How will I carry forward what I’ve learned?

I have learned so much from this process and from each person in it, I am overwhelmed with gratitude and admiration for everyone! I am looking forward to our Team Tuesday reunion in December. I have found the weekly check-ins incredibly generative and a great source of support/accountability for this work.

I have mentioned to Felipe that part of this process for me is about learning how co-ops work so that I can support efforts here in Miami to build CPA, and also because I am interested in a possible Florida restorative justice (RJ) practitioners’ co-op that is focused on identifying, recruiting, training, and providing opportunities for youth (especially youth of color) to grow their own RJ practice skills so that they can be financially compensated for their ongoing RJ facilitation work in communities around the state.

Next steps in south Florida:

  1. For CPA Miami, I am looking forward to following Juan Francisco’s lead, along with the leadership of his organization, Future Partners. My hope is to be of use where it makes sense as I am able! I know that between Juan Francisco’s personality and business acumen, and Future Partners’ role in the Miami community, the outlook for CPA here is extremely sunny!
    1. I am hopeful that there will be opportunities to connect Barry University as a possible anchor institution, as well as building relationships with congregations affiliated with Miami PACT and also helping us get connected with folks who are doing great environmental/energy work in Florida (a whacky regulatory environment!).
    1. And, I am hopeful that through the BE Lab at Barry, I can help identify and recruit students (particularly first-generation students of color from linguistically diverse and low-income communities in south Florida) who could eventually be vendors for the CPA venture in Miami.
  2. For the Restorative Justice worker co-op,
    1. I need to following with Ron at tilde to see if he would be willing to share their initial budget with me. I have no idea what is required for this kind of co-op start-up budget (when we spoke, he focused mainly on the cost of purchasing equipment for the translation services, but there must have been other expenses related to marketing/advertising, accounting, and office space?).
    1. Late January 2020 is the FRJA (Florida Restorative Justice Association) meeting, which will be an opportunity to publicly pitch the co-op to the most likely members.
    1. Of course, I anticipate that there will be a lot of individual meetings leading up to this gathering, beginning with a meeting next week with two RJ facilitators/community organizers in Miami who have a lot of influence among youth doing RJ work in the Miami area.

Depending on how the meeting goes at FRJA, I will have a better sense of the need/interest in this potential co-op in Florida. At that point, it would be awesome to get CPA’s advice (and partnership?) on how to move forward, particularly around funding relationships.

Are there limits to empathy?

  1. 1.     If you seek to work with people who are coming from a place that doesn’t match yours, realize that you either have to tell a story that matches what they’re able to hear (tell your jokes in Italian), or work hard to change what they believe and what they want (possible, but really difficult).

TRIGGER WARNING: My post this week contains reference to campus-based sexual violence, so please know that before you read further.

This week’s prompt raised a lot of intense and valuable conversation in our Tuesday group, to whom I am grateful for their openness and insights. We talked at the feeling level about our reactions to the prompt, given our experiences in a range of contexts where power, significant differences in power, was a core issue, and where power was exerted to humiliate, condemn, malign, or otherwise harm another person or group. In this context, I find going to empathy EXTREMELY challenging. While I agree that empathy does not mean agreement, it does mean understanding, or as Brene Brown would suggest, it means accessing that place in ourselves where we know the feelings the other person may be experiencing. But are there limits to empathy? As a beginning student in the practice of NVC (non-violent communication), I would imagine Marshall Rosenberg would have said that empathy is the bridge that fuels connection and makes change possible.

And yet… I shared with my group the example of a situation involving a gang rape on the campus where I was the women’s center director. Part of my job included accompanying students to the hospital for rape kits. In this particular instance, the student survivor, raped at an on-campus party by multiple people who actually carried her down a hallway while she screamed for help to the inactive bystanders whom they passed, came forward for help because her best friend was at another college and insisted she get medical attention. While we were at the hospital for the exam, she was already receiving text messages from the perpetrators, fellow student athletes, threatening her that she better not tell anyone what they had done to her. I was appalled, enraged, and filled with despair. Our motto was “Men and women for others”, yet when it really, really matter, no one helped her, to say nothing of the students who committed this crime.

So, I began reading everything I could find on responses to campus-based sexual violence. I met with experts. I came up with a plan, based on emerging evidence about best practices. The VP of my division gave me the green light to write a federal grant application to get funding for a bystander intervention program. It took me six weeks, working my regular job plus every night and all weekend each weekend until the deadline loomed. I had 12 of the 13 needed signatures, which I had gathered through many relational meetings, curriculum demonstrations, and organizing of students. The 13th, the University president, refused to sign. The project seemed dead. How would we move forward with prevention efforts without funding or institutional support?

My VP (poster boy for Catholic higher education, favored “child” of the University president, later disappeared from the university due to his participation as a client in a sex trafficking ring, but this all transpired before the local police came to campus to find him) washed his hands of the incident. He didn’t care what I did, so long as I didn’t involve him. I asked for a meeting with the EVP of the University. I pleaded my case. I tried to get him to see things from my point of view, from the point of view from the students who were being sexually violated in our own residence halls. During the meeting, he looked at his watch and stifled a yawn.

Less than a decade before, literally a stone’s throw from the campus, Cardinal Bernard Law was found responsible for hiding the sexual abuse crisis in Boston, throughout the diocese, and, as the story was exposed, throughout the U.S. He was rewarded by the Church for his shell game of moving priests who were sex offenders (mostly sexually abusing children from poor families led by single mothers) with a post in Italy as the archpriest of the Papal Liberian Basilica of St. Mary Major.

