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Radical empathy: A pathway to belonging

BY AFOSSUM – JUNE 14, 2021

Over 100 ASU faculty and staff deepened their understanding of workplace diversity, inclusion and belonging during the two-hour Radical Empathy workshop this past week. Facilitated by Christine Whitney Sanchez with the support of Danielle B. Steele, the workshop reached across divisions and colleges as part of the university’s commitment to advancing its Charter which measures success “not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed.”

The workshop was led by Terri Givens, author of Radical Empathy. Givens wrote the book based on her three decades of experience in higher education, politics, international affairs and non-profit organizations. She was the first African American and first woman to serve as Provost of Menlo College and also served as Vice Provost for International Activities at the University of Texas Austin. As CEO and Founder of Brighter Higher Ed, she serves as an author, speaker, and consultant in the areas of leadership, education innovation, and immigration and race.

Givens shared her experience as the daughter of a US Air Force non-commissioned officer whose career took him and his family to predominantly-white Spokane, Washington in the 1960s. As one of the few African American families in the town, Givens remembers her father’s attempts to “assimilate me [into white culture] for my own good,” what she refers to as one element of “internalized oppression.” Her father came to this belief as the only African American in his USAF training class in 1950, only two years after the armed forces were integrated. “He understood the world through that lens of ‘normal-ness’ and wanted success for me,” Givens explained. Throughout her own life, she has come to see that recognizing each person’s uniqueness while gaining a shared empathy for the human experience “creates hope and energizes us for the long haul of healing the racial divisions in our societies.”

The focus of the workshop was understanding the power of empathy: “in this workshop, we create a safe space for all of us to ask questions and share our experience....we will work together, share our own life stories, and hear from our peers to practice empathy.” Givens explained that there are three types of empathy -- cognitive, emotional and compassionate -- and radical empathy combines all three.

Workshop participants engaged in breakout groups of five, sharing their experiences around the following three questions: what does belonging mean to you?; what does it look like/feel like when someone doesn’t belong?; what is an action you can take to create a sense of belonging? A major take-away was to treat others how they want to be treated which includes creating space for all voices, listening without judging, being intentional to include others in activities, acknowledging the needs of others, and making people feel safe.   

Sanchez shared that Givens will be serving as a consultant to UTO as it continues to capitalize on collective experience and deepen strategic planning around organizational culture and DEIB.

Want to continue practicing radical empathy? Check out the reading guide for Radical Empathy and join ASU's Culture Ripples community of practice.

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