Pedagogo Podcast Season 4 Episode 1 guest Dr. Jane Irungu

Pedagogo S4E1: Promoting Shared Success at an Institutional Level

Dr. Divya Bheda talks with Dr. Jane Irungu about the importance of community building to support students, faculty, staff, and leadership at traditional, brick-and-mortar institutions.

Guest Bio:

Dr. Jane Irungu is currently the Associate Provost of Inclusive Excellence at the University of Oklahoma (OU) in Norman, Oklahoma. She provides strategic leadership on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, and works collaboratively with campus partners to advance OU’s strategic goal of becoming a place of belonging for all. 

For over three decades, Dr. Irungu has been in the education sector working in different faculty, staff, and administrative roles. From 2017 to early 2021, she served as the Executive Director of the Southwest Center for Human Relations Studies and Director of the largest and most comprehensive conference on race, equity, and social justice in higher education, NCORE.

Transcript:

Announcer:

Pedagogo, the Podcast for anyone and everyone in higher education. Campus communities are home to students, faculty, staff and leadership from diverse cultures and backgrounds. In today’s episode we’ll discuss considerations for building community at brick and mortar institutions to support the success of every stakeholder. Pedagogo brought to you by ExamSoft, the digital assessment solution that gives you actionable data for improved learning outcomes. When assessment matters ExamSoft has you covered.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Hello everyone. It is wonderful to have Dr. Jane Irungu here with us as our guest for this episode. She is going to be talking to us about many, many things related to community building. Welcome. Dr. Irungu. Jane, it’s so wonderful to have you here with us.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Thank you so much. I’m happy to be here.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Um, so Jane, let’s just get started. Based on your experience in higher ed could you share why you see or what you see as the value of community for students, for faculty, for staff and for higher ed leaders?

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Community is very important in whatever setting, uh, but I speak, uh, on educational setting, especially higher education because I work in higher education here at the University of Oklahoma. I’m the associate provost for inclusive excellence. Over the years I’ve done a lot of work in higher education and community is one of those things that we always encourage and we always are focused on because it’s a very important aspect of student success, of faculty thriving, staff being together, working together. It’s really trying to rally everyone around a shared vision.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

And a shared goal and a shared mission.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So, community allows everybody in the institution to work together, to walk the journey together. So understanding who we are, understanding why we are here and creating that sense of belonging. So community really does allow for everybody to feel that they belong-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

… and for everybody to feel that they are a part of a family, a part of a community. So it does help with student success, student-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

If students feel that they are welcome in the institution, if they feel they belong our students are well retained and they do better.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

If faculty feel that they are part of a community the attrition is less and- and so do staff. So building community is really trying to build that sense of belonging for our faculty, for our staff and for our students so that we all can travel the journey, uh, together with that shared vision and mission in mind.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yeah. I loved how you framed it as building community or finding community is about feeling a sense of belonging, right? That leads me to my next question which is, uh, what are some challenges to building community in higher ed, in traditional higher ed, brick and mortar institutions?

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Uh, let me see first that higher education is very broad. In it we have very many institutional types.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

But especially when it comes to very large institutions. For example, at the University of Oklahoma we have over 30,000 students.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Almost 3,000 faculty and staff.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So, bringing everyone together, uh, can be challenging because building in a community and convincing everyone that we have to walk this road together, you really have to create that common purpose. And sometimes some people, no matter how you articulate your vision, no matter how you encourage, sometimes people will say no, I’m, you know I’m okay the way I am. I- I really don’t want to interact, I don’t wanna network or this vision, I have a problem with this vision or this mission. And it’s not just in large institutions. I think it’s in any community.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

You could be five people and you still disagree. (laughs).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So sometimes when you have different ways to interpret the vision there could be a problem. When we- you have different ways of articulating the mission or your action plans or your strategies to accomplish your vision, there could be a problem because there is diversity of thought, uh, there is diversity of strategy, there is diversity of styles of leadership. So that is always a challenge. But those challenges, I always say, they are really opportunities for us to come up with better strategies of, uh, building community and walking together. So, once people understand that let’s be together because our goal of being successful is a common goal, then you get more buy in. Higher education is very diverse. It’s diverse in people, it’s diverse in thought, it’s diverse in culture. So, you’re really looking at how do you bring people together who think differently, who are in different disciplines, whose level of passion may be for- for what they do is different. That is a challenge. So- but it’s a good challenge because it does create opportunity.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yeah.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

And we use those, uh, opportunities to create better communities.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

I- I- I so appreciate the way you talked about diversity in thinking and diversity in meaning making, diversity in approaches to, you know goals-

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

… and even articulating that goal and that being a challenge as well as an opportunity, right, for folks to come together.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

So, building on that, when you think about especially now within the context of two years of COVID and being remote, um, maybe not being physically in spaces together, in community together and possibly, at least research is showing that the burnout level and the stress levels are actually peaking right now. What we thought was the peak during the pandemic is even worse right now. And so, when we think of that and we think of when people are coming back onto campus and thinking about now physical spaces of building community, what would you say are things that people need to focus on and ensure happens given what has happened over the last two years?

