A beacon of LITE shines brightly at PCC

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Formal can be great – and depending on the situation, informal can be even better.

PCC’s Listening Intervention Team for Equity is an example of the latter, a first-stop service offering compassion and kindness to address inequity. Set to roll out in late November, LITE is college-recognized resource for PCC students and staff who have experienced bias, as well as those processing difficult cross-cultural dynamics. LITE “listeners” – PCC staff trained to actively listen – are available to meet with individuals working through their personal situations of inequity and bias, and to validate and affirm that experience.

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Elisabeth Davidson (far right) taught the Discovery course for PCC’s first LITE cohort.

This differs from formal processes that are more objective and fact-finding in nature. By contrast, the goal of LITE is to listen and uphold – to examine how someone was affected by an experience, rather than if they were affected. Listeners offer conflict resolution skill building and connect those in need to other existing resources. The result is a complementary service line to the more formal processes led by PCC’s Office of Equity and Inclusion and its Human Resources department.

“We have a responsibility to advocate for and create a more diverse, equitable and inclusive college environment,” said Kim Baker-Flowers, PCC’s chief diversity officer with the Office of Equity and Inclusion.

“LITE’s affirming approach honors the individual’s experience,” she said, “and through active listening, LITE members are actualizing aspects of the theory of social justice.”

Seeds Planted

LITE got its start in the typical grassroots way that many pivotal PCC initiatives do. Back in 2012, Sylvania Campus leadership was making a concerted effort to address issues of diversity, inclusion, and institutional racism as part of overall staff development. Campus leaders took the bold step of inviting a subject area expert external to the college to present at the campus’ fall In-Service, a first for Sylvania.

Leticia Nieto, a professor at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Wash. and a thought leader in the field of diversity, equity and inclusion, was asked to give a presentation as part of the morning In-Service general session. Her remarks elicited rave reviews and were followed that same day by a standing room-only breakout session.

Sylvania was on to something important, and the feedback and positive energy from its equity focus trickled into college-wide efforts. When Student Development leaders from across PCC met in early 2013, they explored the available in-house channels to access when dealing with inequity. They shared that students and staff often sought support when they experienced bias, but that some weren’t ready to engage the formal PCC bias response process; they were tentative and wanted to understand the protocol better before reporting what had happened. Others were looking for something different than what the formal processes could offer: A gentle listening session or problem-solving tips were more in line with what they wanted.

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Kim Baker-Flowers (left) and Karen Paez are helping to lead LITE’s efforts.

“Our leadership group discussed how meaningful it would be for the college to offer an alternative, where an individual could simply be listened to . . . and their experience of inequity affirmed and validated, not judged,” said Karen Paez, Sylvania’s interim Dean of Instruction and lead of the LITE oversight committee, which develops LITE’s implementation and training mechanisms.

“We saw the potential to raise awareness about the value of listening, and that a person-centered, respectful approach could be transformative. The more members of our community who are modeling these principles, the more inclusive our environment will be,” Paez said.

The creation and launch of LITE ran into a few speed bumps that prolonged – and at times, stopped – the process. First was the matter of where the effort would live, and who would manage it. Clearly, hand-in-glove partnership would be needed between LITE and the college’s more formal processes to report grievances. Furthermore, methodology to address confidentiality, liability, mandatory reporting requirements, and tracking of listening sessions needed to be developed and vetted before LITE could move forward.

Second, the director of what had been PCC’s Office of Affirmative Action, one of the departments overseeing formal grievance processes, retired in 2010. Interim replacements didn’t have authority to institutionalize LITE.

That changed in 2014 with the addition of Baker-Flowers as PCC’s permanent chief diversity officer. Charged with leading the college’s newly named Office of Equity and Inclusion, Baker-Flowers gave LITE the direction it needed to get traction and find a “home.” Today, LITE is sponsored by PCC’s District Leaders of Diversity Council, which is affiliated with the Office of Equity and Inclusion.

How it Works

Each PCC campus and center has been invited to host a LITE team made up of listeners and a coordinator. Coordinators ensure ongoing professional development and support for LITE listeners throughout the year. They also offer timely connection – preferably within 24 hours from when the request is made, to intervention – and help find quiet, private locations for listening sessions.

Listeners, meanwhile, offer comfort through active listening, skill-building techniques, collaborative problem solving, conflict resolution best practices, and connection to other resources.

LITE members will have a symbol posted to their office space to identify them as part of the initiative, and LITE’s Web page (www.pcc.edu/lite) will list members at each facility.

Throughout its evolution, the privacy component of LITE has been at the center of discussion. Legal limits to confidentiality will be shared at the beginning of listening sessions, so that individuals seeking support can make informed choices about what to disclose. Because LITE is an informal resource, no formal documentation will be kept.

Requirements

LITE members must complete the first section of a three-part, non-credit social justice continuing education series, “Diversity Readiness: A Personal Journey,” that launched in the summer of 2016. This first section, called “Discovery,” is experiential dialogue-based learning that explores beginning stages of diversity, equity and inclusion; self-awareness; and readiness to engage. Following “Discovery,” LITE members take part in an all-day training retreat focused on active listening. And throughout the year they participate in ongoing professional development, including quarterly refresher sessions and an annual symposium.

Overall, LITE supports the college’s Strategic Plan and its commitment to take intentional action to promote the success, dignity, and worth of individuals. This includes providing a safe environment for equitable access to learning.

“PCC aspires to become a model educational leader for diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Baker-Flowers. “LITE underscores this in a way that values the individual through these lenses. It is intentional and thoughtful, and as a resource, LITE honors the authentic selves of our students, faculty and staff through compassion,” she said.

For more information about LITE, visit: www.pcc.edu/lite.

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Comments

There are 9 comment for this article. If you see something that doesn't belong, please click the x and report it.

x by Lisanna 8 months ago

How far have schools’ confidences in the strength of their students fallen that things like this are deemed necessary? This isn’t a beacon of “light”, this is a beacon of decay.

x by Shirlee 8 months ago

Lisanna, Thanks for publicly sharing your reaction to this new service. I think it will be helpful for all who are part of this project to recognize the diversity of thoughts about it. I am wondering, though, if you have ever had an experience of being the target of racist, sexist, sexually violent, or gay-bashing words or action. I have experienced such events as confusing and frightening, and (like many many people) have experienced a defense mechanism kick in to try to “talk myself” out of exactly how horrible it was to be targeted in those ways. I think having the chance to talk through all those reactions with good listeners, with clear confidentiality boundaries, would have helped me greatly. This new program has me cheering!

x by Jman 8 months ago

I think we have come far as one of the most diverse and open nations on earth. It seems however, that in our quest for diversity we are disadvantaging other members of society and even marginalizing them. Every one of my instructors has referred to white men in a negative manner and the double standard in racist ideology is disturbing. I am wondering if as a white man my experiences of marginalization and discrimination would be validated and listened to by this beacon of LITE. Or does my experience as a white male not matter because I am perceived as privileged?

x by Georg Nowakowski 8 months ago

This display of cultural Marxism is astonishing. Not only are groups such as this a total disgrace to the academy, they are a disgrace to the local tax payers (myself included) who help fund PCC through staggeringly high property taxes. I encourage communities from all walks of life to come together with the common goals to support and encourage each other; to become better and stronger through merit, communication and good will. However, when I read sentences such as this:

“This differs from formal processes that are more objective and fact-finding in nature. By contrast, the goal of LITE is to listen and uphold – to examine how someone was affected by an experience, rather than if they were affected.”

I can’t help but to disagree with the value, and validity of this program. Moreover, I disagree that such a group in any way upholds the integrity of higher learning. When we abandon the process of seeking objective truth and rely on subjective feelings on an institutional level we run the risk of destroying the liberties and justice of the free world by replacing them with communism and cultist collectivism where hyperbole and fantasy run amok.

– Concerned Citizen

x by Another Concerned Citizen 8 months ago

I completely agree with the last commenter. This recent habit of only focusing on subjective feelings is getting completely out of hand. Oh- and PLEASE stop blocking the highways. Or we definitely won’t vote democrat next time. You’re hurting the people who voted IN ACCORDANCE with you.

x by max 8 months ago

I want to respond to the last couple of commenters to say that as a white man, a non-traditional student, and concerned citizen, I support this program whole-heartedly. The fact that PCC has a diverse student body (in terms of race and gender, but also things like age and life experience) is one of the main reasons I felt comfortable going back to school after 15 years working in trades.

I know that not everyone I go to class with has the same experience I do, but that would be the same at ANY college or university. At PCC, I also know that other students are as different from each other as they are from me. This means that to study together, to learn together, we ALL have to put in work. We all have to figure out how to talk to each other and understand each other.

Because we are learning to communicate, it doesn’t always go smoothly. I am glad to know that if I accidentally insult someone (that IS often what we are talking about when we talk about bias) they have options available to them other than to: a) take it in silence, b) flame back, or c) escalate it to a legal proceeding. Having someone to talk an experience over with is a powerful tool for figuring out how to deal with it constructively. Remember, being insulted is a feeling – not a subjective fact. That doesn’t make it any less real.

If I intend to insult you, that’s one thing. If something I say makes you feel insulted, that’s another. That might not have been my intention, but you have no way to know. The LITE program offers a resource to help you figure out what you are feeling, why you are feeling that way (which may or may not have much to do with what was actually said), and, perhaps, what next steps to take so that, If I accidentally insult you, you can come back with a cool head and tell me that, and we can talk it over, and continue to work together as friends and colleagues.

I mentioned before how PCC’s diverse student body was a real benefit to me. The demographic composition of my classes is not an accident – it is the result of many years of hard work, mentoring, leadership, and outreach. It is a result of ongoing programs like LITE, ASPCC Student Outreach, and others that work to support students in the difficult work we are doing both academically and socially. As a white man, I am privileged. Among other things, I am privileged to work and study with so many amazing people, from so many backgrounds, at such a wonderful school.

I want to thank everyone who works to help me, and all PCC students, succeed together. From the bottom of my heart – Thank you!

Thanks also to previous commenters for sharing their feelings so honestly. We don’t agree, but I am glad that we’re talking about it. See you around campus, and good luck on midterms. Now, back to the math.

x by c. louis butts,jr. 8 months ago

lisanna’s observation’s well founded w/ the presidential election as such a sign of the extent of the decay,but i do feel that there’s much merit in this program of diversity/listening that can heal!!!i myself am a citizen like george n.,community member/taxpayer/former pcc student who’s still learning even now about ways of evolving my own listening skills from students/staff/faculty who’re part of LITE… ifind that a privileged bias view misses the point altogether!,as i printed aforementioned,t. rump’s election’s a sign that usa’s evolution isn’t done just ongoing, keep up the great works ya’all!!!
much love&respect, leuie

x by Nicole 8 months ago

I completely agree with Georg. This sort of group could only exist in a post-fact world. Facts are just too “judgmental” and therefore have no place in Portland’s look-at-me!-look-at-me! culture.
And I think Jman deserves a response to his question.

x by Kate Chester 7 months ago

Dear Jman: Thank you for your thoughtful post and question. LITE is a resource for all — all — to access, to share their experiences of bias and/or marginalization. The role of the LITE listener is not to judge. Rather, their role is to listen, without judgement, and to affirm an individual’s experience.

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PCC offers this limited open forum as an extension of the respectful, well-reasoned discourse we expect in our classroom discussions. As such, we welcome all viewpoints, but monitor comments to be sure they stick to the topic and contribute to the conversation. We will remove them if they contain or link to abusive material, personal attacks, profanity, off-topic items, or spam. This is the same behavior we require in our hallways and classrooms. Our online spaces are no different.

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