The Selah Leadership Program trains Jewish social change leaders in skills in leadership and organizational tools. At one of our bi-annual alumni gatherings, many alumni began discussing that they would be much more effective leaders if they could have deeper training and learning around anti-oppression skills. This desire came from an understanding that while many social change organizations and leaders are doing incredible work, the ingrained patterns of how we navigate class, race, gender, and sexual identity have significant impacts on our ability to sustain healthy, just, and effective organizations and communities. We saw focusing on this work as an important professional development opportunity for the leaders in our network.
Working with a group of volunteer leaders and staff, Yavilah McCoy designed a day-long training that helped lay the groundwork for leaders’ thinking and practice around this work. Some came with little background and, yes, resistance to aspects of anti-oppression work, while others came with years of experience. Many traveled from other cities to attend. Yavilah led us throughout a number of powerful exercises that drew upon the participants’ experiences and met people where they were. At the end of the day, all agreed that the training was powerful, practical, and extremely worthwhile.
Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block
Senior Director of Leadership Initiatives and Rabbi-in-Residence
Bend the Arc, A Jewish Partnership for Justic
After having admitted our first rabbinical student of color in 2011, it became increasingly clear to several members of the RRC faculty that it would be helpful for us to explore our own relationship to issues of race and privilege. Our hope in beginning this exploration with Yavilah was twofold. One was to heighten the awareness of the dynamics of race for faculty and students; and two was to help us institutionally develop a more sensitized culture for future students. Having Yavilah so thoughtfully and expertly guide our faculty through a series of exercises and discussions in a half-day workshop created a base for this work that has allowed for further discussions and explorations.
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Director Social Justice Program, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Nathan Martin, Director of Student Life, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
I just wanted to thank you again for a fantastic weekend! The Temple Sholom family has not stopped talking about your presentations, your message and your music. I thought I had built up their expectations to a very high level before you arrived -- but it was NOTHING compared to the experience you provided to us all. We all came away inspired, with greater insight about diversity, and with a commitment to be more inclusive (beyond the "forced smiles"). I know that I have been thinking a lot about what it means to truly embrace the differences within and between us -- and how I can draw on those insights in my work and personal life. Thank you for touching and teaching us so profoundly. Ron and I plan to make your Adon Olam a regular part of our congregation's repertoire!
Dr. Leora W. Isaacs, Founding Director of JESNA's New Learnings and Consultation Center, and Founding Director of the Berman Center for Research and Evaluation
Dear Academy Families,
As you know, we pride ourselves on having many University professors and administrators come speak to our students over the course of the year at our weekly All School Meeting (ASM). Examples this year have included the Provost, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Dean of the College of Engineering, as well as scholars in music, classics, philosophy, medicine, astronomy, and cognitive neurology.
This week we had a speaker who was not from Boston University, but who came to us through our University and Academy connections. Larry Tobin ’05, who is a member of the Academy’s Alumni Association, and a graduate of BU, introduced a colleague with whom he works, Yavilah McCoy, who is the Director of Dimensions Consulting. Ms. McCoy, an African-American who was raised as an Orthodox Jew, spoke on “Lessons in Diversity from the Natural World Around Us.” She challenged our Students to define “diversity,” and helped to evolve the common assumption that it involves “politically correct” respect for the many differences among us. Instead, she stressed the scientific research that shows the effectiveness of pooling our varied experiences to reach better solutions. In short, since none of us will ever have 1,000 years of personal experience, isn’t it better, she suggested, to have 50 people blend their individual 20 years of experience to have a wider, deeper, and richer understanding of how we can have a positive impact on the world around us?
Of course, learning the habits of mind needed to welcome and utilize this “bumping up against different opinions” is part of a healthy education. I saw this in practice as our freshmen and sophomores returned to Camp Wing, where in addition to a tree planting in memory of Haley Morill ’10, our students participated in a variety of activities that imbue them with the ability to incorporate a wide array of different opinions. This is also the heart of our classroom dynamic. I often remind myself that if I enter a class and only talk to people who agree with me, I am not learning in that period; if instead I have a heated class discussion with those who disagree with me, I either have to reinforce my values by explaining them, or evolve my thinking in light of the values of others.
Whether at ASM, Camp Wing, or our daily classes, we remind ourselves of the wide spectrum of experience that our 21st century leaders (i.e. our BUA graduates) will need in order to thrive.
James S. Berkman
Head of School
Boston University Academy
On behalf of the Hornstein MBA cohort, I’d like to thank you very much for presenting to our class this week! Even though many of us have learned about diversity issues before, your presentation was much more comprehensive and sophisticated than anything we had heard before. Your approach gave us useful frameworks and context, and challenged us to think logically about how these issues relate to every aspect of our working (and personal) lives. It was also exciting to hear about the Jewish perspective on diversity, something I've never explored in great depth.
We also appreciated your commitment to being interactive. You truly involved us in the process of exploring diversity, and especially of understanding our own identity. Our class includes people with a wide variety of backgrounds, and it was helpful for us to learn more about where our classmates are coming from. As Jewish professionals, we're certainly going to keep your presentation in mind as we encounter diversity (or the lack thereof) in our professional experiences.
Thanks again, and best regards,
Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program
Heller School for Social Policy and Management
Handwritten notes from students. (click here for pdf file)
COPYRIGHT 2012, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED