On a Stormy Sea of Moving Emotion

Today was the Diversity & Unity Retreat.  I know I have much to update on here (I have not really blogged in a few weeks), but I’d like to offer some of my takeaways from the weekend.  Some of these are related to the actual content of the event, but more than that is how the Retreat has/may set the context for where I am in life more generally right now.

I learn so much from the people with whom I interact.  I spent 23 hours with 130 Retreat participants who challenged themselves and each other on how to comprehend topics of diversity and inclusion, how to grow in their own identities, and how to transform this passion and knowledge into becoming allies for each other and towards creating positive change on university campuses.  I witnessed so many people who got out of their comfort zones and challenged themselves to engage differently.  Too often, we become complacent within our own safe zones, our own communities, our own knowledge.  I am amazed at how much we can transform in such a short period of time.  I hope that the new knowledge and understanding gained by participants will continue to fester and develop.  If that happens, I have much hope in the future.

Thomas and I worked with a group of 12 students (10 undergraduate and 2 graduate) to develop content for the Retreat.  We worked with them on curriculum development, event write-ups, training methodologies, and discussion/facilitation skills. We call this group the Core Team.  Mia and I began the group last year and we expanded upon their role for this year’s Retreat.  Our first Core Team included many of my best friends who also happened to be leaders of diversity work on campus.  Most of them graduated last year and I was unsure at first about how I might interact with this year’s group of students.  While I knew each of them from other activities, our relationship was different and for the most part, they were several years younger than last year’s group.

After this weekend, I am proud to say that we could not have had a better group of student leaders.  Their passion, dedication, hard work, and skills are an inspiration and I am so proud to have had the opportunity to be a part of such a group and help them develop as individuals.

Yet, it was also me who developed in the process.  I sometimes become frustrated at diversity events when people “don’t get it” or when I attend sessions that I “know.”  But I learn from the people with whom I interact.  And my knowledge and skill set are constantly challenged and transformed from the work that I do.  I am thankful for every person at the Retreat who has also helped me as I become the person I want to be.

We spent some time talking about identity development models – how each of our social identities develops/transforms overtime, at different levels, and at the same time as our other identities.  We had an incredibly diverse group of participants (and not just in the “usual” dimensions of the term).  This morning when I was standing in the middle of the circle of participants, I reflected on my whiteness.  I’m not entirely sure what it was that made me think this way, but almost as if someone hit a button, I was instantly aware that I was a white person leading the Retreat.  Would it be seen as though the majority person was trying to tell the minority people what “they” needed to do?  I hope not.

I certainly do not have all of the answers.  I just try to do my part to make the world a better place.  Hopefully I am able to impart some wisdom on other people, just as other people constantly teach me and challenge me.  In that process, I think it is important for each of us to recognize and own our own identities and engage ourselves as we try to discover who we are and how we interact with others.

Over the past year, I have filled out a lot of forms asking me what my career goals are and what my intended career path is.  Here is the short answer: it depends.  My long term goals are to be successful, both personally and professionally, and to be able to use that success and my position (whatever it may be) to create positive change in the world.  I want to do my part to make the world a better place, where each of us can be recognized, welcomed, included, and respected equally.  How I get there is yet to be determined. I have no set path that I feel a need to take.  Whatever field or industry I end up in, I will try to position myself for my long-term goal.

I had a conversation this weekend with someone about my goals/career path.  I shared that I sometimes wonder whether a MBA was the right choice.  Perhaps I should have pursued a degree in higher education so that I continue my work on student engagement and university development.  There is no right or wrong answer and I am committed to the MBA.  Hopefully, the business world will provide me the opportunities I seek.  And who knows – I could return to higher education sometime in the future.  The path leads in many directions.

In case you were wondering, the title of this post is a line from “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas.  It is a great song that offers opportunity for reflection on one’s place in life.  As I consider my experiences with the Diversity and Unity Retreat, I am well aware that my path is in flux.  The fact that I graduate with two degrees and have to move to the next stage in my life in ~13 weeks is still surreal to me.  Just as I offered opportunities for thought and reflection to event participants, I reflect on my own privileges and opportunities.  Hopefully, I am able to engage and challenge myself to use them for positive outcomes in the years to come.

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About Joel Portman
Network Builder. Diversity and Inclusion Advocate. Social Media Enthusiast. Lover of family, friends, the outdoors, travel, and learning. I have experience working in the healthcare, education, diversity/inclusion, retail, and non-profit industries with organizations ranging in size from five people to Fortune 500. I am an MBA graduate of the University of Denver.

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