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Experiencing Diversity

 

Ruth Sanford

 

Origin

 

Our quest began in 1984 at a person-centered workshop in Mexico City at the Universidad Iberoamericano. Carl Rogers and I had been invited to participate on a panel composed of practitioners in a wide range of therapies all the way from Freudian analysis to Neo-Freudian to behaviorist and one or two others. Carl Rogers and I represented the humanistic approach or, more specifically, the person-centered approach (evolved from client - centered therapy) applied to groups as well as individuals.* Various members of the panel had discussed among themselves at some length the value they placed on the fee which they charged and there was some shoptalk among the analysts and others. When we had finished the presentations, a Mexican woman social worker in Mexico City stood up and made an impassioned plea which ended in a question, "I have heard all this about the various therapies and fees. I would like to know what are you doing to take care of the needs of the thousands of people who cannot afford private psychotherapy?"

 

There was a pause. Then she addressed her question to me. I was taken completely by surprise and for what seemed like a long moment I could not find words. Then, as nearly as I can describe it, I heard a voice in my mind saying, "Elitism. We must go beyond elitism." I then told of the common practice among client-centered or person-centered therapists to determine the fee by reaching a decision about the fee with the client as partner in the decision. I know many person-centered therapists who did not turn a client away because of inability to pay. I also referred to the fact that in our workshops we had found that many of the participants responded either at the workshop or later with expressions like "You have changed my life," or "It had a lasting effect on me and I am keeping in touch with others whom I met at the workshop." I also referred to the fact that many times one half hour demonstration therapy session between Carl and a volunteer client was sufficiently powerful to call forth a comment such as "it changed my life."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Steps

 

The idea of departing from the usual or traditional pattern of person-centered workshops evolved rather slowly during the summer of 1993.I think I became aware that for the most part the participants in person Ė centered workshops were white, middle class professionals or students with a sprinkling of others who were seeking an opportunity for personal growth. At the beginning we had considered an experiential workshop acquainting newcomers with the concepts of the person-centered approach. We had also considered a learning experience or training program in the New York area. The third possibility of a diversity workshop came to the fore in August of 1993. The need for going beyond elitism came up at the end of the 1992 ADPCA meeting in Redwood City, California where the need for more outreach to various minority groups was discussed. We decided that those who had expressed interest at the ADPCA conference and others who had experience in person-centered group work, both within and outside the New York City area, should be included in the planning. Three persons from Kutztown, Pennsylvania and six from the New York-Long Island area were present at the August and September meetings. In October, two persons from the Massachusetts and Connecticut area were added.

 

Initially in June, the intent was to set a date for the workshop in November, but as our objective became clearer, we realized that more time was needed - probably late spring or early summer would be realistic. It became clear that a long preparation period made heavy demands on the time of members of the planning group. At this point attendance at the monthly meetings fluctuated. Individuals determined they were making the choice of staying in the planning group or withdrawing because they were unable to make the commitment. In a real sense the planning group was self selected; no one person was in charge. The process was time consuming.

 

One objective was to bring together a group of genuinely interested persons who themselves represented diversity of background. We decided to meet one Sunday each month at a central meeting place almost equidistant from Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. We also felt the need to meet for one two-day period to know each other better in depth. We had to feel our way because no one of our group had ever deliberately set out to bring together the highest degree of diversity possible. It was a process of exploration and discovery.

 

 

 

 

Illustrated Learnings

 

The learnings from the Experiencing Diversity workshops 1994-1998 we have selected to illustrate are:

 

Dissension in the planning group is mirrored in the workshop.

Harmony in the planning group is mirrored in the workshop.

Make it clear you want to hear each person.

The importance of commitment in the planning group.

The deeper the exchange, the greater the binding.

 

What Iíve experienced with Experiencing Diversity workshops also holds true for large and small groups. I find that the learnings from the Experiencing Diversity workshops are compatible with those from all PCA groups both large and small. [see the chapter in this volume "My Experience of the Development of Small and Large Group Work in the PCA"]

 

DISSENSION IN THE STAFF IS MIRRORED IN THE GROUP

 

In contrast to Experiencing Diversity 1998 our experience in 1997 demonstrated the effect that disharmony in the staff resulted in such disharmony in the group that some participants did not return in 1998

because they felt unsafe and others left with heavy hearts and many conflicts unresolved.

 

HARMONY IN THE STAFF IS MIRRORED IN THE GROUP

 

A staff memberís suggestion that we meet less often but for longer weekend meetings rather than more single day meetings was vital to the harmony and unity of the staff in 1998. That we were able to overcome the one bump in the road of a deep and joyful meeting was due in large part to the harmony achieved at the staff meetings throughout the year. More details about this can be found in the section discussing "Make It Clear You Want To Hear Each Person".

The work on the beautiful collage and brochure done all the colors of the rainbow gave the planning group a momentum it never lost. The statement "celebrate differences" along with similarities in the Experiencing Diversity 5 brochure set a tone for the workshop.

 

MAKE IT CLEAR YOU WANT TO HEAR EACH PERSON

 

In two workshops, one with Carl and one by myself, I have experienced consciously saying something that changed the direction of the meeting.

 

One in Moscow had been a violent one where facilitators were confronted with doing something after much vituperation. People had been screaming at each other and our repeated appeals for participants to speak one at a time because we wanted to hear each one were ignored. At the end of the evening session the facilitators agreed to ask the participants to sit silently for five minutes, not to speak to each other as they left, and to return the following morning at nine oíclock. Next day the participants began listening to one other and the atmosphere became increasingly positive.

 

In the closing session of Experiencing Diversity 5 (1998) to everyoneís surprise one member of the staff suddenly exploded in such anger that newcomers were feeling threatened. They had been promised that this was a place where they could feel safe. One by one members of the group familiar with the PCA, not newcomers, expressed their feelings: of being "terrorized by you", "in your words I heard the rage of my father when I was a child", "I see you as a man filled with rage", "maybe itís the little boy in you who didnít get hugged enough by his mother".

 

I could hear that the younger, less experienced people were closing up, afraid to speak. They were young people, some of them from backgrounds of deprivation and the fear and anger of the adults who had invited them to "a safe place to be yourself" was evident. At this point I as one of the facilitators was on the verge of tears myself. I felt it would be impossible to settle all those differences in the last hour. So I expressed my strong feeling, "I would like the persons involved to come together at the close of the workshop to work out their differences and that we turn our attention to those who had felt attacked. I had hoped we could turn our attention in the last hour to those who had been afraid to speak, to those who had felt unsafe." We took time to acknowledge the many strong and positive contributions of the person who had exploded. Then the unsafe ones spoke and the meeting closed on a very rich and upward note. We ended in close concentric circles singing Kumbaya with workshop variants for refrains where the last was "See you here again next year!"

 

Much of that night and the following morning the facilitative staff involved and worked out their differences. The person who had exploded said I had done the right thing when I said I wanted to hear the silent ones. Then during final farewells I reached for my bag. Another member of the staff said, "Thatís my bag." I said, "I guess we have to sort out our own baggage, donít we?" We laughed and ended on a note of harmony.

 

After this workshop at least six groups of people (from

Canada, Michigan, Chicago, Arizona, California, and Connecticut) felt strongly energized to return home and start their own Experiencing Diversity workshops in their neighborhoods.

 

There was a general feeling expressed that this was the richest Experiencing Diversity workshop of the five years.

 

One of the staff members who had been strongest in attracting young people to the workshop expressed more strongly than ever before her dedication to continue doing so.

 

Using the principle that the participants or clients are the authority on the experience I quote a letter from a participant "The Experiencing Diversity Workshop was a very positively moving experience for me from the warm invitation, to the most incredible representation of feelings and ideas expressed across the lifespan, across ethnicity and race, across economic and social classes, across philosophical and political lines."