It occurred to me that my superiors at Boston College envisioned their own rewards for silence on this issue of campus sexual violence.

I admit, I could not see their points of view. I did not have empathy. I had rage. It was rage that propelled me forward, looking for anyone I could find who could help me know what to do. A colleague of mine who had grown up in higher ed (her father was a dean, a provost, etc.) and had honed her own skills at Harvard, an institution infamously indifferent to the needs of marginalized persons, explained: I would have to go back to them and let them know that not only were they violating federal laws (Clery, Title IX, and VAWA), but a student would be likely to sue very soon, and the story would be on the news at 5.

And so I went back to the VP and got another meeting with the EVP. It was brief. I told him, “We’re going to be sued over this kind of incident [referencing the gang rape] and it will be on the cover of The Boston Globe”. I left, feeling utterly defeated. And then several weeks later, I received a terse email from my VP, letting me know that in the new fiscal year, we would be given an internal grant for $100,000 to develop the bystander education program. This was a sum equivalent to the VAWA grant. Ten times more than any annual budget my office had had in its 37-year history on campus.

By this time, I had decided to go back to school for my PhD and knew I would not be on campus for the new fiscal year. And I wanted to be excited, but instead I despaired. We got the money, but only because they were fearful of keeping their jobs and maintaining the image of the institution. Is this a version of telling a story they were able to hear? They didn’t care about sexual violence on campus, they didn’t care about our campus culture, or even the culture of our athletic teams. They only cared about damaging stories that could appear in the local newspaper. Perhaps that was the end of my innocence, or the beginning of wisdom, or some insight about how the world and people work. But it felt like defeat.

To this day, I cannot muster empathy for these men and I do not understand their point of view. I can recognize that they had needs for power in their world, control. They used strategies of image maintenance to protect the reputation of their brand and to maintain their power. They had a lot of power. They also had no empathy for victims of sexual violence in our community, even as their brand was built on fuzzy warm ideas about belonging and service and cura personalis (care of the person) and even social justice. I am at a loss because I fundamentally do not understand this world view, just like I do not understand separating children from their families and keeping them in cages (one of the critical issues raised by a member of our Tuesday group); or punishing people who have the courage to be clear about their gender identities even when those do not match identities assigned at birth; or knowing children are mowed down by people with guns – police or others- and still refusing to close loopholes in gun laws instead of prioritizing the safety of the most vulnerable members of our society.  

All of these issues, the story I shared, the ones we discussed in our Tuesday group, and more, leave me wondering – where does empathy end and power analysis begin?

Paul Piff’s research suggests that after a certain point in the process of wealth acquisition, human beings lose our capacity to think with empathy. Our brains are literally hijacked by greed, and it is very difficult for us to make decisions for the common good. I think we are seeing this now with #45 and many of his decisions, as well as those of his political allies and their supporters. What is the role of empathy in this context? It is not appropriate to diagnose a person I have not actually seen in a clinical setting, but if I were to make an educated guess, I think it is likely that #45 and even those “poster boys” for the Catholic Church’s finest “family” men, would be considered to meet a threshold for narcissistic personality disorder. People who have this type of disorder often belittle others to make themselves feel superior, exaggerate their accomplishments, easily feel slighted and are quick to act with vengeance, expect special favors, and display a pathological lack of empathy for others. Does it matter if I understand them? Does it matter if I experience empathy toward them? If I am not willing to give in to their demands, accept the walls they have constructed, or agree to their worldview, is a relationship or a relational way of doing business, even feasible? This is not a rhetorical question. I don’t have an answer. I am curious about your experiences with people who lack empathy and who hold great power. Has empathy served as a bridge? Or has it been used to pervert the change you seeking to make? Or both? Or neither?

Reflection Script. Thank you for the empathy and support in each of the comments people shared on my post this week. I am grateful.

Juan Francisco wisely asked, “if you were to run into the same situation today where you work, how would you approach it differently? Assuming the years, writing and studying since those days have made you wiser, what would you do to stop that from happening again?”

I think this is a good beginning question. What would I do differently? I don’t think it is likely I could have done much about the senior administrators’ lack of empathy or interest, because the structure is so hierarchical there, as in many institutions, it would have been difficult to get much access to these leaders without a very specific purpose/crisis. And while my colleagues who knew what was happening were outraged, they were also afraid to say much. They didn’t know how. Sexual assault was a taboo subject. Openly questioning institutional authority was even more taboo.

However, as Carrie pointed out, even though it is not my/our jobs, I wonder if things would have been different if I could have imagined each of these men as confused children? That may have helped me to see them differently, and to hold that lens as I investigated Felipe’s questions about their own cultural waters and thought about how to change it.

Perhaps, then I could have used my NVC skills, while still being clear, especially with myself, about Magelette and Yessica’s wisdom about doing the work and the power analysis as part of the work.

I imagine saying to the EVP, “I see you yawning and looking at your watch. Are you feeling bored? Uncomfortable?” I could take some needs guesses, “Do you need some fresh air? Some movement? Shall we walk together?” He would have been so flummoxed by my directness (not part of the lace curtain Irish culture), I’m not sure what he would have said! LOL!!! He probably would have brushed off my questions as too intimate, inappropriate, or uncomfortable. The end result would probably be the same: I raised legitimate concerns about potential lawsuits and unwanted media attention, so he would have found the funds for the prevention education program, knowing he fulfilled his promise to the University president to keep the school off of the cover of the Globe due to negative press.