Dr. Jane Irungu:

You know life has different challenges and COVID was one of those challenges and the way COVID touched everyone, it did touch higher education.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

We had to transition from in-person classrooms to online classrooms for everyone. Uh, online teaching has been ongoing for years but what COVID did is everybody was transitioned to online at least, uh, 2020. And although COVID was a challenge that is where opportunity came in. All of us now started working online, technology offered a new way of teaching for everyone, a new way of bringing people together, a new way of corroborating. And to me, yes it was an issue but also it created an opening for folks who couldn’t travel maybe to go to conferences, uh, for folks who could not meet.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

We always thought that for a meeting we have to go to everybody’s offices.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

With COVID it was let’s do a Zoom, let’s do a Zoom. It opened a new way of building community.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

I can give you my own example. For the first time I was able to talk to my mother in Africa via Zoom. (laughs).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yes.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

And before that- before that I had never done that for the last 24 hours that I’ve been in this country.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So, it- it- it did open access in a different way. Persons with disabilities, sometimes it’s very challenging to travel. They attended conferences in their living rooms. In 2020 I remember our NCORE conference, the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American higher education. I have been the director for the past few years ut I have transitioned from that role this year. But I- I had to work with my team to transition the conference from in-person to online.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

And what we noticed on the data is that we had so many more people attend who could not have traveled to New York City otherwise.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So for me that was a plus.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

I also did hear students saying it’s so good to meet my advisor online. I don’t have to drive, I don’t have to take a bus. So, although COVID posed a challenge of in-person meetings, it opened up a new whole world of corroborative work through technology. That being said, now we are back in-person and now what has happened is there are conversations about hybrid. People are now so used to work collaboratively online some of them wanna continue that but also we wanna still continue doing the in-person meeting because there is something about meeting somebody in person, working with them, uh, looking at them that really is different. But we also acknowledge that now people are so used to do everything online that institutions and other work spaces have to start thinking about hybrid.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Whether it’s student teaching, uh, whether it’s academic advising or support. I think this new era is going to be a hybrid era. You cannot just say, “Oh, the meeting has to be in-person.” You have to provide, if you can’t attend we are going to provide something about you know Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So, I think COVID has been a challenge but also has pushed us to think about community and networking in a different way. Teaching and learning has changed forever.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yeah. I- I love that you brought up networking and relationship building because that’s what community building is. It is about networking and staying in touch and collaborating and using whatever media. So, building on that theme, when you think about community building would you say that it is more important for certain groups or to be thinking about certain groups, whether it’s faculty, students, um, or any sub identities within those groups that community building is more important for them than others?

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Community building is important for everyone.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Uh, in the field of diversity, equity and inclusion of- of- you know I work in that area. We talk of community building as a strategy, uh, that is going to lead us to a welcoming campus, an inclusive campus.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

We want everybody to feel the sense of belonging.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So we have to be very intentional with building community for faculty. Thinking through what kind of community is going to benefit faculty. Maybe doing interdisciplinary research, working together in the labs. Uh, maybe it’s mentoring. Junior faculty being mentored by senior faculty. Maybe it’s subscription to an organization where all of them can attend or they can go present a paper. Or maybe it’s employee resource groups where different professionals come together and work together. Maybe it’s affinity groups where different races and ethnicities will come together, share their culture or share it with others. Maybe it’s geographical groups, right? International students want to come the organizations but they also can bring local students or students around the country together. So we have to think about what type of community will benefit a specific population. Maybe it’s the students. What clubs or organizations are we offering to these students-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

… uh, where they can go and express their- their interests, advance their professional techniques or even just build friendship, you know networking with others.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

What type of activities are we providing in the residence halls? Or what kind of learning activities do we have residential communities or what we call learning communities and graduate research together? Uh, even our staff. What kind of networking are we providing for them? Are we also making sure that our staff and faculty are subscribed to national organization, for example? So we have to think about what kind of community will benefit specific constituents in our institutions because what is good for a first year student may really not work for a faculty member.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So, there will be communities where all of us can come together.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

There will be form of community where we do institutional celebrations. But in our institutions we really have to think about what are those specific, uh, focus that we can provide to specific groups that will benefit them for their professional careers and for their employment, so to speak. So we really have to be intentional even as we build community.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

That was such a meaty insight that you shared with us so I wanna pass out a few highlights. So, some of the things that stood out to me. The fact that you started off this conversation about community, building community, being tied very closely or being reflective of belonging, the sense of belonging. And then what you just said now that there is a metric. Like that is a metric on which we are assessed in terms of how successful we are as a particular office on campus in promoting equity and inclusion and that sense of belonging because it impacts student success, it impacts faculty attrition, all of that. But what was so beautiful about what you just shared is you just shared so many different ways of building community for different groups, whether it’s student groups, whether it’s first year student groups or fifth year or fourth year student groups, whether it’s graduate students or faculty and stuff. You have shared all these ways in which people- we can go ahead and build community intentionally and think of programming that brings people together, whether it’s celebrations, whether it’s learning, whether it’s sharing space, whether it is engaging in some material or engaging in conversation. Um, do you have any other suggestions for how folks can build community at the leadership level, at the faculty level, staff or student level?