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMITMENT IN THE PLANNING STAFF

 

There were many doers on the planning staff, dedicated enough to execute large tasks steadily and well from the brochure to fund raising, recruiting, accounting, housing arrangements, or transportation.

 

THE DEEPER THE EXCHANGE THE GREATER THE BINDING

 

The deepest exploration of celebrating differences occurred on the second day of Experiencing Diversity 1998 when several African American participants shared in depth the pain and disappointment they had suffered

in finding their place in the life and culture of the US. So intense was the involvement that the group continued with it all afternoon through the time allotted for free activities. Close binding was evident.

 

 

 

 

Members of Our Diverse Staff Speak For Themselves.

 

A - This is a story of my experiencing diversity growing up in a beautiful small town in Virginia surrounded by mountains where everyone lived all over no matter what their race or economic status and where everyone interacted with each other even before the days of school integration. We were a Black family of four boys and four girls. My mother was a school teacher who stopped teaching when her children were born and my father was a coal miner who had also been a baseball player and railroad man after growing up on a farm.

 

Diversity started for me soon after birth. I was born on June 9th and my next door neighbor, Buddy, who is a Caucasian male was born June 21st. He had a female first cousin who was born a couple of months before us in April. We all played together and since then mixed with the other kids on the street. Being in such proximity, whenever their family had problems we worried about them, and when ever there was sickness in our family they were there for us. When my mother needed a cup of sugar, it was over to Buddy's house I would go.

 

Whenever my mother made us stay in the yard, Buddy would be at the fence playing through [it] and over it.

 

Since the entire town had similar situations, when we were old enough to venture out into the community, we met new friends and continued to play together. When the city established a Little League, it too was integrated and we were on the same team or we played against each other. My two brothers and I were chosen for the Green team because the manager of that team worked at the same place as my father so even though he did not know us, he felt he was getting good players because of who my father was to him. We were good players because my father had played semi - pro baseball and taught us to play.

 

This led to us getting to know kids all over town. So we were at each otherís houses all of the time. Wherever [we were when] the 12 oíclock whistle blew is where we had lunch. My parents were caring and kind people who made friends with anyone and everyone so I was often accepted by people I may have not known but who knew my parents.

 

As wonderful as these experiences were there were injustices that happened. The school system was segregated. The local labor pool did not include us. The only professional jobs that were available to Blacks were teachers, ministers and barbers. We had some of the best teachers in the county but the subjects covered in our schools were the basics. Music and art were subjects I pursued after leaving there. I learned to swim in recent years. Most of us moved on to obtain professional jobs. When integration of the school did occur, many of our teachers became Chairman of the Department. Yet the relationships formed as kids still are strong and meaningful.

 

When a group of Ku Klux Klansmen organized a march through the town in recent years, the townsfolk were against it. They could not prevent them from getting a permit to march, so the march took place. What they did do was schedule a rally at the park at a later time inviting all of the towns people to show unity with a celebration having speakers throughout the community share what the community meant to them. My Aunt Sadie was a major speaker.

 

I live diversity because I have learned from early on that there are very few things that need separate us and there are many things that we can share to build an even richer community.

 

B - The idea of diversity among people came to me early in life, when as a teen during the 1940's I began to believe that I was in some way different from my peers. I felt estranged from them, and I experienced feelings of negative self-worth as I discovered that it was socially unacceptable for me to act on the natural feelings within my being.

 

Later as a college student, I began to conclude that I was a gay man; however in those days, such a person was advised to "get over it," or somehow to get a "cure." Much of the current thinking encouraged me to find a good woman, marry her, and settle into a "normal" marriage and family life; somehow the "unnatural" feelings would then disappear, and life would unfold in the socially-acceptable, normal manner.

 

Several years after college, I married, and made a commitment to myself and to my wife that I would stay married. This marriage has lasted more than forty years, has offered both of us many riches from a deep and exciting relationship, has produced two now-grown children, and on the surface is a normal American marriage. My secret, however, is that I didn't "get over it,' or get a "cure." I continue to be clearly aware that I am a gay man who has masqueraded as a straight man throughout most of the important activities of my life, including graduate school, and a profession as a college professor.

