Hundreds of Valencia employees engaged in a heartfelt, spirited email discussion surrounding the topic of racial inequality in the United States last week.
On Monday, June 1, 2020, College President Sandy Shugart emailed all employees a College Update in which he acknowledged his own anger at continued acts of police and institutional brutality perpetrated against people of color in the United States. In that email, he urged employees to “make space for the challenging conversations.” He also pledged to “recommit to a workplace without bias, where each of us can expect to be treated with respect, courtesy, equanimity and full equality.” Sandy added Valencia would be convening a collaborative design team to develop concrete, actionable plans to make “real progress toward this central value.”
Following Sandy’s email, the discussion was kick started by Rudy Darden, professor, English, who sent an email message (via two email threads) to faculty and staff across campuses in which he pointed out the need for all of us to pause and acknowledge recent nationwide and global turmoil triggered by the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police. Rudy also wrote a response to the email thread this week. Read his response here.
Rudy pointed out the need to open up a dialogue surrounding race at Valencia College, including the need for the institution and its leaders to have additional “challenging conversations” about the topic without fear of being perceived as biased.
“Who are we at Valencia if we can’t hold intentional conversations with each other for fear that we will be perceived as “taking a side”? How could one be looked at negatively for taking “a side” in conversations around racial unrest and systemic racial injustices,” Rudy asked in the email.
His message resonated quickly, and hundreds responded in a thread that lasted into this week. Many responses were supportive and included a message from Valencia College President Sandy Shugart.
“Thank you, Rudy, for speaking from the heart. I hear you. Many hear you,” said Sandy in the response. “Thanks for helping to make Valencia a place where courageous conversations take us toward new understanding. I am on a journey. I need your companionship along the way as I learn to lead in a world of pain and struggle and wonder.”
Messages triggered by Rudy’s email were largely supportive. During the email thread, many employees thanked him for bringing up the topic and then shared numerous resources to help combat racism, which included links to videos, literature and other writings.
Katie Tagye, director, organizational design and development, shared a Google doc which includes webinars, workshops, recordings and other resources that all employees, including supervisors, are encouraged to access on multiple topics, including racial equity. Other employees said they would be hosting or attending Zoom meetings on these topics in coming days and weeks.
Not every message was supportive, however, which other employees said provided evidence of the urgent need to have discussions about racial equity.
On Friday, June 5, 2020, in her weekly Provost Update, Executive Vice President and Provost Kathleen Plinske encouraged employees to participate in upcoming Peace and Justice Institute (PJI) Circles. The circles are a series of weekly meetings that create a safe space for conversation and allow participants to find support and strength in one another.
Kathleen also urged employees to take advantage of the Employee Assistance Program, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and provides confidential support at no cost. For more information about our Employee Assistance Program, including how to access support, please review this flyer. Kathleen is also hosting Zoom regional meetings at the Osceola Campus for those who wish to share what’s on their mind.
Interim President of East and Winter Park Campuses Wendy Givoglu invited employees in her respective region to a Town Hall that will utilize the PJI Circle format to help employees to process their feelings and experiences.
PJI released a message to members titled “The Urgency of Now,” encouraging employees to engage in more conversations surrounding these topics. In addition to promoting the PJI Circles, the PJI team announced it will facilitate workshops on race, bias, white privilege and supremacy. More details on these workshops are coming soon. PJI also recently released dates for its summer Academy for Teachers, which is open to all educators seeking to create more inclusive classrooms.
Meetings will also be set up with Vice President of Student Affairs Joe Richardson and Student Development to hear students’ feedback. Sandy and Kathleen will also participate, and a counselor will be on hand for students. More details will be shared as the information becomes available.
The Organizational Communication team encourages all Valencia College employees to submit stories surrounding all efforts to push institutional racial progress forward. If you would like to share a particular initiative, please email The Grove.