Dr. Jane Irungu:

One of the things I love about thinking about the strategy of community building in student success, for example, is the strategy of creating learning communities. There is something good that comes out of corroborative learning.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

When you allow students to work together.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

There is something good that comes out of that. So, for me corroborative learning really is a good way of, uh, problem solving.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

It’s a good way of, uh, sharing together, learning about each other even as we do the homework, as we do, uh, the research projects. So corroborative learning for me is very, very good for students.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right. When you say collaborative learning is really helpful for students, I often hear from faculty that that’s a challenge. That’s where they struggle. They feel that invariably the load comes on one student and they struggle with ways to assess it, um, and assess the productivity of all the students in the group. So, do you have any advice or input to faculty on how they could go about it in a way that’s meaningful for them as well?

Dr. Jane Irungu:

I always advise faculty that learn your students. I mean the very first week understand who is in the room.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Who is your student? What are their cultural backgrounds? Are they international students?

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Are they first generation? Are they students from small towns? Once you learn your students then create intentional, very intentional working groups because you cannot just be random when you pick these students. For example, let’s assume you have five international students in the class and you have 10, uh, students who are from America and these international students arrived last week.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

And then you put all of them together in the group.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

That group is not gonna succeed because you know as I well know that people who come from other educational systems, they take time to get used to the American system of education. When I used to be in the classroom, the first thing I would do the first week is to use the note cards and ask a few questions, uh, that would allow me to learn who is in the room.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

And- and then that allows me to do groups that are intentional.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

You cannot put like five highly interactive people together or five females and you have other male in the class or you have, you know non-binary folks and then put them together. Try to be very intentional when you do the group.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

But also try to have good measuring metrics for the work that you have provided.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

You cannot just be random in how you grade the work. You have not given any measure or rubrics of how the work is going to be graded then you may end up, uh, maybe grading the person who is talking the most and maybe under grading the person who is talking the least. So have some rubric, have some way of measuring, what is it you’re asking the group to do. So, make the expectations very clear, make the grading rubric very clear and these students are very smart. They are going to- to work towards making sure that they check all those boxes.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Okay. Building on that suggestion that- it was a great suggestion on get to know your students, make sure that you understand who they are and be very intentional when you assign them to groups and group work so that they can all learn together or learn from each other and set that as an expectation explicitly. I love that. What would you say to faculty who have large classrooms of 100, 150, 200 students and how would we encourage kind of group learning there in that space?

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Large- large classrooms can always be a challenge.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

But with actually technology now we- we can interact through technology. Uh, we- we do polling through technology. Technology has opened up a way for us to communicate. But we cannot forget, you know the real groups in spaces, you know?

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Like in discussion groups. So for large classrooms, you know the- the level 100 classes are maybe 600 students. Many universities have teaching assistants many universities have discussion times. So you may have one lecture a week and then have two discussions where students will be divided into sections-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

… where they will go in with maybe a teaching assistant and then they will do, uh, group work there or discussions there.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So, it- it is the same principle. Be intentional. Don’t just do lectures through the whole week. I remember in college we used to call them tutorial time. Here in America they call them sections. So know your class. If you are the biology 100 with 600 students are you gonna divide, uh, the research groups, are you gonna divide the discussion groups? So there’s always room to be creative.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right. Oh, that’s a great point. And- and using technology, there’s always ways in which we can get to know our students using the polls. Then break them out into various groups and then help our graduate students also learn some of these techniques as future educators or as current educators, which is the role that they play.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

And, you know have them engage in this kind of community building group learning. So that’s wonderful. Continuing about community building in the- at the faculty and staff levels.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

We have had the same conversation these last two years. Can we continue community online? Yes, we can. I mean these platforms, they have allowed us to do, uh, groups. Like you can do a Zoom meeting and you can do 50 different groups.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Okay.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Um, so you can use that technology too when you’re doing faculty meetings. But also with faculty we rely very heavily also on departments, centers for faculty development, centers for faculty excellence, especially to make sure that they are being mentored. Once they come into the institution that the orientation, during orientation week they are provided with avenues of learning, where can they go and to who. Universities do a very good job in making sure that the home departments also provide a sense of community for- for those new faculty but also that they know who can they go to for what. So, I always say that. We can do, uh, new orientation for faculty but then we need the departments, department chairs, the deans to follow up.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Okay.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

And make sure that maybe they have luncheons. Maybe once a week they have, uh, come together luncheons to discuss a specific topic. Maybe they have book clubs. I love book clubs for faculty. They are very exciting. I’m not actively a faculty member right now but sometimes you know they are open. Anybody can attend. They have writing sessions together where they are mentoring their graduate students or they are working on a book project. It’s really good, uh, for folks to be thoughtful of the level of the audience that you wanna capture.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So I love when they form book clubs, I love when we have the affinity groups.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Uh, I have been a member of the black faculty and staff council and I- I was doing that at KU. I started those groups at the University of Oregon. I also started those groups three years ago when I started doing D and I work here at the University of Oklahoma. So there is ways that you can bring folks together but also we help faculty by subscribing them to national organizations. For example, University of Oklahoma have subscriptions to large organizations where these faculty work with other faculty across the country. So, you- you all need to do is to be intentional, uh, to learn who is out there, what are they doing and find ways to work together. Faculty members sometimes work across institutions-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

… uh, depending on their disciplines. As the director of the national conference I was also working with 85 different faculty, staff to form an advisory board and this advisory board was divided into six groups. But everybody was from a different institution.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Wow.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

But we were still able to work together. We only met once, uh, you know when- before COVID of course.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Would meet during the national conference but during the year we met online and continued to work together.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So, you need to find a way to connect people either through their discipline, through their professional interests, through the affinity groups or through that corroborative research work.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Could you tell me a little bit more about NCORE for our listeners so that the- they know the full context of the conference, who usually attends, how many attendees and then what some of these groups are and how faculty have been working together and what they’ve produced?