 

Life was not that smooth, however. Before I was married, I was "found out" and fired from my first professional job out of college, for reasons having nothing to do with my professional work. Later, in my work as a personnel manager, I was refused a security clearance by the U.S. Air Force, where my "secret" again was discovered, and I was subsequently terminated from that position. Still later, after graduate school, I was not granted tenure in an important position as a faculty member of a well known university - the place for a universe of thought to flourish. It was clear to me that I had been "out" to too many people at that university. Still another university attempted to fire me, and a federal judge ordered the university to reinstate me. I left that university, for the climate was extremely oppressive with homophobia among the administrators.

 

For the last thirteen years, I have mentioned nothing about my sexual orientation at the Catholic college where I teach, and have been given outstanding praise for the work I have done. It appears that hiding one's self pays off in our society. I am among a fortunate few, for many others of "difference" cannot hide who they are, for their identity as members of targeted groups is obvious merely by looking at their physical features.

 

I know about discrimination. I know about difference. I know about oppression, and living a life in hiding. I know about the negative consequences that can arise out of authentically declaring the truth about self.

 

With the understanding of my own personal experience, I became interested in others who may have experienced "difference" from the American norm of white, heterosexual, middle-class, male place of privilege. Such people might include persons of African or Hispanic heritages, Native American heritage, women, people who are poor and lacking in education, those who are homosexual, aging, or those disenfranchised by physical or mental disability. After discussing some of these issues with my colleagues, I decided to join them in organizing and facilitating a workshop in diversity-an opportunity for encouraging persons from these diverse backgrounds to come together to share in their experiences coping with "difference." And so our first annual workshop entitled "Experiencing Diversity" was born in 1994. These same colleagues and I have continued in our diversity work since that date, having facilitated four such workshops, with planning underway for our fifth one in October of 1998. These workshops are organized around a person-centered way of being, espoused and researched by the late Carl R. Rogers.

 

C - My neighborhood was pretty homogeneous. There were two principal populations, Italian and Irish, reflecting the city. Even over time we were homogeneous. I played a lot of ball games as my father had before me in the same neighborhood. My ancestors were largely English and Irish with a little Dutch. Although my family was of moderate income I had the privilege of attending a private school. I never doubted that both of my parents loved and supported me.

 

It was not till I was college age that I was aware of differences. And I embraced them. I was a unifier. I wanted to unite Math and Poetry, Science and Humanities. Iím a little more relaxed about these distinctions now. The differences I was interested in were academic, cultural. The cultural differences had to be exotic. I conceived the grand scheme of uniting or finding what was common in China, Japan, India, Islam, and the West.

 

In later years I got to visit these cultures. I would complete a computer contract and take off. The scheme remained unrealized, but it was a good dream that led to my learning a lot and having many wonderful experiences.

 

But the local seemed banal, to lack the excitement of the exotic, and all those years I had little to do with the richness and diversity right around me.

 

D - I feel that I contributed to the diversity within the facilitating staff by my age and by my limitation of legal blindness which for me means two percent vision in each eye. I grew up in an environment that was not aware of minority groups. However, as I have been thinking about it just now, my hometown had a mix of North Europeans, which included a large Swedish population and a smaller Italian population. I never met a person of color until I went to New York City as an adult except for two African American women who made presentations as guests of missionaries. Most of my best friends were Swedish and I realized that there was a class differentiation. The Italians were largely craftsmen, gardeners and nonprofessionals. I was definitely limited in my view of the world!

 

As I work more intensively with groups, including our facilitating staff, I have learned that I am in another kind of minority. My family was poor. My father drank too much. We moved 8 times in my first 16 years. Technically I was an only child, but despite our poverty our house was open to relatives and friends who needed a haven in times of hardship. When, at the age of six, we moved to a farm I had time, with my motherís encouragement, to make friends with nature. Both parents, from my earliest recollection, reassured me of their love and caring for me. It saddens me greatly to find that very few people whom I know have received this kind of reassurance from both parents. In that respect I have discovered that I am part of another kind of minority.

