Proactive vs. Reactive
In Living and Teaching Inclusively, we often discuss ways to be proactive in ways to engage and support all types of learners rather than being reactive to a situation or concern after it arises. As instructors, many of us can reflect on situations where we responded to a concern had by a learner and figured out ways to help them overcome a barrier. While this is great (and expected), we emphasize the importance of being proactive in creating learning environments that preempt (or at least reduce) issues before they occur.
This often takes the form of clearly stated policies in our syllabi and “getting-to-know-you” activities. These are proven ways to increase success by setting expectations early on in a course and better engaging learners by knowing them better and being more aware of how to help them individually. They will never eliminate all potential issues, but they are a great first step in reducing the likelihood of occurrence.
We also emphasize how NWTC is being proactive in promoting student success by creating, sharing and embedding various policies and procedures that encourage an inclusive, safe and nurturing learning environment for all learners. Instead of simply having a policy and leaning on it after an issue has arisen, our college is proactively setting expectations that we can do more in advance to reduce the likelihood a situation will occur that was possibly avoidable will occur in the first place. While we have all become of aware the standard NWTC is living up to, the uniqueness of this approach was underscored for me on two separate occasions in the last few months.
Last fall, the University of Missouri made national headlines as protests erupted in response to a perceived lack of response to racial concerns on campus. It started with the hunger strike of a Black Graduate student, escalated with the football team going on strike and culminated in large protests on campus. As a result, a group leading the protests released a list of demands. Number 1 on that list was the immediate resignation of the University System President for his perceived inaction to racial disputes on campus. Shortly after the football team announced it would not play until the resignation was secured, the President did step down.
Defiance is defined as groups taking a strong stand in defying discrimination and challenging unfair practices (Strangers to These Shores, Parrillo). Protests like these can seem spontaneous, but they often grow out of long-standing conditions. This was the case at U of M. There had been a growing number of racially-charged incidents over the years on campus that many felt were not handled strongly enough to deter future issues. The reaction of the students forced the college to be reactive to a situation that had grown to an untenable place. Had the college been more proactive in addressing earlier issues, perhaps the conflict could have been avoided. While that’s impossible to predict, it would be hard to imagine the exact same result would have occurred with more attention given to initial concerns.
In addition to the resignation of the President, demands included requiring culture-based courses for all students, culture-based training for staff and faculty and a plan to hire more non-white employees. Each of these are already things NWTC is doing. It is great to see that we are not waiting for issues to linger and grow to the point of large scale unrest. While the policies and procedures will not eliminate any and all issues, it shows our college being proactive in a increasingly diverse society instead of reacting to the changes we are seeing after there is a clear problem.
The other event that put all of this into perspective to me was presenting at the WTCS C3 (Collaborative College Connections) Conference at MATC in Milwaukee last month. We shared with the group that attended our session what we are doing with the Living, Teaching and Serving Inclusively (LITISI) series. It was very clear that we are the only technical college in the state to require this for all of its staff and faculty. In addition, out of the 21 presentations on the day we presented, 10 of them were by representatives from our college. Not only are we being proactive when it comes to the areas of diversity and inclusion, it was obvious we are being proactive in much of what we do to promote student success.
While the requirement to attend additional trainings can put more requirements onto our workloads, there are not only valuable, they are also opportunities staff and faculty are not given on other campuses. In addition, just like the expectations we lay out in our syllabi, these approaches to what we do is just the beginning. Again, they will not (and are not expected to) eliminate any and all issues and/or concerns. We still have to be vigilant in remaining aware of possible problems that could arise. It is our deliberate action, however, that has set us apart from what many colleges are, or are not, doing and put us in a good place to be a college that is welcoming to all who attend or work here.