When I was preparing to leave the University, my favorite Jesuit, Fr. Jack, told me, “You’ll feel anger. Maybe not right away, but about six months from now, it will hit you”. I had not told him the story about the student who had been sexually assaulted by several other students in one of our residence halls, but he seemed to understand something about the place: enough people were invested in the status quo, it was not about to change. For those of us who could not tolerate it, leaving would bring relief and also a kind of internal reckoning, required for recalibrating to live in the world anew.

And perhaps this goes to two things we’ve discussed: why me/why us/WHY NOW? And Yessica’s question: If they are not capable of empathy, what does this mean for the rest of us? In the past year, that same University has had to contend with waves of protests about race-based bias incidents, multiple student suicides, and a federal lawsuit related to its handling of Title IX cases. The concerns I and others have raised in the past are recurring ones. And though it may be cold comfort, I can’t help but think that empathy or not, those guys who run the place will have to contend with history. I wonder if they are thinking about what it means to be a righteous gentile? Does Dr. King’s wise warning, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice”, rest heavy on their minds? Maybe even that does not matter, because what we resist persists; perhaps this time, someone up there on The Heights will finally think to inquire how things are for their own students? Or not. But eventually, I have to hope, those old, rigid ways will dissolve in to the world’s unfolding.

Did I get it right?

I hate it when my students ask me that. “Did I get it right?” Did you follow the directions? Every step? Then why are you worried? But here I am, wondering, did I do it right? I did the decision-making process but I’m not sure it makes sense because I am not sure I feel any greater sense of clarity about the decision…

Best decision I made last year: To move out of my Miami Beach apartment into a more affordable place closer to my job where the windows work and that has parking and laundry.

Change Agent: I learned that we do not get annual cost of living adjustments at Barry (how did I miss this???? I have no recollection of this being disclosed during the salary negotiation in 2017!) AND I will not be eligible for a promotion (which is the only way to get a pay raise) until 2023 because I will not be allowed to “count” my previous teaching experience and will not have the option to go for my first long-term contract with the university until I have taught there full-time for six years. Welcome to Florida!

Sunk Costs: It took me six years to complete my PhD and it was expensive and emotionally taxing to move to Miami, so I am reluctant to leave an academic job and reluctant to leave Miami after this major move in 2017. Perhaps part of this process of decision-making is unframing? Letting go of these sunk costs and the expectation among my colleagues of institutional loyalty?

What problem(s) am I trying to solve? / What are my priorities?: These have been a work in progress as my professional landscape has shifted…

Research: establishing a research agenda that focuses on restorative practices and programs (e.g. how they work; why they work; best practices; needs of marginalized communities and how restorative justice can help…) to increase communication, connection, community and to reduce violence (especially sexual violence).

Practice: partnering with RJ practitioners to build economic prosperity for youth of color who are leaders in RJ practice in Florida; this also translates to broader commitments to building economic prosperity for my students at Barry and the youth I am encountering in the RJ world here. Co-op models, CPA and others, seem to be the most promising approach to foster wealth-building in these communities that combines economic, racial, and environmental justice…

Personal: establishing greater economic stability and freedom without having to work my full-time job + teach online for Rutgers + lead RJ trainings.

Goal: Finding an (academic) job that pays me fairly.
-Financial freedom
-Ability to buy a home
-Ability to save for retirementAbility to provide enriching experiences to my 4 nieces (such as travel, help with costs associated with schooling, etc.)
-Ability to offer support for my aging parents (such as being able to live part of the year here in FL)
-Being able to have only one job (instead of multiple side gigs to make ends meet)
-Letting go of resentment toward my employer as a result of the mission/practice gap
Options: Dependencies:
Go back on the academic job market Availability of academic jobs in MiamiAvailability of academic jobs in any geographically appealing locationHow competitive I am based on publications and likelihood of securing external funding (not easy to do at Barry)Generally, these jobs are only posted in the fall, so I need to apply NOW for next year or wait another full cycle
Go back into higher ed administration Willingness to give up job flexibility for higher payAvailability of jobs in MiamiWillingness to move to another geographic location for the job
Leave higher ed and seek full employment in another sector Would need to sync departure with my current contract, which is active until May 2020Would need to determine which sector to focus on (gov’t; independent contracting; think tank; building coops, etc.)Assumption that I could earn a living from only one jobAvailability of jobs in MiamiWillingness to move to another geographic location
Quit and go home to NH and sit on my parents’ couch (waiting for winter to end and writing?) Ability to withstand winter coldWillingness to live with almost no income
Look for seasonal work (something I could do in the summer that is well-paying) Availability of jobs in MiamiWillingness to temporarily relocate to a different geographic location
Join/open a clinical social work/therapy practice Still a part-time option!Requires a client baseCould be time-consuming if emergency coverage is requiredPay could be unstable/limited depending on number of clients and practice agreements about cost sharing

Reflection Script:

Has anyone seen “Modern Love”, the miniseries on Amazon based on the New York Times column of the same name? I don’t often watch TV, but I stumbled on this the other night and enjoyed it. More to the point, in one of the episodes, there is a woman who is pregnant and homeless who decides to give her baby up for adoption. What ensues is a culture clash between her and the gay couple (financially successful Manhattanites) who adopt the baby. At one point, she is debriefing after an argument with one of the men in the couple and says to him how she couldn’t stand seeing so much suffering around her and so she gave up a “normal” life and has been an unhoused nomad ever since.

