Riding a Coaster of Emotions through a Diversity Walk

Have you ever participated in a diversity walk? I’ve participated in a few, but this past weekend, my professor conducted one for my doctoral cohort and boy was it powerful. We are being trained as Public Dialogue Facilitators in the Everyday Democracy Framework, and this activity was one of the first steps in the training process, focusing on developing our facilitation and listening skills. It was incredibly moving, so I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on the experience and share my thoughts with you.

How it worked:
We began by standing in a straight line. As the professor read statements, we either stepped forward or backward depending on our personal responses. The questions began with “If you regularly see people of your same race and religion on television, step forward.” I naturally assumed that because of my social identity—the white privilege that I am so cognizant of—that I would progress to the front of the pack. However, the prompts quickly changed to ones along the lines of “If you had a library of children’s and adult books in your home as a child, step forward,” “If your parents are college educated, step forward.” At this moment in time, I realized that I would not end up leading the pack, but I would quickly fall behind. And that’s exactly where I landed, in the very back with three other peers, while the majority of our cohort was far, far ahead.

As you can imagine, it was an eye-opening and emotional activity, to say the least. There were times during the exercise when I felt sorry for myself as well as anger for the inequities of life. But I quickly pulled myself together and reminded myself that we all made it to the same place, this doctoral program, right here, right now. Some of my peers had a little extra help, or as my professor put it “wind beneath their wings,” and those of us in the back had to run a little faster and a work little harder to catch up to those who were blessed with extra wind. These inequities didn’t stop us, rather, the unfairness provided us with the fires in our bellies, empowered us with the desire to achieve what no one thought we could. At these moments of cognitive dissonance, I realized that my heart has no room for sorrow and anger; it is too full of ambition and pride.

We then paired up to discuss our experiences. The first partner was given three minutes of uninterrupted time to reflect on their feelings during and after the exercise, while the other partner listened intently, then took three minutes to reflect, clarify, and summarize the other’s response. We then switched roles and took turns speaking and listening. This segment of the activity was particularly valuable. I was lucky to be in a group of three, with both of my partners being professionally trained listeners with advanced degrees is counseling and psychology. I found myself getting choked up while sharing my thoughts, but my partners were expert listeners and articulated my ramblings in such beautiful words that I was deeply touched. Additionally, they noticed what I didn’t say, identified the feelings I couldn’t pinpoint myself, brought them to the surface, and validated my emotions. I was blessed to be in the presence of such gifted individuals.

It’s funny because I have been working on my listening skills and body synching techniques for some time now. After serving as a listener, I was given positive feedback: my body language was open and inviting, I nodded at the appropriate times to convey understanding, I maintained consistent eye contact. However, I was told that my eye contact was so solid that it was almost daunting! So my practice has paid off!

This activity has given me a renewed sense of purpose and drive. I’m more energized on this Monday morning, ready to charge at the week with laser-sharp focus and unwavering momentum. I accept the challenge to work harder to make up for the lack of “wind” I was born with, and plan to fly higher than anyone ever expected to see me soar.

If you haven’t participated in a diversity walk, and are given the opportunity to do so, jump on in. You’ll be amazed at what you learn about yourself as well as others.

Thanks for reading!

Never stop learning!
~Ashly

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