A beacon of LITE shines brightly at PCC
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.