 

The church-related college which I attended presented only two occasions to

meet a person of African descent. They were invited as guests of missionaries. I did well enough academically, became a student assistant to the Professor of English Language and Literature and participated in many extracurricular activities. I was one of four members of our class who were warned they would be dismissed if we persisted in being "too liberal in our reading". Two of the four were dismissed. I was one of the two reprimanded and warned by the administration. My mother offered to help me find another college in case of my dismissal and supported me in standing for what I believed.

 

I did graduate work at Columbia Teachers college and met and married there the wonderful man I married and with whom I spent 49 years of married life, which ended with his death in 1989. Last year our daughter Mei Mei received her doctorate in anthropology and religion.

 

E - I emigrated to the US when I was 7 years old from Scotland. I have early thoughts of being different from the children at my school because I was not American. My parents spoke with accents. My name is a foreign one, so many people mispronounced it. I feel that this set me apart from others.

 

By the time I reached high school I knew I was gay. I was having a relationship at this time with someone 20 years older than myself. I did not tell anyone about this because I knew I would have to face discriminatory remarks.

 

I felt separate. I feel that my parents knew I was gay but did not speak to me about it. There was a young Black woman that I ate lunch with everyday. Many students called her nigger and I was the gay nigger lover. I did not think I was different, I knew I was different.

 

I went to college and was openly gay. I took my chances on being proud of who and what I was. I tried to commit suicide, junior year, because I could not endure the taunts. I came home for a semester and then went back the next year to graduate. Gay or not!! I graduated with a BA in sociology. After graduation I did "come out" to my parents and they asked me to leave the house. I did so ending up in Syracuse, NY where I met my second lover. We moved to Indiana and spent 7 years there. At this time I was drinking heavily; no wonder he left me. I was in the battle of self medicating myself.

 

My father died suddenly and I moved back to NY where my drinking escalated. During this time I made 3 attempts on my life and thought that suicide was the only route for a person like me to take. I was not aware that I had a choice to live. I was destined to die, alone, scared, and isolated.

 

At this time I hooked up with a person-centered therapist who took me to hospital after hospital for more intensive treatment for alcoholism. This person, for the first time, listened to me, listened to my concerns and what a shambles my life was truly in. At one point I called and said "This time, Iím really going to do it. Thereís nothing anyone can do. I called to say goodbye" At this point the therapistís reply was "If you go ahead and end your life, I shall be very sad. I care for you and Iíll miss you. But itís your life. You have the right to do whatever you choose with it. And Iíll not think the less of you" I hung up. The next morning I called and said "I decided that if someone trusted me that much, I must have something in me worth living for."

 

After three years of searching, I was put on lithium and diagnosed manic-depressive. I really did not know what that meant. But I stayed on my medication and went to this helpful therapist for therapy, also becoming a member of a group.

 

Going on lithium, talking to a person centered therapist and trying to face what my problems really were, rather than having someone tell me what my problems were saved my life. And I am able to write this today. I was free in therapy to express my feelings about any topic that I wanted, not what the therapist wanted. This was very new for me. I had to make up my own mind about a lot of things. No one had ever listened to me before and the idea that they listened to me and that I made the choices about what was going to happen was an exceptional experience. It was short of miraculous!! I started to trust myself and the decisions I had made for myself. I started to have patience with myself, instead of throwing in the towel. I learned if there was one way I could not solve a problem, perhaps there was another way I could solve it. I had support, for the first time in my life-I HAD SUPPORT.

 

I stopped drinking and came to realize I was an alcoholic. I have not had a drink in 18 years now. I then met my present partner and we have been together for 18 years, having built a life on trust and understanding. I have spent most of the work time in rehabilitative work with Latinos. I am Spanish speaking and I listened to what their concerns were.

 

At present I am going to graduate school full-time to become a patient advocate. I am earning a Master's degree in Medical Humanities.