Now, I’m not saying I want to be homeless, which is indeed a volatile and wearying life. I don’t even like to sleep outdoors (glamping, anyone?!). However, I do deeply resonate with what Alessandra called a “multi-vocation life”, Juan Francisco’s urging to be more creative, and Felipe’s mention of intentional communities.

Carrie, thank you for asking about decision-making. In the past, when I’ve made decisions, it has often been on intuition/an internal sense of knowing, like what Jonathan described about going to HKS. When I came to Barry, it was because I had several academic interviews (day-long events where you have to present your research and get grilled by faculty, many with very poor social skills and hidden political agendas. It’s quite unpleasant…) for a job that I wouldn’t be able to start until the following fall, because we like to take our time in higher ed. Anyway, the faculty at Barry shared a story about how welcoming Barry was to LGBTQ folks because of their Dominican Catholic heritage, not in spite of it. (I consider myself an ally and part of how I left the Catholic Church of my childhood was hearing my church spew homophobic slurs from the pulpit while my great-uncle, gay and closeted, was simultaneously being shunned by many of our “devoted” Catholic family members because he was dying of AIDS-related complications.) So, I was moved by their spirit of inclusion. And now I’m here, and it feels unsustainable, mostly because of the high demands and very poor compensation. While I do not regret the decision to move here, I wonder what the purpose is?

And, as I write this, it occurs to me that it probably doesn’t matter. I’m here (and yes, I do LOVE the salsa dancing! J )

When I think of Location (Miami has sunshine and it’s only a 3-hour plane ride home); Job sector (higher education???); and job role (social worker/ teacher/ writer/ administrator/ minister, etc.), it feels incomplete. Brene Brown’s words rise in my mind: “Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” If I tell all of my heart, I have to say that my deepest longing is for a more integrated life. I do want to live in community; share collective benefits of shelter, food (a garden?!), environmental sustainability, and even support for childrearing. I literally cannot do this alone, and it occurs to me, thanks to the comments from each of you, that maybe I don’t have to do so.

I think I have sold myself short on possibilities and perhaps this surprises me most (Yessica and Juan Francisco, thank you for asking about this!). For example, I had spoken to a friend of our former intentional community in Brookline, Massachusetts, Grey Lee, and he was leading/living in a cooperative housing project in nearby Cambridge. Based on our conversation, it seemed that the model was suitable mostly for folks with a lot of disposable income and/or those who weren’t concerned about building equity for retirement. He seemed to find it difficult to make it all work, and that was with the backing of his wealthy family. So, I gave up on the idea. But here it is again! Is it possible that some sort of affordable housing co-op model is possible here? Can I make the leap to not just thinking about but actually building a co-op for affordable housing? Or maybe I should join Jessica’s community (although I’m not sure another “1” on the Enneagram is in her housing plan?! Hehehe…)

I did have a conference call with Ron from tilde ( on Friday (thank you, Felipe!) to learn more about the model for this worker-owned language justice cooperative. If I understand it correctly, I believe it is a possible mode for RJ/NVC practitioners throughout Florida, and could provide the necessary support for youth, particularly youth of color from low-income communities who are trained in RJ/NVC to be paid for their work as circle keepers. I emailed the chair of FRJA, the statewide RJ organization in Florida, who agreed that we could find a time during the upcoming conference to do a circle where people could discuss the possible benefits of building a co-op. So, Carrie, maybe I can tell you more about restorative justice in the form of a pitch and you can tell me if it makes any sense at all?

Much gratitude and love to you all! Thank you!!!

Say what?: Capital Stacks…

In 1999, I went to divinity school and in the then dean’s opening address, he noted that each profession or field has its own vocabulary and part of our learning should be to attend to that vocabulary so that we might feel our way to the core of the work through those guiding words. At the time, concepts like “kyriarchy”, “conscientization”, “hermeneutics of suspicion”, and “dualistic apocalyptic fundamentalism” meant very little to me, but over time, I came to learn, through those words, my way into the fields of feminist theological ethics and liberation theology.

I was reminded of this while sitting in the noon break-out group of the CPA retreat, listening to our colleagues discuss “capital stacks”, “dividends”, and “minimum viable product (MVP)”. Say what? It was dizzying, disorienting, and exhilarating to realize I am being given the invitation to become deeply curious about a different field, and to leverage that curiosity, as Felipe urged us, to understand the needs of the future CPA partners and buyers. I was intrigued by Amine’s incredible technical assistance background in how to access capital for CPA’s work; intrigued by Doctor’s insights about how small business owners can lose their shirts (literally and figuratively) because we may not be aware of the tax breaks, capital, and other resources available to us; and curious about each colleague’s blend of organizing, business savvy, and personal values have propelled them to this place of collective creativity and action.

I had a very frank conversation with Boris in which I asked him if he’d be willing to share a few short videos explaining aspects of CPA financing to a 5-year old (that 5 y.o. is me!)? He was incredibly generous and suggested that he could possibly join one of our Tuesday am calls for 30 minutes to answer our questions: How do dividends work? How is the rate for the rebate negotiated? How is capital raised? How do member organizations (especially faith institutions) make sense of writing a check to join CPA when, as Paul H. pointed out, they are used to receiving checks?

Merald offered a very thoughtful reflection to several of us about the challenges in bringing people together across lines of difference for a common purpose (i.e. collective buying from local businesses owned by people of color). I saw the theme of challenge around this topic in several other conversation or points of tension and moments of clarification throughout the day. It is humbling to reckon with the challenges that colleagues are facing as they do the work of building CPA models around the country. And, I am heartened by hearing stories like that of Justin, who has been an early adapter of CPA and on board with not only the savings and problem-solving provided by CPA, but also the larger mission. So, maybe that’s what I am left with – how to hold the larger vision with integrity in the midst of the painstaking small steps that are required daily – calling vendors to get estimates, listening to potential members’ concerns, and slowly building that vocabulary to render the work more transparent to myself, to the customers, and to the business owners whose labor offers us a continual measure of accountability for our choices in this building process. It was inspiring and humbling to spend time with all of you and the CPA community. Much gratitude and looking forward to getting to work! 🙂  

Summary of Take-Aways:

  • Don’t wait to take action; learn as we go
  • Get really, really, really curious
  • Ask lots of questions out of that curiosity
  • Ask for help/offer help (Juan Francisco, I am looking at you)
  • Be explicit about the why of this work, and keep it in mind when making decisions about how to solve customers’ problems
  • Don’t take it personally when potential members don’t “get it” and try to help them anyway
  • The work is messy! Embrace the chaos!

Reflection Script_Week 3

For your reflection, maybe I’d ask you: beyond technical knowledge, which can be acquired rather quickly for someone of your loved (lived) experience and talent, what personal resources or talents would you need to further develop on your (our) quest for CPA Miami? What’s the next frontier for you?

Juan Francisco, it made me smile that you wrote “loved” experience! I think you meant “lived” but still, it is all beloved experience. Thank you!!! I have been reflecting on our conversation in DC and am realizing that, in academia/at the U, what is rewarded is 1) keeping students happy 2) service to the institution. And while these are both understandable and even noble pursuits – mentoring and service – they get distorted by time and pressure and everyone, including me, gets ground to sand. We all start out wanting to be helpful, but we each have at least one other job to support ourselves/our families and the institution takes without giving the necessary support (financial or otherwise) to faculty, staff, or students. Cue the harps. What’s the point? I am not rewarded in my day-to-day work for building networks and forging new relationships, so there is little incentive or even opportunity to meet people who could be partners in building something new and amazing and in service to my students, something like CPA J So, I need to do a better job of reaching out to you to check in and I need to do a better job of building contacts in Miami who share a common purpose and vision! I know we should have a meeting coming up with Fr. Sosa; I wonder if we could brainstorm additional relational meetings that I can help facilitate over the next month to six weeks?

I’m curious how you navigate incorporating what you learn from asking questions back into the process – what does that feedback loop look like? Also, I would be thrilled/am supremely curious to learn how you are bringing your knowledge, gifts, feminist theological ethics and liberation theology into this work. As these are areas in which I admittedly know nothing (!), how do you tie this body of knowledge back to CPA, and how can we all leverage that insight and wisdom into what we are doing?

Alessandra, your questions are so poignant and powerful. So much has happened in terms of my personal faith (and its dissolution) and yet, the fundamental truth of liberation theologies still resonate: we are truly one and the willingness to live as one – especially with the people at whose expense I, and others who look like me, enjoy unearned privileges including relative safety, bodily autonomy, and economic opportunity – is the essence of what religious folks call “salvation” or redemption. I see that connected to the work of CPA through the commitments we make to honor the rights of the worker; to center the experiences of people of color whose labor has historically been taken without regard for their rights to safety, bodily autonomy, and economic opportunity; and to build relationships across differences to build a world that restores relationships among humans and between humans and the planet.

What would the economic model for a co-op for Tavon for Restorative Justice & NVC look like?
Who would they key clients be? how much would they pay?
Who do you know that might be open to paying him for the kind of interaction / experience that he gave you?
How could you help him start getting paid work — just one paid gig tomorrow? Who would you call? How would you use your privilege and access and knowledge of how other worlds work — to help make that happen?

Felipe, great action questions! I have a call with Ron from Tilde on Friday, so I will let you know what I learn about that as a possible model for the RJ co-op. And we have a statewide RJ conference coming up; I know the president of the statewide org., FRJA, and I’m going to ask him if the co-op model can be a part of the conference (this could also be a place to pitch CPA???). For the gig, I keep thinking there’s got to be a way to get him and some of the other youth here jobs as RJ facilitators in the local community. I’m not sure yet whom to ask to make that a reality. I have a student in one of my classes who is involved with Dream Defenders; perhaps she and I can find a way to create an opportunity to fund some kind of paid in-service here at the SSW at Barry… Hmm…

How else can we capitalize on the expertise of the CPA team to help in this process?

What will be the first step you take after the convening? What type of support do you need to take the next step?

Asking for help is a very humbling experience. How will you balance the need to continue to build your capacity and knowledge with the idea that we continue to move forward?

Can you think of a time when you successfully embraced the chaos? What actions did you take? How did you react? What did you learn from that experience?

