What Went Well: Reflections on Reflecting, by Rebecca Lehman and Brice Mickey

In the many years I worked in social justice education through the University of Cincinnati Racial Awareness Program (RAPP), I’ve been grateful to work with committed and passionate student workers and AmeriCorps Public Ally apprentices. All of these have worked both in co-facilitating educational dialogue programming as well as the administrative work necessary to make these programs run. 

Regular meetings, usually weekly, that include both task-oriented work and developmental conversations are part of our supervision routine.  Over the last four years, I’ve made a regular habit of structured reflection time where we look at specific tasks the person or we together completed and explore two key questions:

  1. What went well in the process?
  2. What is something worth remembering from the process, maybe something great we want to remember to do again or something new it inspires us to try?

Recording responses to the latter question generates a long list of “Lessons Learned” over the year that accumulate at the end of our agendas and are the basis for blog posts the students write. Initially, I asked people to write one post at the end of their tenure; for the last year and a half I’ve asked them to write the posts regularly to share the many things they learn/re-learn/are learning over time.

I started with the first question of “what went well” because nearly every person who’s worked with RAPP in a co-facilitator role has had one overdeveloped skill: Describing what they think they did “wrong.” Our ability to acknowledge things that went well and things they do well was sorely underdeveloped.

Until last year, I’d kept this practice reactive. We always reflected afterward. Outside of structured full staff trainings, I only brought in models & articles to discuss after I identified a deficit in knowledge/skills I wanted us to work on.

This past fall, a student worker Brice and I embarked on a journey together to be proactive around this work. We started with The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflection from Social Justice Educators, edited by Lisa N. Landeman.

I’d previously bought copies of this book for all the student co-facilitators in our programs but had only engaged it in pre-service training. Throughout the fall, Brice would select a chapter from the book for us both to read, we’d read it between meetings, then discuss it at the meetings. Occasionally, Brice would create an activity for us to do together based on the reading.

Inspired by this as well as our disagreements around his skill as a facilitator (I think he does well all-around in the many roles we fill as facilitators; he did not), I pulled out “Effective Facilitation: Self-Evaluation Checklist” by Dr. Kathy Obear. Rather than rush through all the dozens of skills in one go, I thought it’d be useful for us to give them time.  So, three or four times a month, we’d discuss just five of the skills at a time.  We’d each rate ourselves on each skill and discuss ways we did them, times we hadn’t, ways that the different work we did used the skills in different ways, and how we saw each other demonstrating the skills.

March at ACPA Nat'l Convention, Brice & Rebecca (center)  got to talk with Kathy Obear (left)

March at ACPA Nat’l Convention, Brice & Rebecca (center) got to talk with Kathy Obear (left)

I’d previously used this same list, but as a whole in one meeting or spread over at most three meetings.  Breaking the piece up over time like this has given us a chance for deep reflection and created a regular opportunity for feedback and reflection. I’ve since used this spread-over-time technique with other student workers, while still using whole articles, chapters, and videos as before.  For example, a student worker and I are going through the Code of Ethics for Antiracist White Allies point by point in preparation for our work with RAPP’s summer intensive on racial justice

Recently, Brice and I reflected as described in the beginning of this post on the process of taking several months to work through the self-evaluation checklist. In many ways, this post is our Lessons Learned blog post.

If you asked me before I started working with RAPP how important reflection was, I would have said not so much.  Now, after working with RAPP, I know it to be extremely important. Though I practice these reflections in the realm of social justice education, I can see their application being useful in any field of work. The exercises  and blog posts we worked on over the course of the year boosted my confidence, reinforced my skill set, and gave me a framework for my own student workers (someday).

I remember when we began reading “The Art of Effective Facilitation.” I was thinking it would be some magic tome that would finally prepare me to do what I had always dreamed of doing: being a facilitator. The book did teach me some new things, but what it really did was reinforce how much I already knew. I was already a facilitator!  The same can be said about our discussions around Kathy Obear’s checklist. I remember going through the list five skills at a time and being shocked at how many I had successfully demonstrated. We reached the end of the list and I thought, “That’s it?”

As Rebecca highlighted above, I excelled at pointing out my faults.  I am my biggest critic, but I don’t often take the time to analyze my mistakes. These mistakes become opportunities for growth once given the time to reflect. Similarly, I rarely take the time to appreciate the good work I have done. Through facilitating our 9-month social justice program, I have seen breakthroughs in the RAPPers and in myself. Being able to highlight these breakthroughs in the RAPP blog boosts my morale and hopefully that of the reader as well.

All of this reflection has been invaluable to my growth as a student, facilitator, and aspiring professional.

Brice is one of 15 recipients of the RAPP Social Justice Peer Educator Certificate this academic year, the curriculum of which is built around this idea: I exemplify social justice education when I commit to continual self-reflection & intentional development work as a social justice educator.

Brice Mickey has been involved with RAPP since 2010. He is currently a senior at the University of Cincinnati majoring in Information Technology. He has also served as the 9-month co-facilitator for RAPP XXVIII and XXIX.