 

I have spent the better half of my life listening to myself and others because a person-centered therapist took the time to listen to me.

 

I have been involved with the "Experiencing-Diversity" work for about 5 years. I have such respect for this work and the people who do this type of work. During this time I have wrestled with cancer, and Parkinson's disease. I have had the support of my person-centered family to help me through the rough times. My friends on the Diversity staff have been invaluable, not in just giving me strength and courage, but I know they will listen to me.

 

These experiences I bring to the Diversity Staff and hope that my diversity will touch someone else in a good way. I feel I am alive because of this work and I have no shame as to my sexual preference. I am open about that too and prefer to live my life this way. I like the idea that I am accepted for what I am, not for what I am not.

 

The Diversity staff has allowed me to explore myself and others and their Diversity. It enables me to find out what there is about myself I can improve on and maybe help someone help me when I do not understand their Diversity.

 

The chance to have a place to express differences and try and explore these differences in a non threatening way has made all the difference in my life. It has allowed me to create a climate where others can find ways to change their lives.

 

F - As far back as I can remember [my family history] all my grand parents were born in Spain two from Galicia and the others Las Islas Canarias. My grandmother met my grandfather (mothers side) in Cuba where she was brought to "save her reputation" as a married man was courting back home. She never saw her mother or 14 brothers and sisters again. Her father sailed to do business in Cuba once a year where he took her.

 

My dad's family made it to Cuba via Mexico and he was the 21st child conceived by my grandparents. My mother grew up in poverty of which she is ashamed and determined not to be poor, excelled in school. She worked at a private school to help pay for tuition and finally ten days before leaving Cuba to go to the United States got her Doctoral degree in Physics and Math - not common for her time, given that she became a single mother at 33 when my father died. I was born in Cuba somewhere in there 5 years before we left our Island. I grew up in Miami, Florida where I lived with my mother and brother for a couple of years until we were able to get my grandmother and aunt out of Cuba. I remember my mother being concerned about people not renting to us because we were Cubans, or worse yet, because she had children.

 

But while a part of me has completely "assimilated" to the "American Culture", the melting pot culture, another part of me is as Cuban as they come. I feel I have benefited tremendously from growing up with both cultures where I can choose the best of both worlds. I am now a 43 year old woman who acknowledged I was a lesbian in my early twenties and have survived my own homophobia. After almost entering the convent in the fall of 1975 I attended and graduated from Florida State University. I have worked in human services for over 20 years. I have also been deeply affected and inspired by the many persons with disabilities that have touched my life during my 25 years plus of professional work. In 1993 I moved to New Britain, Connecticut where I discovered a vibrant though sometimes hostile community. For the first time, while I made a commitment to never forget people with disabilities I began to work with the "community" particularly those who are disenfranchised through poverty, language, color, sexuality etc. This town and this work catapulted me into connecting with this wonderful Experiencing Diversity group as I became a citizen of the United States in 1995 and where I purchased a home and ran for City Council in New Britain in 1997. I lost by 200 votes. It was an eye-opening and interesting experience. I believe that people like myself who accept, celebrate and defend diversity need to be sitting at the table where the decisions that affect peoplesí lives are made. However, the process of getting there is tainted and difficult to tolerate.

 

G - My family name is Maria Milagros Ramos, but my friends call me

Milly. I was bom 12-15-78, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, but was raised in Maunabo, Puerto Rico.

 

My mother's name is Maria Teresa Melendez, she was bom and raised in Maunabo, Puerto Rico. She was bom 10- 1 6-52. She is a very religious person, and attends a Pentecostal church.

 

My father's name is Antonio Ramos, he also was bom and raised in Maunabo, Puerto Rico. He was bom I- 12-48.

 

My father and mother got a divorce when I was six-years-old. The reason they got divorced was because my father is an alcoholic, and every time he drank he became violent.

 

I enjoyed the time I spent in Puerto Rico. It was beautiful. We lived at my grandmother's house next to the beach. My father used to take my brother Luisito and me, on walks along the beach, I used to love those moments.

