame a question determines the possible solutions. In this case, the way we frame the issue determines the possible perspectives on it. I think it’s time to shift the argument from “legalizing gay unions” (do you hear me, NY Times and CBS?) to protecting the rights of children no matter who their parents are. I wonder how that would poll.

A taxonomy of diversity speak

25 Sep

A Ph.D. student recently contacted me to talk about my work and intersections with her field of research, and once again, I found myself doing that initial lexicon dance that’s so vital in this field to verify whether I’m talking with someone about the same or different ideas.

As someone who is perpetually involved in this dance (and occasionally adding new moves to it), I offer this taxonomy of diversity terms as an example of research-based and intentional language that I use consistently and systemically in my work. I’m not proposing these definitions as the right ones, or the ones you should be using. I’m offering them as a well-founded reference point, with the question: so what do you mean when you talk about diversityequityinclusionculturalcompetencyandsocialjustice?

Diversity refers to differences in those aspects of our identities that on a group level impact access to resources and opportunities, privileges and disadvantages, and status in communities. Diversity includes normative and majority groups. Diversity is not a synonym for minority groups or people who are stereotyped as being disadvantaged. Thus, if you want to talk about a specific group of people, it’s clearer and simply accurate to just say so.

We talk about diversity because it both enriches our lives (more on that in an upcoming post) and because it correlates with social inequities among groups of people that are predicated on accident of birth: that is, whether or not they happened to get born into the right, good, favored, normal or simply default social group (see Steven Jones’ “The Right Hand of Privilege” thoughtpaper for more: This is privilege: unearned social advantage in the form of entitlement to resources, opportunities and preferential treatment; and freedom or immunity from stigma, presumption of deficit or additional hurdles–just because of how you got born. Guilt and shame don’t negate privilege; they often just disable us from using that privilege to effect greater equity. (And if we don’t use our privilege intentionally, it still has a social effect.)

So we talk about the fact of diversity because we care about equity, which is fairness, not just for individuals, but for whole groups of people who co-exist. Equity isn’t making things equal for everyone, or making everything nice and perfect for each individual. Equity is dismantling norms, practices, attitudes and policies that unfairly favor some over others–not just for the good of those who are disfavored, but for the collective good: a society benefits when everyone in it has a fair shot at thriving.

If we care about equity not just as a concept but as a social possibility, then we define, enact and create accountability for cultural competency, which is the understandings, skills, habits of heart and mind, default practices, tools and discernment that help us shift the natural tendency of social inequity toward an intentional set point of fairness that benefits our community’s vision, goals and members.

In this process of grappling with equity and articulating cultural competency, communities necessarily reckon with their diversity bandwidth and actual or preferred limits of inclusion. This is to say that most groups don’t really intend to be 100%, all-around welcoming and empowering of all identities. (The difference between just welcoming and being inclusive is that you welcome someone into your home, and it’s still your home. When you include someone, you share ownership and accountability of the space you cohabit.) The truth is, most organizations and groups define and perpetuate themselves in part by exclusion, whether intentional or not–for example, workplaces that are friendly to liberal but not conservative politics (or vice versa), or schools that only communicate with families in English. I bring these up not as examples of right or wrong practice, but to suggest that part of equity and inclusion work is recognizing what your group’s operative biases, exclusions and inequities are, and then discerning how helpful or bona fide they are in fulfilling your organization’s mission.

Social justice is both the vision and the inclusive process of cultivating equity for individual and collective thriving, through individual, community and institutional understanding, communication and discerning action.

… or maybe “Yes, and…”

22 Sep

People sometimes understandably think my consultancy, Blink Consulting, is an homage to Malcolm Gladwell. Not so, even though I draw from his work and have all his books. For the record, I also appreciate critiques of Gladwell-ian journalism: I think this perspective ( from Benjamin Bratton is spot on–and his delivery is a great example of the medium is the message.

All that said, I frequently cite Gladwell’s coverage of the “10,000 hour rule,” which is why a colleague forwarded the article “New Study Destroys Malcolm Gladwell’s Famous ‘10,000 Hour Rule'” ( to me. Clearly a must read!

Based on the title alone, I thought: oh no. I’ve cited completely erroneous research for my clients. Not good for them, not good for the validity of diversity as a field, not good for my legitimacy as a professional.

But I should also have known from the title that this article was going for a bit of drama. If you haven’t read it, please do, and here are some of my thoughts:

  1. It’s not Gladwell’s rule. He’s just (as always) writing about other people’s research, including: K. Ericsson, D. Levitin and R. Weisberg. In fact, as far as I can tell, it’s Levitin whom the article should call to task, as he’s the one who asserts, “The emerging picture from such studies [as those conducted more narrowly by researchers like Ericsson and Weisberg, who studied professional v. amateur musicians, and the Beatles, respectively] is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert–in anything” (Gladwell, Outliers).
  2. Making this about “destroying Gladwell’s rule” is recklessly and inaccurately positioning the dialogue as an either-or, (the “No, but…” upon which intellectualism is all too often based and perpetuates). I’m not suggesting that we thoughtlessly embrace all bunk theories that precede us (the moon is not made of cheese, and the world is not flat); I’m suggesting that thoughtless rejection or acceptance of any knowledge, established or newly pioneered is not only unhelpful: it’s a dangerous habit of mind and heart that threatens our discernment as it rusts our capacity for complex integrative thinking. The fact is that sometimes what new research brings to light is a “yes, and” rather than total destruction, as Brooke Macnamara, the principal researcher of this allegedly Gladwell destroying study, herself concludes: “There is no doubt that deliberate practice is important, from both a statistical and a theoretical perspective. It is just less important than has been argued. For scientists, the important question now is, what else matters?”
  3. What Princeton researchers have added to the work that inspired their study “Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education, and Professions: A Meta-Analysis” is an unsurprising and welcome perforation of Levitin’s absolutism about 10,000 hrs of practice. In their words “We found that deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions. We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued” ( One of the important insights this study provides is that the importance of deliberate practice varies, depending on how “stable” (i.e. having fixed rules) a domain or industry is. In other words, what to practice and how much is less clear for entrepreneurs than it is for marathoners.

Where this all leaves me, is not at all torn between studies. This body of research, which is thankfully still growing and unafraid to examine its inherent assumptions and biases, gives me more ability to articulate why 10,000 hours of individual and collective cultural competency practice is a good idea for schools and other organizations that care about inclusion and equity. Cultural competency isn’t alchemy, magic or an innate state of being. Cultural competency is a fairly stable set of skills, habits of heart and mind and default practices that it can only help to practice deliberately–and that’s key: deliberate, not just presumed or unexamined practice. Because I imagine there is or will be research to back up the theory that 10,000 hours of malpractice matters when it comes to mastery, too.

**Thanks to SM for the article.

A professional learning community for educators of color

4 Sep

Welcome (back) to the new school year! A quick post this am about an opportunity for leaders of color in education. I’m teaming up with Steve Morris, Head of the San Francisco School, again this year to facilitate a professional learning community for educational leaders of color.

You may be wondering… Why a group specifically for leaders of color? And isn’t white a color?

To the first question: We learn best in a variety of occasions, including groups that offer different experiences of affinity and diversity. And the thing about any affinity group is that it still includes tremendous diversity of all the other aspects of our identities, which for this group include: sex, socioeconomic status, position/role in schools, professional goal, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, family, education, gender, size, abilities and background. To start.

Why a racial affinity group? Because race is one of the aspects of identity that shapes our interactions with others and our experiences in communities, including: status, access to resources and opportunities, and privileges and disadvantages. Research bears this out at a group level (which is to say, individuals, of course, have unique experiences; and, there are trends and patterns at the group level that indicate normative experience for different racial groups socially, professionally and publicly). Anecdotally, the response to this affinity offering (last year and this year) seems to confirm that this is a valued, useful experience.

And yes, white is a color. We’re not consistent with that understanding, though. And while I stand by the fact that “diversity” includes everyone and all identities, including the majority or norm (without whom there is no perceived “other”), I challenge applying that inclusive definition only to create greater access to the parts of the conversation about diversity that are desirable to participate in. We’re all in all of this together. And what that entails is sometimes affinitizing to help us come together as a diverse community with more awareness, skills and discernment. To that end, Steve and I have added this professional affinity space to BATDC’s other affinity offerings (for new leaders, experience administrators and women). And I hope to see more affinity opportunities for more of the identities that shape our social and professional experiences in education.

About the LOC PLC (Leaders of color professional learning community):

Offered through the Bay Area Teacher Development Collaborative, this dialogue series is an opportunity for educators of color to explore their leadership visions, opportunities, and aspirations within and beyond independent schools. For experienced, emerging and questioning leaders of color at all stages of their careers, this yearlong series will offer participants time and support to:

  • Clarify their visions and goals as educators,
  • Identify core leadership competencies and challenges,
  • Design their own professional growth plans, and
  • Network and build vital personal and professional relationships.

With the intention of knowing and sustaining ourselves in our careers, we will lean into case studies; reflect on our own experiences; talk frankly about the challenges, opportunities and expectations for leaders of color; recognize our personal growth edges; and drill down on the skills and knowledge we have and need to thrive on our diverse professional paths.

For educators of color who want to be effective, transformative, and ever-growing in their profession, these working conversations will include all aspects of who we are as leaders and the complexity of the communities in which we work.

Meeting dates: October 22, November 7, January 14, March 11;
Meeting times: 10:00-2:00  (Additional Social Networking Event: February 5, 5:00-6:30)
Location: The San Francisco School
Cost: $1450 per participant; ($2100 for non-members)

To register, please go to: (and click on “Register”).

This summer

24 Jun

Watching the PBS special “Freedom Summer” about the summer of 1964 when black and white US Americans (and perhaps US Americans of other races?) came together to fight for voter registration and education in Mississippi.

If you’re missing it, track it down and watch it later this summer. The courage and conviction of the folks who stood up for equal voting rights is awesome (and I do mean “awesome” in the traditional sense of inspiring awe). And the question I am now asking myself is: this summer, what am I standing up for?


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