Author: denasamuels

Starbucks’ Implicit Bias Training –   A First Step

Starbucks’ Implicit Bias Training – A First Step

Culture Clash: How to engage people who have a different worldview than you

Culture Clash: How to engage people who have a different worldview than you

Culture Clash: How to engage people who have a different worldview than you

I was speaking to a large group of people last week about racial justice and the importance of learning about what we don’t know we don’t know. Many people in the room are leaning in, wanting more. They know what we all know: that in the current state of affairs, we will need better strategies for engaging people whose worldview or perspective is different from our own.

After the talk, a white man approaches me. He tells me something I hear often in my line of work: racism is over; we’re living in a post-racial society now. I brace myself for the conversation to come, and I remember all of my tools. I take a deep breath, look him right in the eye, and nod. My first instinct is to go into full-blown lecture mode with all the proof of how wrong he is. But I catch myself, knowing from experience how ineffective that strategy would be.

I choose instead to pause and breathe. I demonstrate transparency when I say out loud to him, “I’m not trying to make me right and you wrong.” I remember to look him right in the eye, to find his humanity, and to connect. We continue our conversation. He leans in, asks me some questions, and asks me for further resources to learn more. It was a successful encounter. I can tell he felt heard, and yet, open to learning new information.

Afterwards, I think that next time, I will mention Jane Elliott’s brilliant counter to the idea that racism is over. She asks her packed audience, “How many of you white folks would trade places with a black person today?” And she waits. The only sound is that of the people of color in the room turning in their chairs to see if anyone will raise their hand. She continues to wait and not a single white person raises their hand. She says, “You know what you just admitted? That this is happening, and you don’t want it for you. So why are you so willing for it to be the case for someone else?”

I love this notion because although it could be disturbing for folks of color to hear and witness, it cuts through to how deep and insidious white privilege is. This shows how unwilling some white folks are to talk about it or even consider that it exists. With that, we must be prepared to engage in these conversations effectively.

At our Matrix Center Advisory Board meeting, we talked about how to have these conversations. Here are our top 10 strategies we came up with:

  1. Stay calm and breathe;
  2. Come to the conversation with respect and compassion;
  3. Find a way to connect with the person (eye contact, for example, although that would not be appropriate in all situations or cultures);
  4. Let go of being “right” or you’ll end up in a tug of war that is unwinnable;
  5. Meet them where they’re at as opposed to asserting your point of view;
  6. Genuinely seek to understand their point of view; gently inquire about how they came to their conclusions; you might be surprised what you learn!
  7. Bring your passion about social justice, without being overbearing;
  8. Use examples of how these issues affect you personally; why do you care?
  9. Use the Platinum Rule: treat others as they would want to be treated;
  10. Keep in mind: you can’t “flip every pancake” – you’ll burn out trying; and it’s ok that you can’t; it’s better to move on and use your energy where it will be better received

How do you know when you’re successful?

  1. If the conversation doesn’t end with this one “confrontation;”
  2. If the other person leans in and shows curiosity;
  3. If the other person stops trying to be “right” and engages with you;
  4. If the other person asks for resources to learn more

The goal is not to establish a kumbayaa relationship. That is neither possible nor desired. You don’t need to end up best friends with the other person. Rather it’s a matter of shared humanity. Showing up with deep respect and dignity no matter the other person’s ideology goes a long way to creating change. They have a right to it.

Know that these conversations can be challenging, and rest assured, they will continue to happen more and more. Be ready. The more prepared you are, the more successful you’ll be connecting, respecting, and empathizing across different perspectives.


Dena Samuels, PhD

Author of: “The Culturally Inclusive Educator: Preparing for a Multicultural World” (Teachers College Press, 2014).

Dena Samuels Consulting

5 things to consider when you’re hiring a Diversity & Inclusiveness Consultant

How to avoid doing more harm than good, avoid potential disasters, and minimize resistance from organization members!

Are you considering hiring a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness (DEI) Consultant to help you manage the challenging conversations and discomfort that are affecting the productivity of your organization/campus/corporation? Before you do, consider these 5 questions that will help you figure out whom to choose.