Dr. Jane Irungu:

In 2017 I moved from the University of Oregon and I came to work for, uh, the Southwest Center for Human Relation Studies here at the University of Oklahoma and that is the home of the largest conference on race and ethnicity in America. It’s really the most comprehensive. Uh, currently I’m not in that role. I switched January of this year.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

But I can tell you the goal of the conference is social justice work, diversity and inclusion work, it’s bringing education awareness advocacy in all areas of social justice, uh, for faculty, for students, uh, for organizations, for NGOs and most recently I have seen leadership of cities, leadership, uh, in communities come to our conference. So there’s a lot of learning about social justice, about equity, about inclusion, about, uh, how to be anti-racist-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

… about how to build activism around issues of inequity.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So, that is what NCORE is. And it was started in 1988 here at the University of Oklahoma believe it or not. (laughs).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). (laughs).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

And, um, there are thousands of members. Every year we invite folks for a conference, uh, and I know the last two years it was a challenge-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

… because of COVID. In 2020 we were supposed to hold it in New York City so we canceled the in-person. Uh, we were about to have 6,000 attendees.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So we had to cancel. Uh, with COVID we were able to have 1500 online attendees.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

In 2021 however, we were able to have 4,500 attendees online.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

It was a whole week of a conference. So, we have presentations, we have poster sessions, we have keynote speakers and everything that you would expect in a large conference.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So people learn about how to create equitable communities, how to fight and advocate for justice-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

… how to make our institutions more equitable, uh, and everything that you’d expect folks to learn, uh, when they wanna create inclusive communities.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right. That’s wonderful to hear. And could you share a little bit about these- the groups that you said had been formed?

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Because the conference is very large and because we have faculty, we have students it is a professional organization but it is- it’s really a production of a University of Oklahoma department. So, we don’t ask for people to pay annual dues.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So, we just ask for you to pay to attend the conference.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So, in doing that we don’t have like an outside president leading it.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So the vice president for university outreach here at the University of Oklahoma is one of those departments that supports the conference.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Which I have been executive director of for the last three years or four years.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So because it’s so large the vice president decided that we shall have, or they will have an advisor aborad and this was formed long before I even started working for the conference.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So they have what they call the National Advisory Council.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

The National Advisory Council draws, uh, faculty and staff from all over the country, Canada, Asia, Europe and now I can see members from Africa although the council doesn’t have anyone from Africa right now. It formed 85 people. It formed six different councils.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So, there will be a city or committee. There will be a student leadership committee. There will be a multi cultural committee. But there are about six. If you go on the website, National Conference on Race and Ethnicity, ncore.ou.edu or go the University of Oklahoma and Google NCORE, you can find the council there. So these are communities depending on interest.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So every committee helps others who wanna discuss issues of that groups interest. During the conference they look at the proposals that have been submitted. Uh, when they go to the conference they will meet and discuss what else do they wanna se at the conference, who did they wanna see as a keynote, what are some of the topics that are trending in higher education that, uh, we need to focus on. So, it’s really a large body of experts advising the conference director and the vice president and the staff at the center of how to improve the conversation. And we continue that conversation online through webinars.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Uh, every month they have webinars on different topics all centered on race, ethnicity, social justice, diversity, inclusion and just to make our institutions a better place to work and to learn.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right. Right. No, and- and what you’re sharing about NCORE, it’s- it’s really exciting I think for me as well as for all of our listeners. I know I have attended NCORE so- in the past so it- it has been a wonderful space for my learning. It goes back to this idea that we don’t have to only be stuck in one way of being or one way of doing things and we can connect over topics of interest, over, um, activities of interest, over goals of interest and come together across institutions, across national boundaries even, across professional fields to move the needle and that’s exciting for me to hear. So thank you for- for sharing that information.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Exactly. Because you cannot be siloed if you wanna be successful.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

You cannot work alone and be successful. You cannot work alone and think that you’re going to impact everyone and everything. You know we always say better together. So it’s really important that you share what you are doing and work together with others so that there’s more impact in the community. You see like what that conference does, uh, is trying to make sure that the impact is felt not only in the United States but also in Canada. Like the last two years when we have had a lot of racial tensions in this country, the Black Lives Matter movement has been very broad and it has been international. So are we just gonna si- sit here and say we are Americans, we are not gonna, uh, work across borders? We have to work across borders because how the world is now interconnected, we really have to understand that there are things that are affecting us here that are affecting other people elsewhere and we can come together and work together.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Most recently, two years ago myself and a colleague of mine here at the University of Oklahoma, we found Oklahoma Higher Education Network. We just wanted to bring organizations and universities in Oklahoma so that we can work together for a symposium, for a webinar and we have done that now for two years.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Because we realized yes, we can be at OU and do whatever we need to do here but there are others around Oklahoma City, others in Tulsa, at the panhandle and we’ve been working together. Also working with the Oklahoma, uh,. State Department of Education, K through 12. So bringing folks together to talk about things that matter, things that can impact our students, impact our faculty and our staff in a good way.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So it’s- it’s okay to work together. Higher education doesn’t have to be siloed.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right. What you’re saying brings up for me the idea that when we think about systems change it cannot be done by one individual and when we wanna create a larger impact then it is essential that we try to reach out and find our communities and find like minded people who can make change with us, right?

