Last week, I was asked to speak on two topics very much on the periphery of sexual and interpersonal violence: Unconscious Bias and Mental Health/Self Care. One would think I was speaking at a women’s or social impact conference. But no. I was speaking at the annual convention for collegiate athletics administrators and public relations persons – NACDA and CoSIDA, for the layperson. I know, I’m as surprised as you are.
For the first time in as long as I’ve been attending this event, the programming offered courses well beyond the usual “how to advance in your career” and “how to network” sessions. What a welcome change! I was asked to join a power panel about Unconscious Bias for CoSIDA and to co-lead a workshop on Mental Health/Self Care for NACMA (the marketing arm of NACDA). This definitely made me pause because a) I have never presented on these topics and b) I had no idea how they’d be received by this audience. Nevertheless, I agreed to both opportunities, and hoped for the best.
In some ways, the Unconscious Bias panel was more than the audience bargained for. The NY Times columnist Bill Rhoden, George Washington AD Tanya Vogel and the iconic civil rights leader Dr. Harry Edwards, joined me on the stage for a 45-minute discussion. Things ‘escalated quickly’, as they say. Dr. Edwards rejected the entire concept of Unconscious Bias as a B.S. term for closet racism and misogyny. He emphatically presented and then defended his theory, to which I countered that while those may very well be the underpinnings of bias, the term is the packaging by which we begin the discussion with everyday people who don’t know what they don’t know but want to do better, because not everyone has a PhD from Cornell (like Edwards) or has spent 1000s of hours working in anti-sexual violence (me). And when Dr. Edwards hit the 15-minute mark of one of his answers, I wrestled back the mic and the moment to ensure that the two women on the panel – of which I was one – had the opportunity to share what they know. Research shows that women speak just 10% of the time in such environments. And I just could not allow that to happen. The response has been encouraging and I continue to hear from young professionals who want to be the change in their respective athletics departments. Total win.
When the time came for the Mental Health/Self Care workshop two days later, I felt somewhat uneasy about how it would be received. I had never met my co-presenter Jamaal Walton in person, and though we prepared via phone in advance, I had my doubts about our ability to tackle such a vast and important topic. The best way I have found to connect with a room – on any topic – is to look for openings to be blunt and honest – because I believe that’s what people want most when they show up to hear you speak. So, by some miracle, Jamaal and I found our flow, playing off each other’s knowledge and contributions such that we were able to get our audience to participate, to share and to walk away with some thought-provoking concepts. Also a win.
Reflecting back on both events, the experience taught me to delve deeper into those periphery topics and expand my comfort zone and my offerings as a speaker.