After roughly 2 decades of consulting experience, these are the questions I find clients don’t know to ask, or don’t realize their potential DEI consultant should be asking:

Questions your potential DEI consultant should be asking:

1. Does your organization have a DEI Strategic Plan?

Hiring a potential DEI consultant should be considered part of a comprehensive approach to cultural change in your organization. If your potential consultant is not asking this question, it might mean they are more interested in earning a quick buck for a one-time diversity training. This is the difference between hiring a diversity trainer and a DEI consultant. You want more than this compliance-based approach; even though hiring a one-time diversity trainer allows you to check the box saying, “yes, we’ve done the diversity thing everyone seems to be saying we’re supposed to do,” it rarely leads to cultural shift. In fact, research shows that this kind of quick-fix training does more harm than good because participants tend to be resistant.

2. Is the workshop/training mandatory or voluntary?

Studies show that mandatory DEI workshops can cause backlash in your organization. You end up with participants who think they already know this stuff, don’t think they need it, and it’s a waste of time. And as it turns out, that’s exactly what they will get out of it! What’s worse, oftentimes, those who thought it was a waste of time tend to take it out on co-workers from traditionally marginalized identities, blaming them for the need to have the training at all! This can cause the unintended consequence of making the cultural climate of the organization even worse than it was before the training.

3. What is the level of understanding/practice of the organization around DEI issues?

In other words, what trainings/workshops/seminars have been made available before now, and how were they received? It is important for the consultant to meet participants where they are to be most effective in their DEI work. If not, they may be using a stale canned presentation they’ve been giving to all organizations, possibly for years. At best, this could lead to participants not being ready for what the consultant has to offer, and at worst, can lead to even more resistance to the consultant, and moreover, to the organization.

4. What kind of DEI education does your organization need?

Are you just beginning to delve into DEI topics in your organization and need more awareness-building than anything? Or perhaps your organization is ready for very specific skill-building strategies? Once again, the consultant should be asking about the context of the organization so they will be more successful in the work they do with organization members.

5. Is there a specific issue or concern in the organization that needs to be addressed because of an incident that occurred, or are you hoping to increase the overall cultural inclusiveness practiced in your organization?

It is critical for the consultant to understand the context and culture of the organization, or they might be ineffective because of very real issues organization members from traditionally marginalized identities might be dealing with on a daily basis. If some organization members feel like they are working in a “hostile” environment, the consultant needs to know what’s going on, or risk a potential disastrous situation.

If your DEI consultant asks these questions, it doesn’t guarantee they will be effective, but if they don’t, you are pretty much guaranteed to run into some very real problems. I hope these questions provide some information that will help you to find the best DEI consultant for your organization!


Dena Samuels, PhD

Author of: “The Culturally Inclusive Educator: Preparing for a Multicultural World”(Teachers College Press, 2014).

Dena Samuels Consulting

Transforming Self-Awareness

Transforming Self-Awareness

“Reacting to offensive comments is not simply a matter of course, where a comment is made and we just respond. These comments are typically fraught with an emotional charge. Thus, responding effectively depends in large part on our ability to recognize and acknowledge our own emotional reactions.

Emotional intelligence, or EI (Goleman, 1995) is used primarily in leadership development with the idea that recognizing and understanding our own and others’ emotional states is conductive to better leadership practices. EI mandates that we go through a process of self-discovery. If educators are self-aware about our own emotions, we are more likely to manage those emotions successfully, especially in times of stress. In other words, not only is it important to manage the emotions of students in the classroom as the sensitive topics of gender, race, sexuality, and so on come up—which they do, no matter what subject is being taught—but also, as the facilitator of the class, we need to be aware of our own triggers: those topics that bring about a physiological and, thus, an emotional response in us.