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Exactly.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Challenge us to grow and you know where we can share our expertise and learn from other folks as well.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Exactly. Knowledge has to be shared. The more you share the more you impact. You cannot just work just by yourself. It’s okay in some cases depending on what you’re working on or what you are doing but it’s really good especially when systems and- and issues of inequity are systemic. You really need a good strategy and one of those strategies is let’s work together, let’s advocate for change together, uh, let’s you know practice together but after the practice let’s figure out how do we bring real change. So you cannot do it alone. We have to continue working as teams whether we’re in higher ed or we are in other organizations. Working as teams really is very helpful.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

So building on that I have the next question for you which is, we talked about staff, we talked about faculty, we talked about NCORE, we talked about students, you know in terms of community building. What about community building amongst leaders and leadership for community building?

Dr. Jane Irungu:

You know the higher you go the lonelier it can become.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yes. (laughs).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

(laughs).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

So true.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

There are- there are less people at the top.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Especially if you are a woman, if you’re a person of color. The higher you go the lonelier it becomes so-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Once again we have to find ways to create community for those people at the top. I’m very thankful for our president here, Joe Harroz. Uh, he is very keen on making sure that although he’s at the top he really is bringing all leadership together.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So he keeps talking about the university as a family.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So in every family you will have those folks at the top, you know?

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Divya you’ll be the mom.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

(laughs).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

There’ll be a dad or there’ll be an uncle or, (laughs). So the- every family has some kind of hierarchy.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Whether it’s just one person at the top or it’s two or it’s three. And it’s really finding ways, how do you bring those people at the top together? Last year the provost asked me, uh, that I need to make sure that all our deans in all our sub committees are trained in bias, in microaggressions, in how to, uh, do recruitment and hiring in a way that is going to be fair and transparent. Those- those are people at the top that you are training.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Uh, so you have to- to create ways to bring them together, also to work together. But also remember that these folks at the top are the people who are carrying the flag for the institution.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So the person at the top has to rally everybody else around them to cheer those behind them to that vision.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

They carry that flag for that vision, for that goal.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

And they all have to- to share the responsibility but also to share the work.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So I believe if you’re the president or you are the provost or- or you’re the deans or you’re the directors or you’re the [inaudible 00:36:47]. Whatever position you hold-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

… remember what the shared purpose is.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

If you understand what the shared purpose is for your organization, what the shared values are for your organization then I believe those behind you will be following you and you’ll be leading them in the right direction. If our leaders get it right we also get it right. So, it- it counts for everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are but more so if you’re at the top remember you are the flag bearer and we want you to lead us in the right direction. Articulate that vision for us and we shall rally behind you as well.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yes. I so appreciate the emphasis on strong leadership, on strong messaging around- around-

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Yes.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

… your values, around your strategic direction and how folks can rally behind you and live those values on a day to day basis. Um, but what I also appreciated was when you talked about thinking of a community as a family, right? And so that actually brought up for me and I don’t know whether you thought of this when you said this but the idea that in many situations you don’t choose your family and in many situations you can’t, um, say goodbye to your family and say I will write you off, right? So you work within, um, within the differences, within the personality quirks, within the- the different diverse personalities and you bring people together to say we are family, what is the thing that binds us? It is the love, right? It is the fact that we wanna be together, that we recognize that there is common ground in some ways that matter, building the best that you can out of all of that. So, that was what came up for me. I don’t know. (laughs).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

I mean exactly, Divya. So, you give the analogy of a family-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

… that you sometimes don’t have the luxury of choosing who your parents are or who your children are or who your other extended family members are. Well, in some cases you may but in most cases you don’t. But you have to find a way, uh, to bind everybody together, to rally everybody together. So, I was saying for top leadership, you don’t get to choose every single person who works there.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

But you have to find a way to create cohesion.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

And one of the ways of creating cohesion is by articulating what you stand for as an organization.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

You have to articulate what are your values of- as an institution? What do you stand for? Do you stand for social justice, do you stand for social responsibility, are you standing for human dignity, are you standing for integrity? What is it you are standing for?

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So under the vision and the mission I always like when institutions articulate values. So what is your philosophy of life, what’s your philosophy of success, what is your philosophy of keeping this analogy of family together or community together? So what is the glue that binds? For some, you know they- they will create a culture where integrity is really important-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

… a culture where accountability is really important. So there has to be something that the leaders at the top, they have to articulate the border regions, the border visitors or whatever they call them. They have to work together with top leadership to articulate to the folks who make this community or this family who they are and what they stand for.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right. And live it, right?