 

When I was seven my mom came to the United States, to fight for custody of my sister, Bernice who came here (U.S.A.) to spend time with relatives of ours. While she was staying here, her father took her to live with him. When my mother realized that it was going to take a while for her to gain custody, she sent for us to come live with her here. Ever since then we have been living in the United States. It was a big change for me because I left behind my father, grandmother, other family and friends and my beautiful Island.

 

Since I was a little girl I had a hard time going to school. Fourth and fifth grade I barely went to school. In Junior High School I tried to attend more, but I wasn't successful. Through all that time I went through a lot of emotional problems and depressions. I didn't often leave my house, I didn't want, to. The Department of Social Services wanted to take me away from my family because I didn't attend school. It was very scary and depressing. When I finally reached High School I got good help from a counselor named Carla. She helped me a lot. I found out with this counselor that I have some kind of social phobia, which was helpful to know. Because of Carla I met a lot of wonderful people, that helped me improve my live and she also was the one who invited me to the Diversity Workshops.

 

Since then a lot of good things have happened to me. I don't have social phobia, I work, I am an Experiencing Diversity staff member, I do volunteer work, my grandmother is living over here (U.S.A.) now, my father stopped

drinking alcohol for a couple of years now, and my brother Luisito and I have gone to visit him in Puerto Rico. I have the BEST mother, I could tell her anything, my brother Luisito is my best friend, my sister could be a pain but a good one, I have four beautiful nephews, I have very GOOD friends, and best of all I have God, that always helps me. There is one thing that I am still working on and that is school, I am getting better but not good enough. I want to continue my education because I want to work in the field of social services.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary of Learnings From Our Experiencing Diversity Workshops

 

This list of learnings gleaned from the experience-identified by one member of the group may be helpful to future planning groups who are interested in planning an "experiencing diversity" workshop. We hope the learnings of other planning group members, participants, and later workshops will be added to it.

 

COMPOSITION

 

If we wanted to experience diversity we needed to have a diverse staff.

 

We needed to have time for a diverse staff to come together as a group which valued and appreciated each other. We found we needed not a few weeks but a year to achieve this feeling of oneness.

 

It was important that we try to apply the person - centered approach in our own thinking, in our own way and ways of being together rather than trying to do a workshop that taught about the person-centered approach. One member of the planning group said he had experienced a sense of belonging for which he had been longing all his life.

 

ORGANIZATION

 

Personal contacts and personal distribution of materials were more effective than mass mailings. Mailings were more effective if accompanied by a personal letter.

 

Rather than setting a rockbottom conference fee for those who could pay, it was agreed that it was better for participants to invest a reasonable amount and at the same time recognize the value of the facilitation offered. In order to ensure the availability of scholarships we have made efforts to raise funds by appealing to prominent members and institutions of the communities in which staff members live and by writing grant proposals. Thus far we have been able to offer scholarships wherever needed and to provide seed money for the following year. The fee remained substantially lower than most workshops of this nature. All members of the planning group volunteered their services. We needed to put together enough by means of registration, grants, and contributions to provide "scholarships without a stigma" for those who could not pay the fee. The financial arrangements of each participant were held in confidence. That we did this proved to be a key to the general feeling of belonging that was important to the success of the workshop.

 

We also discovered that it is important to include as members of the planning group persons who are in daily contact with groups who we are trying to reach via such organizations as colleges or universities, social service centers working with minority-groups, municipal community agencies, rehabilitation programs, gay and lesbian groups, unemployment services, and so forth.

 

In order to build a genuine sense of community among the planning group, we discovered the need to emphasize from the beginning the importance of commitment, to attend meetings at agreed upon times over a period of approximately a year. We lost considerable time when members of the group who had been absent at a previous meeting asked to be brought up-to-date. We also lost time because individual members came late or had to leave early.

