Reflections on SEED from College President Sandy Shugart

Applications for the upcoming 2018 – 2019 Valencia SEED cohorts are being accepted until Friday, July 13, 2018. SEED, an acronym for Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity, is an international project that utilizes a cohort-based, monthly seminar model with the intention of creating gender fair, multiculturally equitable and globally informed educational spaces and workplaces.

For a reflection on SEED from Valencia College President Sandy Shugart, who participated in the 2017-2018 SEED 1 cohort, read below.

For more information or to apply, click here.

By Sandy Shugart, Valencia College President

It is in the nature of large organizations to alienate. We don’t mean to, but our scale creates a kind of anonymity for many, and for others what I would describe as familiarity without intimacy. In the course of doing our jobs, we become less persons than simply “others.” At such a distance, our nature is to organize our experience into categories with which we can interpret our reality. This is the way the brain works. (Remember, it didn’t develop over millions of years for living in large populations, but small, intimate communities.) And all categories are based on over-simplifications that hide as much or more than they reveal. These are, in fact, our biases.

To be human is to be biased. The mechanisms our brains developed for reaching immediate conclusions based on very little data have served us well in certain life-threatening situations. In small, homogeneous communities that typified ancient life, bias served survival and group identity. But no longer.

The enormous, complex, heterogeneous, richly diverse communities in which modern humans mostly live, both literally and virtually, require deeply nuanced insights into the myriad of persons we encounter, what we share and how we might be different at the individual level. This can be very difficult unless we unlearn the habits of bias that can be almost invisible to ourselves.

This was an important insight for me as I entered the dialog arranged to explore these issues in the SEED program this past academic year. As the participants opened up to the possibility that we all carry biases, assumptions, generalizations, even prejudices that may be less apparent to us than to others, we could begin to discover them for ourselves and re-process what we thought we knew about ourselves and one another. The primary tool for this was a guided and informed process of hearing personal stories — ours and others’.

I appreciated the process because there is nothing more human, more organic to building authentic community than story. In your story, I discovered how we may be more alike than we could have imagined, and how our genuine differences can be gifts to one another. These conversations with a small group of staff and faculty were a treasure this past year. I’ve made new friends in the College and discovered fellow travelers on the road. You may find SEED to be a useful commitment, as well.

P.S. Many thanks to our skilled SEED facilitators Stanton Reed, professor, business and accounting, and Jeannie Rodriguez, library office systems manager.

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