Dr. Jane Irungu:

And live it. Don’t just talk about it but, you know let actions speak louder than words.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Create the trust among the community that I’m telling you this but I’m also gonna do it.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So there’s trust, there’s integrity, there’s empathy. There are all these values. There’s civil dialogue even in challenging times.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So for me you have to have values articulated.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Not just your vision and mission but really the glue who share the core principles or values of your institution.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right. So what would you say to folks who when there is disagreement within the community. When we started off this conversation you said there will always, there will be diversity in thought. It’s also an opportunity for us to build consensus around the diversity and come up with creative ways in which to move forward. But what would you say when in a community there are people who don’t feel safe, uh, in a community as we build that community there are folks who feel like this community is not for me. What are some things that you would tell those folks who are feeling that way as well as the leaders who are trying to build a community and sustain a community?

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Challenges within community, within family will always be there because we all are different, we all experience the university or the campus differently.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

We all come from different cultures, uh different political affiliations, uh, different religious faiths. We come from very, very different backgrounds so there’s always going to be conflict but also misunderstanding-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

… in how we engage with each other. So I always tell folks the rule number one is learn to listen. Be not quick to speak but listen first. Let that person say what they wanna say. That is their position.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

That is their perspective. Do not push anyone to subscribe to your affiliation, to subscribe to your faith or to your idea. Present information as neutral as you can and let the other person respond with whatever their perspective is. That is how learning takes place.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Learning takes place when we are able to listen to each other, when we are able, uh, to know that all of us are not wearing the same lens as we process this information.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

That your intellectual background or your academic discipline or even your language or even your food or whatever your culture is may be different. We all process things differently. This is where when we teach diversity and inclusion and we allow students to say who they are, we also have an exercise where- where we ask them to just be silent and listen to what the other student is saying without saying a word. So teaching folks to be active listeners.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Teaching people to be empathetic, to take perspective, not to demean others.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Uh, to make sure that they present whatever they need to present in a civil way.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

And you know your perspective is your perspective. I don’t have to buy into your perspective.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

But also we teach that there are core principles that are universal. You know kindness is universal. (laughs). Empathy is a good way to lead. Civil dialogue is a good way, uh, to talk about challenges. There has to be some civility when there’s difficult conversations but we are not going to be afraid of those conversations. We are not going to stop you from expressing yourself. Freedom of speech is a right of everyone. Freedom of expression is a right of everyone. But I also remind folks, whatever comes out of your mouth, you cannot take it back through the mouth. It’s out there.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

(laughs). That’s so true. Oh, God, yes. (laughs).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So, remember although you have freedom ex- of expression nobody told you that there will not be consequences.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So be careful what you say because there might be consequences also- although you had the freedom to talk about it.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So for me it’s there will be challenges but it’s the way we deal with those challenges, it’s the way we problem solve, it’s the way we sit together, listen to each other, understand each other. We- we can agree to disagree.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

But we cannot fight over perspectives.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

If it’s inequity we need to discuss how do we remove this inequity. If there’s a barrier to your success how do we remove this barrier?

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So really listening to each other, taking perspective but also really using that lens of understanding, culture understanding, cultural humility that I don’t know everything. Neither do you so let’s sit down and figure this out.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yeah. Again, this was such a meaty section where you talked about all of these strategies, right? Active listening, being civil, engaging in discourse, perspective taking, being silent before speaking, reconsidering our words and then sitting with the idea that we can be [inaudible 00:45:57] and we can share and do that in a respectful way. So that’s- that’s amazing. Building on that then my question is, you know society at least in the US and my- this is my perspective of it. We are kind of encouraged from an individual contributor, individual excellence, individual shining, recognition kind of way, especially in higher ed, right, where your- your advancement in the field is based on your individual accomplishment. You are not rewarded for building community necessarily, you are not rewarded for collective, uh, efforts and collective action, right? How do we build people’s ways of being when- when they are told hey, spend your time in doing what you- like you know being productive, getting your accolades all laid out as opposed to nurturing that time? Because it takes time to build community. It takes time to build relationships. It takes time to arrive at consensus. How do we- how do we balance that tension or do you have thoughts on what I have just shared?

Dr. Jane Irungu:

You bring up a really good point that especially those of us who work in inclusion, diversity work. These are conversations we keep, uh, having because sometimes you find that it’s the same people who come to training, who will be doing their workshops, who are facilitating the workshops. Then we-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yeah, it’s preaching to the choir almost, right?

Dr. Jane Irungu:

You- you are always preaching to the choir. So the question has been, how can we get more people involved? How can we get more people to do the service work? And you know conversations that we have been having with leadership is we reward research.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

We reward teaching. How are we rewarding service?

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

And that is really a question that many institutions are grappling with.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So, are we gonna count your service hours towards your promotion or tenure or compensation? And my personal opinion is yes we should.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

If you are that one faculty member that students are always coming to, uh, you- you are a faculty mentor for several students or students of color really gravitate towards you because you’re maybe their only person of color in that department and they feel-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

They feel like you are the person they need to go to. Although it’s not a designated position for you-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

You wanna support the students. That is taking away from your research work or your teaching work or even your family time.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So for me is there needs to be a way for us to measure how much service hours that are faculty are putting in, even our staff.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

There are staff who are paid by the hour but nobody pays them for mentoring students.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Nobody pays them for walking students through a problem or problem solving with them.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