Rebecca Lehman has been involved with RAPP since 2006. She is currently transitioning out of the role of Program Coordinator for the program and is excited to see where she goes next.

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Seeking Sustenance and Solace: Making Art and Building Community by Elliott DeVore

Seeking Sustenance and Solace: Making Art and Building Community

A million ideas about things to explore and academically dissect flooded my mind when I was approached to write a blog for the CSJE.  As a self proclaimed academic, I prided myself on the amount of abstract and disparate phenomena I began to weave together into a metaphoric collection of wicker baskets. The desire to prove my intelligence arose from my K-12 experience in which I was told my formal education would never reach beyond high school—deeper context and narrative can be found here—I digress. Ideas ranging from re-envisioning the role of land-grant institutions in providing education to those entrapped by the prison-industrial complex as a tool to reduce recidivism rates, to educating students about ethical real-estate decisions as they move off-campus into San Francisco so that they don’t contribute to the bourgeoning amount of elis act evictions—which are rendering thousand of elderly, (dis)abled, folks of color, immigrants, and working class (and the list goes on) people homeless in order to charge higher rents—ran through my head. After settling on a topic (which is now irrelevant to this blog post), I gathered books and articles, as I learned to do in graduate school.  My heart began beating fast because it knew that wasn’t the story it needed to tell at that moment.  The story that needed telling was my recent realization.

I am White, Queer, a femme cisgender male, and a gender-bender drag performer, who comes from a working class single mother family in East Tennessee.   The duration of my life has been filled with seeking, nurturing others, and guarding myself from the world.  Guarding myself physically, emotionally, and politically.  I’ve survived anti-queer physical violence, event being chased by a truck in a parking lot, verbal harassment, and the political idiocy of my representative in Knoxville, TN, Stacey Campfield, author of the “don’t say gay” bill.  Student Affairs became my chosen profession, in part, because it was the first welcoming space for me, and because I knew that I could escape the south and excel in the field.  My entire life as an undergrad became consumed with what I was doing outside of the classroom, who was I working with on queer issues, and those I was helping support through their own queer journey.  Some in that community called me “mother hen”.  My life was defined by whatever “job” that I was doing—work gave me sustenance because it was how I was going to escape.  This trend continued into my graduate school experience as I distracted myself from my own emotional wounds by going above and beyond in my work.  It was easier to do more than to spend quiet time with myself and to heal the hurt I endured in the South.

Fast forward to my first professional job at the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit institution.  I was drawn to this institution due to its Jesuit ideals around social justice; discernment of self, magis (finding god in all things), and the existing team in Student Life… the location didn’t hurt either. It’s hard to believe that I just finished my first year here—takes a deep breath.  Though I was drawn to this institution and job for the amazing work I was going to be able to do, it never occurred to me that the most meaningful part of my life would not be my job!  For the fist time in my life I was in a place where I felt I could finally be me—a big southern queen ablaze with faggortry and music.

Shortly after I moved to San Francisco and started my job I joined the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (SFGMC) which is a choral arts organization with roughly 300 singers who identify as gay/bi/queer/trans* men.  It was through this group that I made all of my friends, but also where I began to find my source inspiration and rejuvenation.  The chorus quickly consumed my hours of freedom outside of my job and was it amazing!  I made several intergenerational queer friendships with men, whose ages range into late 60’s—some of them actually met and knew Harvey Milk and other prominent queer community activist here in the Bay Area.  Until this year, I seldom had the opportunity meet queer persons of that age or listen to their narratives, hopes and fears.  As I typed this blog, I became teary eyed at the power of these men’s’ stories and experiences from the late 60’s, the AIDS crisis, and present day.

Being an SFGMC member has become an important part of my life and has given my life a sense of meaning and community.  For the first time, that which nourishes me most is something besides my “job”. I NEVER THOUGHT THAT WOULD HAPPEN.  Perhaps it is because I’ve finally found a space where I feel safe enough to let my guard down and focus on myself.  A sense of guilt has however accompanied this shifting source of nourishment, because I feel that I should be “doing more” by volunteering with a direct service organization or attending more protests.  In some way, I felt that I had lost some social justice “street cred” by focusing on me and being “selfish”.  This summer, however, I came to the realization that focusing on oneself in order to heal wounds and enrich the soul is quite radical.  By focusing on myself and creating music with 300 other queers, I’ve been able to expand the depths of my being and my capacity for love and compassion.

No longer will I allow myself to be confined by my past understandings of what a “social justice advocate” looks like.  Simply being in community and engaging in self-love can be and is activism.  Learning this lesson over the past year will certainly be one of the most important lessons of my life as a person who considers himself a community worker and social justice advocate.  My advice to others is to rid yourself of guilt if you take a step back from direct action within your community—it’s how you avoid burnout.  If you are artistic in anyway, I’d suggest that you engage in something artistically creative with those in your community!  There is no better way to celebrate your community than mutually creating something of beauty to share with others, be it music, visual art, poetry, or a drag cabaret. Go forth to create and love within and outside your communities this coming year!

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