Yessica, I am so grateful for you and your clarity of purpose always. I agree! It is humbling to ask for help and I need to do so! I am doing some outreach for this RJ co-op idea and will let you know how the next steps go! In terms of CPA, I am hoping to plan more regular meetings with Juan Francisco to keep me focused and in a learning mode. I am on the board for a new entrepreneurship center at Barry and I could also join an action research cohort there, which would be another way to do the continuous learning needed for the CPA building process? Ah, the chaos! LOL. Yes, most recently, it was in one of my classes. Students were in full battle mode due to some issues that were not directly related to my specific class, but I was seeing a spillover effect from issues in their field placements. I took a vote among the class and we decided that we would detour from the course syllabus to do a class on motivational interviewing. It was a definite departure from the prescribed course content and the day I taught it, the students seemed sullen and even disappointed. But at the end of the semester, they each let me know that it had been their best class, because they felt heard and seen and had some tangible skills they could now use to work more effectively with their field supervisors. It was a good/humbling/welcome reminder that sometimes entering in to the chaos has more value than resisting it. I hope that I can summon that willingness to leap with our CPA work!

One-on-One’s: Rusty but Ready

Background/Risk. I was raised Catholic, went to a Catholic college, did the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), worked at a Catholic college, and later came to U, also a Catholic college. I love the mission of social justice and at the same time, at each of these institutions, I have been heartbroken by the gap between the mission and the institutions’ decisions on issues ranging from women’s leadership to divestment to workers’ wages. I’m wondering if U will be different? Is there a willingness to live our mission through our financial choices as well as through service and other forms of social engagement?

Questions. Tell me what brought you to U? What has made you choose to stay here? How do you see the institution living its mission? Where are the gaps between mission and engagement from your perspective? What’s the most challenging aspect of the work here for you?

(Reflect back what they have said, summarize, and see if it feels right to connect it to what I have said. Then, if it is, this is an opportunity to talk about the CPA. Note to self: Ask about this point – do most of the meetings others have done start with the premise that CPA is a discussion point, or is it more important to get in front of the person and then bring it up as a result of meeting the needs they have expressed?)

Relational vs. transactional. I think the hardest part of this is that, although I learned one-on-one’s as part of my class with Marshall Ganz, it has been nearly two decades since I used this conversational form. At the time I learned from him, I was with fellow students and other organizers who were also trained in this approach. When I moved to Los Angeles a couple of years later, this was not the common model for organizing conversations, which I found to be more like a battle of wills. I remember shaking life a leaf after a call with then-head of SEIU, Andy Stern, who yelled and threatened and taunted before agreeing to my “ask” regarding their participation in a statewide anti-poverty initiative. Shortly after that, I abandoned organizing and one-on-one’s and moved into more traditional social work-type jobs, where the conversations are based predominantly on listening and reflection rather than goal-directed for an external outcome. In short, I’m rusty at this approach. 🙂 And I imagine asking for information about aspects of the institution’s budget and related decision-making will be uncomfortable. There has been a lot of conflict at the U due to low morale, which stems in part from anger about poor compensation and opaque decision-making by the U’s executive team. The people who are executing the resulting strategies are just doing the best they can, and they can get defensive when they hear something that sounds like criticism or questioning their actions.

Models. Felipe is really good at this, and so is Juan Francisco. My colleague Ashley, too. They are all good at being succinct, sincere, using humor, and bringing a level of self-assurance to the conversation that makes me feel calm and able to think clearly. With each one, their clarity of purpose is like a beam of light that cuts through the fog. Whether I decide to go along with them for the ride or not, that kind of clarity is compelling. It makes me want to get clearer also, and that’s where creative problem-solving seems to begin.


Meeting #1: CL, Chair of Faculty Senate. She is on “grant-writing strike” so I know she is frustrated with the institution and will likely be supportive of bringing in approaches that meet needs and help the institution recover.

Meeting #2: KS, Director of Campus Ministry. She knows a ton of people on campus and has a very loving but detached disposition. She can help to provide a perspective on whom to speak with next.

Meeting #3: RG, Director of Facilities. I understand from colleagues that he is overwhelmed, so I think he will be open to possibilities that will make his work load lighter.

Reflection Script

Who else have you found who shares this heartbreak? Who on campus is speaking about it? Sometimes kinship and action help ease my own heartbreak.

I was in a faculty meeting earlier this week and I heard a colleague allude to the need to organize faculty regarding issues of institutional governance. It occurred to me that I will need to find a time to meet with him to find out his origin story and to see what shared commitments we may be able to discover that can be the basis for shared action.

What does your gut say? What do you think would be appropriate? Why? How would this change for each person or role? I think there’s no one right answer, and you probably won’t know the answer until halfway through your conversation, but how could you prepare scenarios? And based on those scenarios, how could you create a favorable outcome to move the ball forward for each?

Great questions! I am not sure, but I know a good local strategic conversation partner whom I can ask J

Do you feel your agenda (under development, potentially even during the discussions) will be perceived as criticism, or questioning, even though you are approaching the dialogs as “meeting needs” and “lightening work loads?”

Yes, thanks so much, Alessandra. And, so far, it seems like any kind of change or new ideas seem to be received as criticism. Long-standing members of the University community tend to be so overwhelmed, they seem to experience difficulty taking in new possibilities or having hope for a new future.

Are you involved in any organizing or organization outside of CPA or the U in which you might be able to practice a more classic one on one without it interfering with your goals on this venture? Have you sat down to consider which personal stories are origin stories of you being agitated or acting? This is something I know I need to brush off. Telling a succinct story is often a challenge.