There needs to be a way that we can document or we can track service and reward it.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right. And so I wanna echo, shout out, say yes, yes, yes, Jane exactly. (laughs). We [inaudible 00:49:15] because there’s so much of research to show again that it’s women, women of color who are often faculty of color who often end up bearing that burden and engaging in… And I wouldn’t say it’s burden because it’s something that we’re passionate about. Building community, advancing student success, building our student cohorts to be able to support each other through these systems that were not created for their success.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

And [crosstalk 00:49:37]-

Dr. Jane Irungu:

We call- we call it invisible labor.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Uh, it needs to be visible, it needs to be celebrated.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

It needs to be rewarded. Faculty need to have, uh, some cost reduction, um, staff need to have additional compensation. We cannot have the burden of carrying everybody on our backs. I also really recommend that if you’re out there and you’re not doing the work, do some learning for yourself. Don’t always come to me and ask me where do I go with this? Find out for yourself, seek some education opportunities. Universities always have faculty series, uh, learning opportunities, uh, other institutions are doing webinars, national organizations are doing webinars. What have you done for yourself to get yourself to a level where you are- you are really a helper and an ally and an advocate in this work?

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So also educate yourself. Don’t always rely on that one person in your department who you think should be the person doing diversity work. Diversity work is shared work. It’s shared responsibility.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Absolutely, Jane. Diversity work is shared labor. It’s not one person’s responsibility. It’s a collective responsibility and we need to be a community around advancing inclusion, diversity, you know equity. And that also brings me to this idea, the point that you made about recognizing the same invisible labor also brings me to the fact that even when we look at service from a professional service perspective, a lot of times folks who are able to serve on volunteer organizations that’s unpaid, people who don’t have the family responsibility, who don’t have elder care, who don’t have you know children, um, at home who they are taking care of, right? Like we again saw during COVID how many times it was women who had caregiver roles who had to do all of this and on and be present and work from home. The load is higher and so then the time and- and writing and publishing and research, all of that is a function time and so then when do you have the time to actually advance? And so, the advancement and the recognition for individual accolades is again set up to only serve a certain group of people.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Exactly. And you bring up a very good point. What has happened with this COVID is that we have seen that COVID has affected more women, uh, especially women with small children have been more affected in- in- in their productivity because working from home and you also have a school, an ad hoc school running-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

… in next door. (laughs).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yup.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So, you are the teacher, you are the mother, you are the caregiver, maybe you live with your parents. When are you going to do that research? So, it has impacted especially, uh, women.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yeah, I saw some stuff where the women’s rate of publishing has significantly dropped during this time.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Exactly, exactly.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yeah.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

There’s also a problem with childcare. You know most of these childcare spaces have been closed.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Uh, because maybe people don’t wanna interact a lot with you know whoever is not in their inside circle because of COVID. So you see that higher education now needs to rethink how, uh, the hybrid is gonna work, uh, and how they can allow, uh, people to continue what they love doing but still consider compensating them for any additional work that really was not in their job description or was not assigned to them but now they have to take it on. So we have to think the times we are in and respond in the way we need to respond. I would like that our, you know our faculty who are also female and maybe they are taking care of, uh, folks at home because even COVID, you know we have people who are still sick. We- we have people who are still struggling with the long haul COVID.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

How has that impacted your research? How has that impacted how you take care of others in the organization or even, uh, provide mentoring to others in the organization?

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So there are so many things we need to think about. Inclusion is not just let’s bring people in or let’s bring diverse faces in. Think about the whole person, the whole human being. What else are they dealing with? How are the wellness programs at the university? What are we providing, uh, for people who need more than we are just offering them?

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right. Yeah, that’s spot on. Think of the whole human being and what they bring and ho they are being recognized for all that they do and what structures now need to change to be able to facilitate and highlight and celebrate that community building. Um, thank you. That’s a wonderful, wonderful point. Um, so I- I just want to end with one final question. You had talked about work that you are doing in your local communities, right? Could you share a little bit about what you saw as the need and again how you are doing it in a way that’s collaborative, that’s bringing people together and impacting your local community?

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So, personally, uh, I love working in higher ed because there are so many ways I can impact community. I mean I- I’m a faculty advisor to student groups. I love that. I’m now working with- with faculty a lot more.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Uh, so I work with students also. But also I’ll say the community, I do volunteer. I love doing that. Uh, I also love speaking to especially to immigrant mothers sometimes who have no idea how to start life here in the United States-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

… because I was there. (laughs).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

And I do this very often. I- we had brought together parents and, uh, high school students of immigrants to explain to them about how to apply to college, how to get scholarships, what their parents need to do, how to choose their majors. Uh, so that is service to the community.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

I mean I- those are things I’m not- I don’t even plan.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Uh, but I also serving many, many advisor groups, uh, especially for women organizations. So I serve my community that way. I mean I serve my- my immediate community that way.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Uh, but I also do a lot non-profit work. I do have a non-profit that my husband and I founded 20 years ago. Uh, we do a lot of non-profit work in Kenya where I come from. Uh, so there are many ways that I- I create community but also I really do focus on student success because for me that is huge.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

I always tell people, being a woman from, uh, rural Kenya, if I had never gone to school my life would have been very different right now. So student success is very important. So building community for students, for me, is- is particularly important. So I love supporting students whenever I can. And in order for our students to be successful we have to support our faculty as well.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

And we can never forget our staff. So everybody has to come together and for me whatever I can offer, however I can support to whoever the audience is, I’m willing and happy to do it. We cannot forget staff. We talk about faculty a lot, especially in these large institutions. But we need to talk about staff. That the staff are the engines running these institutions. Uh, they’re supporting our faculty, they’re supporting our students. Uh, they are making sure that everything is running smoothly. So everybody is important. The faculty, the staff, the students. I also really focus on student success in- in our students is very important for me because education is- is really what transforms communities. And education is really a game changer in so many ways so it’s very important that students are- are successful.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

What- what you shared about your personal story as well as the work that you do in your local community, what it brings up for me is again how often we- we bifurcate ourselves saying, I am a faculty member or I am a staff member and we only bring that role or we’re expected to only bring that identity into a certain space and how much more we could achieve by knowing each other as whole persons who have all of these aspects to our identity and our work.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

And how we could build community around those shared experiences, lived experiences-

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Yes.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Of being a mother or I volunteer or I’m facing this challenge in terms of health or care.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

And so what that reminds me of or the insight that I gained from you sharing that was we need to create spaces where people can have these conversations and [crosstalk 00:58:59]-

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Right.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

… over things beyond you’re a faculty member, I’m a faculty member, or you’re a tenured member, I’m a tenured member, you’re a staff, I’m a staff. Like it has to go beyond that to lived experience sharing and creating spaces where we can bond with lived experience.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Exactly.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yes.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

You know, remember that nobody has one identity.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Exactly.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Nobody.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yeah.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

You know Kimberle Crenshaw, the philosopher of intersectionality. We- we are all so many things.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yes.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

You know some identities are more prominent than others but we are an intersection of many identities. And you might find, we may not be the same ethnicity or the same race but there will be an intersecting identity.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So maybe you are a white woman from rural Oklahoma, I’m a black woman from rural Kenya but you see we may intersect in our passion for empowering women.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

That is something we can work on. So you shall always have a shared something. You just need to look, just need to look. Who am I? What are my identities? How do I intersect with Dr., uh. Bheda? Okay. We intersect here so how can we move forward with that where we intersect? How can we impact community through that? I really don’t believe that there’s any person who can say, oh I don’t intersect with anyone. Oh, I cannot work with that person. Just look a little deeper and you’ll find that we have common and shared identities in more ways than one, more ways than one.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yeah. And- and that just- what you just said just makes me smile and I went to end on that note. It’s such a beautiful, beautiful inspirational thought that- that we just have to look a little deeper and we will find common ground. Um, I just wanted to give you the opportunity to share a little bit about your non-profit. I didn’t know that you had a non-profit. If you could share a little bit about the work, um, so that our listeners maybe if they wanna look in supporting you or supporting the work they could contribute in whatever ways they can.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

So, in 2004 my husband and I found, uh, Renewed Hope International Inc.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

And what we do is we support students in high school. You know, Divya, from your experience that most countries high school, uh, you have to pay tuition. (laughs).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yes, yes.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

In America you know, uh, tuition is free for high school but in Kenya and most countries you have to pay your way through high school. So we identify students who have passed their national examinations and we make sure that the four years, their tuition, their stationary, their school uniform, it’s allocated for. And we don’t have any middle people working for us. It’s totally volunteer. If somebody wants to take up a student and have, you know, donate $500 every year, that is about $2,000 for grade nine through 12 or form one through form four. That student, you have changed that student’s life. In the most recent years we haven’t been actively raising money just because you know when you’re raising children, when you’re working full-time, uh, we haven’t been able to do that but whatever we have we continue supporting the organization and we continue supporting students.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

If anybody wants to support a student all I do, I identify the student for you, I connect you with a student. Then we send money directly to the school and that student is able to attend school without interruption. They will send you updates on how they are doing, they’ll tell you they hae graduated, they are going to the next level. We have educated lots and lots of students that way. And for me, uh, that is just giving back because being the first person in my village to go to high school and to go to college, I feel a responsibility, especially for women and girls that I need to keep uplifting them. If I were never uplifted I would still be in the village probably, you know a grandmother times two but, (laughs).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

(laughs).

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Which is okay to be a grandmother because you know I’m of that age. But what I’m saying is education really does change your life. And the more we look back with- in communities that are struggling, uh, we need to do something about it. We may not have a lot but a hundred dollars in Kenya, that is 10,000 Kenya shillings. So no matter how little you have, it can go a long way. So philanthropy is a good thing. It really does warm my heart when I’m able to support a student.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yeah. And- and on that note, the idea that we give back and we can build community by giving back and grow our community and help everyone thrive, I just wanna say thank you, Dr. Jane Irungu for this amazing conversation. It was just so enlightening and so enriching, this conversation. So, thank you for your time and thank you for your insights and advice on- on what folks can do to advance a sense of belonging, a sense of community, inclusion, diversity and justice. So, thank you so much.

Dr. Jane Irungu:

Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed our conversation.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Thank you.

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Pedagogo, brought to you by ExamSoft, the digital assessment solution that gives you actionable data for improved learning outcomes. When assessment matters ExamSoft has you covered. This podcast was produced by Divya Bheda and the ExamSoft team. Audio engineering and editing by Adam Carston and the A2K Production crew.

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Published: May 17, 2022

Updated: May 10, 2022

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