Monthly Archives: March 2016

A problem? Not on my campus!

I was shocked when I read that 84% of college and university presidents believe that race relations on their campuses are good or excellent, as published in this month’s release of  Inside Higher Ed‘s 2016 Survey of College and University Presidents.  That number actually went up from 2015.

Compare that to the fact that only 24% of presidents described race relations on other campuses as good, and none described them as excellent.

These numbers suggest that leaders are struggling to recognize the need to take action on diversity and inclusion since everything is already good or excellent “on my campus.”

Do you agree? Do you think faculty, staff and students on your campus would agree?

A take-away for me from these numbers is that leaders need to make sure they are getting the unvarnished truth from their own people. However, most people are justifiably hesitant to share bad news with their leaders. In fact it is recognized that leaders are often shielded from bad news by those closest to them.

To truly ensure that race relations are good where we work, we need to make it safe for our people to share bad news – the unvarnished truth – with us on tough topics like diversity and inclusion.

Some tips on how to do this:

  1. Explicitly and regularly ask for bad news. Ask directly about what people are hesitant to share.
  2. Don’t assume that people are sharing bad news – actively look for it.
  3. Examine and change how we respond to hearing bad news.
    • Prepare in advance and minimize negative reactions like “Oh no!” or “I can’t believe it.”
    • Purposely thank people for sharing bad news with you.
  4. Recognize and even celebrate when bad news has been addressed and an improvement has occurred.

This is easier said than done. I know that when I am facilitating and participants share what “our system” isn’t doing to address racism my first reaction is to defend the leaders I work with, or to share all the good work I know is happening. I have to work hard to listen and thank them for sharing their truths.

Think back to the last time someone on your team pointed out an issue or shared some bad news. Was it welcomed?

Todd Thorsgaard





Minnesota (not so) nice

mnniceIf you’re a native of Minnesota, you’ve probably heard of the phrase “Minnesota Nice.” And maybe you’ve heard that it’s a good thing. According to Wikipedia, Minnesota Nice is “…the stereotypical behavior of people born and raised in Minnesota, to be courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered.”

Interestingly enough those same “nice” behaviors often make it difficult for those not born and raised in Minnesota, or those not part of the dominant white culture, to fit in and feel welcome. Recently I’ve become acquainted with Corey Bonnema and Jerilyn Veldof, authors of an e-book: Minnesota Nice? A Transplant’s Guide to Surviving and Thriving in Minnesota. After much research into the Minnesota Nice culture, they’ve identified common behaviors shared by many Minnesota natives that often confounds people who move here from other areas of the country. They include:

  1. Polite friendliness.   Polite friendliness is just that; it doesn’t mean interest in being friends or imply any future obligation.
  2. An aversion to conflict and confrontation.  This goes both ways – Minnesota Nice makes it hard to confront and to be confronted. This can include a strong aversion or unwillingness to give or ask for feedback that might cause friction as well as a pattern of jumping to surface agreement rather than dealing with conflicting and divergent ideas.
  3. A tendency toward understatement.  This can show up in the workforce as a difficulty to tell others when they have done something well.
  4. A disinclination to make a fuss or stand out.  Minnesota Nice causes people to squirm under the spotlight.  They still may want to be acknowledged, but in a low key sort of way
  5. Emotional restraint.  You’ll hear a lot of “not too bad” when you ask how a Minnesotan is doing.
  6. Self-deprecation. When asked to explain their own contributions or critique their own performance Minnesotans are more likely to undervalue themselves.
  7. Resistance to change.  As you have most likely discovered, Minnesotans tend to be born, raised and continue to live in the same town surrounded by the same friends they’ve had since baby play dates and preschool.  These tend to be folks who are suspicious of anything different and fearful of a lot of change.
  8. Passive aggressiveness.  Look for signs like procrastination, sullenness, stubbornness, or confusion and it’s likely you’ve hit on passive aggressive behavior.

Of course, not every Minnesotan shares every characteristic of Minnesota Nice, but I’m sure you can recognize some of these behaviors in your Minnesotan-born friends, colleagues, and possibly yourself!

Non-Minnesotans often say that it is very difficult to make new friends here because most Minnesotans socialize with friends that they’ve had since preschool. In fact, a few months ago while at Macy’s,  I met an African-American makeup artist who said that he had moved here 18 years ago from San Francisco, but his only friends were also transplants.  He said it was just too hard to get past “Minnesota Nice” to make good friends.

Listening to Corey and Jerilyn, I realized that these behaviors can create unwelcoming campus climates for many people. At the same time, I realized that there are a few things I can do to help new employees feel welcome in my workplace. I can help decode Minnesota Nice behaviors and point them to   “8 Tips for Dealing With Your Passive-Aggressive Colleagues, Friends and Neighbors.   Or better yet, I can move beyond polite friendliness and take the time to invite that person to coffee or lunch and really help them feel welcomed.

What can you do to combat the effects of Minnesota Nice and make your campus climate or workplace more welcoming?

Anita Rios

Scheduling for diversity

lilyToday is Good Friday on the Christian calendar, and starts a weekend of religious celebration. That got me thinking about a practical aspect of diversity that has tripped me up over the years – scheduling meetings and events around religious holidays.

Since I am a member of the mainstream culture, I don’t have to worry much about work conflicts with my significant holidays. I’m not likely to have a professional conference on December 25 or a staff development day on Thanksgiving. Part of my role as a leader with responsibility for staff development is to help participants who practice other religions to avoid similar conflicts

For example, early in my career I was part of a team that planned a fall orientation. We were lucky enough to get the best conference room on a Friday in September. Well, I later learned that the room was available because the day fell on a major Jewish holiday and more experienced event planners were avoiding it. Several of our Jewish participants were not able to attend and it created a less welcoming climate for them.

Just a few years ago I helped my daughter host a baby shower. Two of our friends were not eating, and explained that it was Ramadan and they were fasting. I hadn’t considered that, and they didn’t expect us to. But they were pleased when I packed treat boxes so they could enjoy cake and fruit after sundown. That was an easy gesture that helped them be part of the group.

Your diversity and equity office may provide a religious holiday calendar, or there are many online resources such as this one from Williams College. They are a start, but not all holidays are created equal. A complete calendar can make it seems like there’s a holiday every day!

I’ve taken the opportunity to educate myself about which holidays are most important to consider when planning campus events. For example, if I were teaching a course and planned to bring pizza once during the semester, I’d check the dates for Ramadan and avoid bringing food when some students are likely to be fasting.

Respecting other people’s religious holidays is one way I can demonstrate inclusivity in my work. What experiences have you had with scheduling for diversity?

Dee Anne Bonebright


Enough talk – it is time for action

TT watch editedMy new sports watch keeps buzzing and chiming and literally telling me it is time to take action and get moving if I want to meet my fitness goals.

I recently heard Chancellor Rosenstone challenge leaders at our colleges, universities and system office to also take action. He bluntly stated that it was time for us to stop “admiring” and discussing the opportunity gap and time to take action to ensure that all employees feel included and welcomed in our workplace.

But how?

Verna Meyers, author of the book Moving Diversity Forward:How to go From Well-Meaning to Well-Doing, shares her ideas on how to take action and move forward in this TEDxTalk titled How to overcome your biases? Walk boldly toward them

I was struck by the power of her three main points:

  1. Stop being good – be real
  2. Move toward your discomfort
  3. When we see something – say something

It isn’t easy, but I have started taking action to be more real and move toward my discomfort. I view myself as inclusive and unbiased, yet a closer examination of my life clearly shows that I primarily interact with white, non-Hispanics. To become more real I have been actively partnering with a colleague who is Latina. She and I have been working together and presenting on Unconscious Bias and Diversity at multiple events. I have stepped out of my comfort zone and slowly spending more time with people who have a vastly different life experience than me. It is a small step, and I need to do much more, but it is movement.

Where can you start taking action and get moving into your discomfort?

Todd Thorsgaard

Stuck at the airport with who?

by guest blogger Cindy Schneider

stuck_at_airport_7Picture this: You and a co-worker are coming back from a meeting in mid-January. You arrive at your gate just in time to find your flight has been canceled by the blizzard you had hoped to beat.  Traffic is at a standstill as well, so you are stuck in the airport for the foreseeable future.  Looks like you and your colleague will be spending some quality time together for the next 12 hours or so!

What’s your reaction to this?

You might grab some dinner at the brew pub on the next concourse, chat about work (what’s up with that new IT guy?), argue about how the Vikings will do next season, commiserate about your kids’ crazy sports schedules…it’s all good.

But what if your co-worker’s life, culture and background is distinctly different from yours? Does this scenario then turn into a panic situation?  Do you secretly think: I have to hang out with this person for how long? We have nothing in common – what are we going to even talk about? Get me out of here!