I’m doubly curious about your reply to Jessica’s questions above about what personal stories illustrate the depth of your commitment to the values so challenged at U today. That seems like a rich source of potential connection between you and others who may be willing to act over these shared values.

Magelette, thank you for your question about the brush off. Jonathan, thank you also for asking about sharing stories. I think sometimes I am not sure what origin stories to tell because sometimes the most true story is the one most difficult to share. For example, for the past two years of living in Miami, I have rented two different apartments, both of which turned out to have major issues, such as windows that don’t work or are broken so that they are a hurricane hazard. I took a risk to share with my departmental colleagues my concerns about the cost of living here and the difficulties I have found in locating a rental that is both safe and affordable. I wanted to drive home some related concerns my students have had and also to see what the response would be so that going forward, I have a better sense of shared pain points. My colleagues either looked uncomfortable and changed the subject or made unhelpful suggestions and changed the subject. I was committing a “faux pas”; as academics, we analyze poverty, we don’t actually experience it, or at least that was the message as I received it. They have resolved their pay issues primarily through marriage and other forms of familial wealth; I am broaching uncomfortable realities by bringing up such matters. So, perhaps it is finding a story that is resonant and also less uncomfortable for my colleagues?  

What’s one part of yourself you’re excited to exercise here in a way that feels like it might be important to what’s next for you?
What’s one thing you learned about yourself in writing this? (Felipe)

I learned that I still need to work on which story I choose to share in order to maximize the motivating impact while minimizing unproductive discomfort.

Is there such a thing as writer’s block for goal setting?

In 2016, I defended my doctoral dissertation and earned my PhD. It occurred to me that problems such as the factorial invariance of the bystander attitudes scale wasn’t meaningfully connected to sexual assault survivors I served, at least not beyond the vague notion that knowledge-building and research can support addressing social problems. Yet, the connection felt flimsy. I fell off of a cliff. Not a literal cliff, but an existential one. What the $#*!- was I doing with my life? I have been without a clear vision for my life or the world for what seems like a long time. So, I’m finding The War of Art‘s concept of “Resistance” very helpful as I begin to write this, as I have been grappling with exactly that for what feels like a very long time… Is it possible I have a version of Resistance to even setting goals? Hmm…

Personal Goal: Run the University-sponsored 8K in February

  1. Identify: Train for and complete the 8K on February 15, 2020.
  2. Benefits: Sleep better as a result of the training; feel more fit and healthy; accomplish a specific goal; and spend time with U community members
  3. Obstacles: I hate getting up early and training will require me to do so; I forget to add exercise to my daily to do list so sometimes I won’t even remember to train for that reason; it is sometimes extremely hot and humid, so I’ll need to have an indoor training location option that does not require me to workout in front of my students (e.g. at the U gym)…
  4. Knowledge and skills: download and post the recommended 8K training plan; get advice from friends who are runners on exercises they found helpful on non-run days; figure out if this will require any additional gear
  5. People and Groups: I have tried in the past to get co-workers to train with me. Unsuccessful.
  6. Plan of Action: Email chair of the race, today to see if there is an incentive plan or other recommendation he has for getting fellow Barry colleagues to train/run with me. Print training routine and post plan in my calendar by the end of the week.
  7. Deadline: the race is February 15, 2020 and the training guide I read recommended an 8-week training plan, so I have until December 1 to make sure I can easily run two miles in anticipation of the start of the training plan.

Professional Goal: Get my university (“U”) to sign on as an anchor institution for the emerging Miami-based Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) by June 1, 2020.

  1. Goal: Get my university to sign on as an anchor institution for the emerging Miami-based Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) by June 1, 2020 with a commitment to collective buying of at least one of the following categories: waste management (trash/recycling/composting); electricity; solar power; copier services; cleaning services; purchasing supplies; or gas.
  2. List the Benefits: I see sustainability as an economic, environmental, and human benefit. If the University has a more eco-friendly campus that employs local businesses to meet our purchasing needs, my students and their families will have more/better jobs while they get a formal education and we will be addressing the threat of climate change through concrete, mission-driven action. In turn, that is likely to make my students better students and better social workers, which will make me very happy!
  3. Obstacles: University has a combination of large corporate vendors and small offices with big tasks, so it will take some time to get a clear picture of this landscape; institution is in transition with a lot of new senior leadership; confusion about who does what/who is on board for making a positive change.
  4. Skills/Knowledge: be able to articulate the benefits of CPA for the U as an anchor institution; understand the marketplace and costs; understand state regulations pertaining to solar; identify stakeholders’ needs and interests and leverage these for full participation; recognize relationships with reps of current vendors and negotiate with these in mind; work with CPA colleagues, especially JF, to identify a pool of local business owners who could become the service providers across domains of interest/need to the U.
  5. People and Groups to work with: JF, an amazing colleague and strategic thinker; look together for community partners who could be business leaders providing services to U.; determine whether U facilities or procurement staff could become advocates for change; understand perspective of current VP of finance.
  6. Plan of Action: Coordinate with JF on next steps and work. Do my homework on university needs. (Does it make sense for me to focus primarily on gathering data internal to U. in the form of conversations with possible allies for the remainder of this semester?) Work on my elevator pitch about CPA benefits to U. Get advice from Felipe and others on how to identify institutional needs without causing unnecessary conflict. Schedule a call w/Felipe and JF about strategy.
  7. Deadlines: schedule a call by the end of October w/Felipe and JF. Gather anecdotal intel from 3 colleagues (LP, DH, CR) over the next 3 weeks re: procurement; waste removal; other unanticipated/burdensome costs for their areas of work within the U.

