Blog written by Michael J. Sheridan, MSW, PhD, Special Advisor for Diversity and Wellness Programs, Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org
In a time when it seems that every news report is another example of discord and polarization, it can be difficult to determine how any one of us can make a difference. We can find ourselves thinking, “How can I make any real impact toward advancing social justice in healthcare, education, research and the larger society? I’m just one person with very little influence.” But as my OITE colleague, Dr. Darryl Murray observed, progress in the arena of equality and social justice is lot like science – each small step forward contributes to a bigger picture and an eventual solution. Without those seemingly “small” contributions, no progress is ever made.
Last Wednesday, the OITE hosted an NIH Trainee Unity event to help people consider what small, but important, steps they could take in building more welcoming and inclusive communities – at NIH and beyond. While munching on chips and salsa and bolstered by chocolate,* about 50 people shared their concerns and hopes for creating a more just and compassionate society. We were challenged by Dr. Sharon Milgram, OITE Director to identify, “What can you do to support unity?” Individuals wrote their commitments on brightly colored sticky notes, which are now posted in the OITE West hallway (Building 2, 2nd floor). Come by and see them and add your own!
- I will continue to have “uncomfortable” conversations to make sure I understand all diversity in every variation that makes us beautiful.
- Show up, speak up. Welcome people into our community (LGBTQ+, Immigrants, Latinx). Show empathy.
- Open my home and heart to exchange students.
- Volunteer in clinics for the uninsured; be more involved in mentoring junior colleagues
- Teach my daughters to embrace diversity & inclusion, & to be proud of who they are.
- I will dedicate my career to address health disparity & to encourage kids from underserved communities to aspire for higher education. We can make a difference if we all do our part!
- As a white person, work to confront and dismantle white privilege and white supremacy.
- Millions of people enjoyed the same eclipse a few days ago. We all live together on the same earth. We ought to work together to make our society better for all.
When making such commitments, it’s important to consider what is most meaningful to you and what is realistic. What matters to you most? Can you do this on your own or should you connect with others? How can you begin? What preparation might you need? What resources do you need? How will you stay motivated for the long haul?
It’s also critical to reflect on your “mind-set.” We talk a lot about “growth mindset” at the OITE. First introduced by Dr. Carol Dweck, growth mindset means that we believe our most basic abilities can be developed through dedication, hard work, love of learning, and resilience. Commitment to unity and advancing social justice requires a kind of growth mindset, too. We need to develop our capacity for active listening (with your heart as well as your ears); respecting and learning from others’ experiences; and knowing when to stand up and take the lead, and when to stand back and support others’ leadership. We generally aren’t taught these things, but we can learn them. We will make mistakes along the way, but we can offer authentic apologies when we do – that’s also part of the learning process.
It’s also key to realize that every day brings opportunities to “practice unity.” One way is through “micro-affirmations.” Dr. Mary Rowe describes micro-affirmations as apparently small acts, often ephemeral and hard-to-see, either in public or private, sometimes unconscious but very effective, that occur whenever people wish to help others succeed. I believe that micro-affirmations can also be used to communicate support and welcoming to others, especially when they or people like them are being targeted. Asking someone to go have coffee or lunch with you, providing a safe space for someone to share their experience, smiling and saying hello to people on the street (and on campus!), telling a stranger how beautiful their child is…the possibilities are endless and only require that we look for ways to connect.
Building what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called “the beloved community” takes all of us. What will you do? How will you contribute? The world needs you now more than ever.
OITE services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.
* No federal funds were used for these refreshments.