EI has been essential to my work in the classroom. For example, before I knew about EI, when I would hear an offensive comment coming from one of my students, my first reaction was frustration, anger, and a resultant fast heartbeat. I would probably become a bit red in the face and I wanted to verbally react without thinking. When I began to learn more about EI, I found that instead of reacting, my goal was to be aware of my emotions. Simply admitting to myself that I was being triggered was a big step toward a productive outcome. It reminded me that despite the fact that I might have a desire to lash out, an aggressive or defensive response from the instructor could be demoralizing and destructive. It could produce lasting consequences not only for the student who made the offending comment, but also for the rest of the class in terms of their future willingness to participate.

Acknowledging my trigger allowed me the chance to take a deep breath and remember that students, like everyone in society, have been socialized to believe misinformation. Whatever comment was spoken simply represented this lack of knowledge, and said very little about the instigator. I could then gently challenge the comment in a calm, compassionate effective way by letting the perpetrator and those who heard the comment know that I was troubled by the language use/comment/behavior, regardless of the intention. It would give me the opportunity to unpack the process of microaggressions: that it is not the intent that matters, but the impact of the underlying message.

Processing self-awareness about our own triggers allows us to calm down in the face of challenging moments and respond without causing the perpetrator to become defensive. Actually, self-awareness is useful before we even get into such a situation, first to acknowledge that we do, in fact, have triggers; second, to consider what they are; and third, to play out a scenario in our mind to practice how we might react constructively. I have far fewer triggers in the classroom than I used to because of this process. In addition, understanding our own triggers helps us to be more compassionate when we witness other people experiencing a trigger.”

This is an excerpt from The Culturally Inclusive Educator: Preparing for a Multicultural World, by Dena R. Samuels. Get a copy of her book here:

Sharing Space Creates Community

Sharing Space Creates Community

These first few weeks have been devastating to U.S. civil rights. Those of us who believe in freedom for all are certainly under attack. As my friend, colleague, and partner in crime, Stephany Rose reminded me recently after she marched on Washington and visited the Holocaust Museum: It only took Hitler 6 months to become Hitler… Well, we are well on our way, folks.

In light of this horrific turn of events, how will we make sense of our situation? Will we live in fear of what’s next? Will we become so overwhelmed by the administration’s audacity to challenge our fundamental values that we become apoplectic, or worse, apathetic? Immobilized?

I have chosen instead to intentionally focus on the recent groundswell of activism I have witnessed. From the millions of people all over the world who marched for Women’s Rights to the overflowing meeting spaces in every single social justice community event I have attended since November.

Everywhere I go, people are asking the same questions, “What can we do to take action?” “How can I get involved?” More and more previously disengaged folks are realizing they can no longer stand by and watch; they are waking up to the reality that it will take all of us to create the change we wish to see.

Here are a few suggestions of what you can do:

  1. Seek out and attend community events in your neighborhood/area. Never before have I seen so many protests and community meetings happening. My calendar is literally filled with community meetings of people getting together to create change. Set a goal of going to one a week or even one a month! This not only can make you feel empowered by actually doing something, but also will put you in the same room with others who feel as concerned as you do. Sharing space creates community!
  2. Send postcards to your members of congress. Let them know what you care about. Educate them on some facts (not “alternative facts”) about whatever right or privilege you want to preserve, or whatever change you want them to make. Host a pizza and postcards party where you and your friends/neighbors get together to fill out postcards. Again, sharing space (and food) creates community!
  3. Host an educational party for friends/neighbors on a topic you feel strongly about. Show a clip from a documentary on climate change/environmental justice, and facilitate a discussion, for example. Create some community guidelines so everyone interacts respectfully. If you haven’t heard… sharing space creates community!
  4. Attend a protest/rally for an issue you believe strongly in: Black Lives Matter, Muslim Rights, LGBTQ Rights, Women’s Rights, etc. Be sure you are standing up – the higher the attendance at every rally, the more momentum this movement gains. And again… sharing space creates community!
  5. Teach the young people in your lives the importance of, and how to show up. We must build a future of activists who know how to use their voices and their bodies to show up, stand up, and yes, create community.

This work is difficult to do even in community, but it is impossible to do alone. We are not helpless. We can reach out to others. We can work together. We can build momentum. We can empower ourselves, and empower each other. Let’s do this!