First, gratitude for your questions! SO helpful!!!

And then, this…

Reflection Script: In a nutshell, I need to keep pushing myself to “land the plane”, as one of my high school English teachers liked to say. Landing the plane is about being as specific and clear as possible about goals and outcomes, while also finding ways to move from my internal processing to seeking external support and connection on the problems I’m trying to solve.

I don’t know if it is necessary to rehash the specifics, but I am adding my full reflection based on the incredible feedback I received…

Professional Goal: Get my university (“U”) to sign on as an anchor institution for the emerging Miami-based Community Purchasing Alliance (CPA) by June 1, 2020.

What would be the benefit to you for accomplishing this goal? What’s your motivation for doing this?

When I interviewed at U, I loved the sense of welcome and fun among the social work faculty. I ignored the advice of my PhD program director at Rutgers, who was floored by the low pay of the U, and told me NOT to take the job. I thought, I believe in the U’s stated core commitments to knowledge and truth, inclusive community, social justice and collaborative service. I had been at elite PWI’s (predominantly White institutions) and wanted to work with more first generation, linguistically, culturally, and racially diverse students for whom a college degree could make a huge difference in their lives and in the lives of their families. And, I do not own any assets other than my car, and I am not responsible for caring for children or aging parents yet, so I figured, what’s a little low pay in the face of an opportunity to work with students in a context where the work would make a real difference?

Now that I’m here, I see the U accepts students who are have not been academically prepared for college, but then does not provide adequate transition support, so many students drop out, with only large loans to show for their efforts. I see that faculty and staff have attempted unionization but been thwarted (even by fellow faculty members) and many have not even had cost of living adjustments in a decade or more, depending on how long they have worked for the U. I see that, according to the most recent faculty survey, the morale is extremely low, but people stay because they believe in the mission. People stay because they remember what the institution once was, but are too overwhelmed juggling outside work (for which we need to have written approval) with work demands to take action. The gap between what the institution is and what it preaches is so wide, it has taken me these two years to even write all of this without being overcome by my own cognitive dissonance.

So, my motivation for the co-op is to test whether the institution can live its core commitments through concrete action. There is hope, I am told, because we have a new U president. And I want to know, is hope an obstacle in this situation? Or is it real? Can we live our core commitments or are they just window dressing to draw in “customers” who will ultimately leave saddled with debt and despair?

And underneath it, for me it is, is my leadership/vision welcome? Do the contributions I feel able to make matter to the community that will receive them? Whether it’s the co-op or restorative justice practices or bystander intervention training, when I see what is needed and offer it, is it able to be received or is the resistance so great that I should go elsewhere?

Do you know anyone in a leadership position that can be a thought-partner?

Yes, I can talk with the chair of the Faculty Senate. She is trustworthy and has spent enough time at the U to know the history, both of which make her rare and a valuable institutional thought partner.

Have you considered getting data on the current benefits and pain points the U has?

Great question! The data I have so far:

  1. Alumni participation rate: 1%
  2. Enrollment: 19% decline from 2012-2018
  3. Need: 69% of our undergraduates are Pell Grant recipients and 38% are first generation students, yet still use a tuition-driven model
  4. Strengths: “personalized attention, values-based education, comprehensive university, diversity, location of campuses”; University-owned parcel of land in Miami Shores that has not been developed…

I am still unclear about the procurement processes, other than that Waste Management is the vendor and their services are not particularly well-received, but their staff do have close relationships with U staff.

Personal Goal: Run the University-sponsored 8K in February

It helped me to find another motivator such as, “if I run in the morning, I can go to happy hour or have dinner with friends after work.” Tracking mileage and time also helped with training. Have you considered adding details regarding your runs such as the number of miles and the number of days a week to your plan of action?

Yes! I love these suggestions! For my clinical social work students, I encourage them to consider the client’s internal motivations for change. I preach what I most need to learn.

Just like with writing, I find that I hate to exercise but I love having exercised. (Resistance?) Being in my early 40’s, I’ve been thinking a lot more about how the time I have in life is not infinite (enter existential crisis). So, the motivation for running is both tied to this deeper sense of mortality / doing the things I can do while I am able to do them so that I have no regrets/ coupled with a desire to thwart the effects of aging, illness, and dysthymia. Yessica’s suggestions are so helpful because they are concrete, specific, and offer daily rewards as well as accountability.

This reminds me, I once had a boyfriend who would gloat about how fit he was. I got tired of hearing him brag so I challenged him to a race, a mid-distance sprint, with 6 weeks to train. He agreed. Panic set in. And then a friend agreed to help me train, running sprints and hills in our Brookline neighborhood in the dead of winter, me cursing while he jogged or ran beside me, shouting directions (“keep breathing!”) or affirmations (“look, we can see the sun rising!”). And then it was time to race. We were on a neighborhood track in a relative’s neighborhood in Montreal. In the beginning, he shot ahead and I wondered if this was all a mistake. But, the training had given me an extra burst of power I didn’t know I had. I won that race, much to the shock of my then 6-foot muscle-bound beau.

This combination of tests of physical endurance and unconditional positive regard make for optimal training conditions. So I will do my best to mimic those conditions (minus the frigid temps) in training for the 8K in February.