As leaders, our first impulse can be to hire people who are just like us. It’s human nature to want to surround ourselves with people who share similar background and values.  But is it healthy for your organization in the long run?

Teams with members from different cultures, backgrounds, family structures, and life experiences can offer many unique perspectives, bringing different ideas and opinions to your organization. Encouraging team members to get to know each other and to take an interest in one another’s lives can make the difference between a functional, creative team and one where individual members actively avoid working closely with one another.

Cindy Schneider works in the Human Resources Division of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and supports the Talent Management Team. She is currently completing her bachelor’s degree in Technical Communications and Professional Writing at Metropolitan State University.


“Cross over” to increase innovation

different5Part of the MnSCU competency on valuing diversity states that leaders should “actively seek out and invite alternative viewpoints in planning, discussions, and decision making.” I recently saw an article that reminded me that this is not only the right thing to do, but it also is a business necessity.

GE’s Beth Comstock recently wrote a blog post about the value of “crossing over” to new disciplines in order to increase innovation and creativity. Crossing over occurs when ideas or knowledge from one field is used in a completely different field. Some of her examples included:

  • NASA didn’t purchase the Apollo space suits from standard aerospace contractors. Instead, they worked with Playtex, which had a strong knowledge base in designing and constructing garments contoured to fit the human body.
  • The initial idea for pacemakers rose from a chance lunch meeting between two cardiologists and an engineering student.
  • In less than a month, players of the video game Foldit, which simulates protein folding, were able to answer questions about the molecular structure of HIV/AIDS that medical researchers had been working on for a decade.
  • Oil companies are using medical ultrasound technology to monitor pipelines for leaks, and airlines use it to monitor jet engine parts for metal fatigue.

Comstock recommends building intentional opportunities for conversation among different parts of an organization. She also provided a personal challenge: read a magazine or journal from a field you don’t know and try to connect the dots to something you are working on.

In my own work, I’ve gained a great deal of practical knowledge by studying research that applies principles of neuroscience to people’s behavior in the workplace. By learning more about how our brains generate predictable responses to change and stress, we can create appropriate leadership strategies.

How could “crossing over” help in your work?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Where do I start?

growing_sales_spiral_250wI guess the simple answer is to start with ourselves and our team. As leaders our opportunity to make a difference starts with the culture of respect we create within our own team.

But how? I found a number of practical ideas on the Critical MultiCultural Pavillion created by It is a website created by a team of educators dedicated to equity, diversity, multiculturalism, and social justice. They provide resources for workshops, staff meetings and projects that support progressive change in our educational systems. I want to share an activity that I recently experienced and encourage you to give it a try with your team! It is called the “Circles of My MultiCultural Self” and the full instructions can be found by clicking on the link.

Briefly, each of us created our own set of circles identifying cultural and personal elements of ourselves that we defined as important for making us who we are. Next we spent a few minutes with a partner, each sharing a story about a time we were most proud of one of our defining elements and a story when it was a painful moment. Finally we were asked to identify a stereotype about one of our unique elements, or circles, that was incomplete, incorrect or failed to fully capture who we are.

As we shared our stories and the stereotypes we have heard I was struck by how different my experiences have been as a member of the majority culture from my colleagues from a minority culture. What I defined as important, or had experienced as painful moments, were mostly internal or personal elements that I got to choose to share or not share. I was in control of sharing that I am a cancer survivor or a divorced co-parent of a teen-age girl. My colleagues from a diverse or minority culture mostly described painful moments and identifying characteristics that others attributed to them or imposed on them! They were labeled as “black” or “from another country” or “as having a confusing and hard to understand accent.” They were not allowed to define themselves.

This was a small but powerful growth experience for me and for the team as a whole and a step in creating an inclusive work environment.

Their website offers a number of resources for leaders looking for ways to support equitable opportunities for all people to be successful at work.

Todd Thorsgaard


Demanding equity and inclusion

mizz“Will having more chief diversity officers, as student protestors have asked, resolve tensions behind the wave of protests at campuses around the nation?” This is an insightful question, asked by Jackie Jones, in her article: “Demanding Inclusion” published in the Chronicle’s Diverse: Issues in Higher Education for March 18, 2016.

My simple answer to Jone’s question is: it depends!