 

The decision not to hold the workshop on a university campus or to be sponsored by a university or religious organization seems in retrospect to have been a wise decision. Some members of minority groups are intimidated, "put off," by such an association. International House in New York City for us seemed a natural. There was considerable degree of agreement between the purpose of Experiencing Diversity and the mission of International House. From the beginning International House held out an invitation to international students. It seemed a perfect liason. In 1996 after two years at International House we recognized a need to have a conference site that would be wheelchair accessible in order to encourage participants who are physically challenged. We decided on Hemlocks, an Easter Seal Society conference center in Hebron, Connecticut familiar to three members of the staff from previous conferences. It is located on 160 acres of woodland in rural Connecticut. Many sports facilities are available, a swimming pool, a stage, a cafeteria, and large comfortable meeting rooms with fireplaces looking out over the lake.

 

The selection of a meeting place presents a problem, the solution of which depends on each unique situation. A large metropolitan site can be intimidating and distracting to some potential participants, but at the same time is close to large numbers of minority groups for whom the workshop is designed.

We worked very closely from the beginning with those responsible for making facilities available to groups such as ours. Understanding of our objectives by International House staff engendered acceptance, warmth and flexibility, all of which contributed to creating a climate in which the workshop could flourish.

 

We recognized the importance of providing adequate transportation facilities. One of the major factors in selecting a place for the group is the availability of transportation to participants at low or no cost to wherever needed.

 

After considerable discussion, we decided to use a meeting place of easy access by public transportation. Transportation problems were minimized by the offer of members of the planning group from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Connecticut to bring their groups by van or car. We made sure parking facilities nearby were available.

 

We also made sure inexpensive housing or living arrangements in or near the place of meeting were available: International House, International-House Annex, a hostel and rooms in private homes.

 

SCHEDULING

 

We needed a weekend that extended into a fourth day to allow time for evaluation and planning for the facilitating staff. This also helped people who had come a long way. They could stay over an additional night, have breakfast, and an additional day to return to their homes. There is an advantage to establishing a given weekend of the year as the usual time for holding the annual workshop. A legal holiday weekend such as Columbus Day makes extension to the Monday following possible.

 

A meeting in a place that is wheelchair accessible is necessary in order to attract those who are physically challenged.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ESPRIT DE CORPS

 

I would like to underscore the importance of developing a relationship of trust among members of the facilitating staff so that they can take care of their own personal needs within that community rather than carrying them over to the workshops. Then the facilitative staff is freed to enter the workshop as facilitative participants.

 

Through our struggle together to find our way in unknown territory, we came to know one another in a wide range of experiencing, to be real and open, to accept, to trust, to appreciate each other as we were in moments of stress as well as exhilaration, to care more deeply about each other - to become as one in our feeling of community. It was this spirit, this sense of community, that seemed to be "caught" by the participants in the workshop.

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A Look to the Future

 

I recall a beautiful Chinese calligraphy that has a special place on my living room wall, "Within the four seas, all men are brothers". It was written by a dear Chinese friend, calligrapher for the Library of Congress and Chinese diplomat. Translating it into less poetic wording, we could say, "Within the world in which we live, we are all members of the human family". I ask myself the question, from our own small communities around the world are we moving to realization of the hope expressed in ancient China?

 

I do not recall that my parents quarreled or fought, but I am sure that I grew up aware of their sharp differences, and I must have felt safe because I was not frightened nor am I frightened now of such interchanges. I may find them very painful but my tendency is to see what I can learn from it and what I can do about it. In my opinion this tendency did not just happen but was nourished by the realities of my family life in my early years. Perhaps we with our differences within the extended PCA families as they reach out in many parts of the world may do something similar. I am sure I am not alone in this discovery, and I am sure we have not found the only way. The PCA is the way I know best and therefore trust. I am open to find other ways as well.

 

 

 

 

 

* For a discussion of some of the history see my article "An Inquiry into the Evolution of the Client Ė Centered Approach to Psychotherapy" in Zeig, J.editor (1987) The Evolution of Psychotherapy; New York: Brunner/Mazel, and the introduction by Jeffrey Zeig which discusses elitism.