According to Mary Frances Berry, former chair and member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, student protestors on campuses across the country “…are looking for more black people, a reduction in overt racism, and micro- and macro-aggressive behavior.” Following a series of high-profile racial incidents at the University of Missouri, students demanded that the institution compose a 10-year strategic plan by May 1, 2016 to:

  • increase retention for marginalized students
  • sustain diversity curriculum and training
  • promote a more safe and inclusive campus

This is only one example of what is happening at U.S. colleges and universities. And the tensions only seem to be building across the country. Solving these dilemmas seems a very tall order for Chief Diversity Officers alone. And their ability to solve them depends on the authority afforded to their role and the influence they have in affecting many areas of an institution, such as:

  • Recruitment and Retention
  • Campus Climate
  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • Strategic Planning
  • Research
  • Institutional Advancement
  • Student Success
  • Staff/Faculty Performance Management
  • Intergroup Relations and Discourse
  • Procurement/Supplier Diversity

So what can we as leaders do about it? According to William B. Harvey, founding president emeritus of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, we need to support Chief Diversity Officers. He says, “The only way these positions can be successful is if they have the support of the university leadership and the staffing needed.” Harvey also says that we need to get senior faculty on board to address student concerns.

I agree with Harvey, but I’ll also push the issue further. It’s not just CDOs and senior faculty that can make a difference in fostering equity and inclusion. Each one of us has a responsibility to create inclusive campus climates, where diversity is valued.

Every time we hire new staff or faculty, we can pay closer attention to affirmative hiring efforts. As we welcome new staff and faculty to our campuses, we can make sure that everyone has an excellent orientation and onboarding experience. We can promote ways to create an inclusive curriculum and provide incentives to do that.

We can support diversity training and make sure that our leadership development programs have strong diversity components. We can model inclusivity in our decision making. We can build equity and inclusion efforts into our strategic planning. And we can hold ourselves accountable to the diversity goals we set.

For my part, I am working collaboratively with staff in Talent Management, Equity and Diversity,  Chief Human Resources officers, Affirmative Action Officers, and other leaders to produce training resources that help faculty and staff at our institutions hire affirmatively. It is one thing I can do to promote equity and inclusion.

What can you do?

Anita Rios






Seek out diverse perspectives

diverse perspectives 2Seeking out diverse perspectives can give leaders an important edge in today’s world. Whether embarking on a enterprise-wide initiative or making decisions that will impact a unit, institution, or community, diverse perspectives can give us the information we need to be more effective. They can keep us honest, keep us from moving into groupthink, and provide a resource to sharpen our thinking and lead to innovative solutions. As leaders, we can truly benefit from a diversity of perspectives!

So how can we as leaders seek out diverse perspectives? Here are a few ideas from the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota. They advise leaders to:

  • Encourage contributions from everyone and give voice to individuals and constituencies not in the room. Those in the room may need to represent stakeholders who are not present.
  • Acknowledge the impact of power and privilege on who speaks and who listens in groups. Be mindful of the status that is accorded to a person because of her or his position, race, ethnicity, economic class background, sexual orientation, gender, religion, ability/disability, education, expertise, and/or profession.
  • Practice respect for others. Listen deeply. Acknowledge and accept difference of opinions. Discern when to voice differences and when to hold them lightly.
  • Appreciate the constructive value of conflict. While conflict can feel hard or uncomfortable, helping a group move through conflict can result in better outcomes for everyone. Learn to tolerate and work through it, rather than smooth it over or ignore it.

Think of a group you lead that has some diversity. Consider who speaks in the group. Who has the most “air-time?” Is everyone heard? In your leadership role, how can you enable every participant to contribute fully?

Anita Rios

This is real – this is hard!

Racial isolationDiversity – racism – pedagogy.

As leaders in higher education we are working in a system and on campuses that challenge our foundational beliefs and our expertise – and that is hard! I know I am struggling to balance my values and views of myself with the facts and figures that describe a system that is unequal and unjust. And the hope that our youth are leading us to a new inclusive world is not supported by facts – as the graphic highlights – we still live and teach in a very segregated culture. That reality hurts!

As I mentioned in my earlier post each of us needs to ask ourselves questions and figure out where to start our journey to shrink our “bubble of ignorance.” A starting point that I found valuable was this panel discussion presented by the University of Puget Sound’s Race and Pedagogy National Conference and public TV station KBTC focusing on Race and Pedagogy and reality our students face as they live their lives and attend our institutions. Race and Pedagogy.

I will be brief in this post and encourage you to take the extra time to watch the video. It doesn’t provide easy answers but it sets the stage for actions we each can take to create a more inclusive learning – and working – environment.

Todd Thorsgaard