Pedagogo Podcast S4E4 with Guests Dr. Doll & Dr. Lopez

Pedagogo S4E4: Building and Sustaining Purpose-Driven Communities

Hear Dr. Divya Bheda’s discussion with Dr. Kathleen Doll and Dr. Albertina Lopez about how community and collective action work together to build and sustain movements toward equity and justice — in higher ed and beyond.

Guest Bios:

Dr. Kathleen Doll

Dr. Doll dabbles at the intersection of evaluation, research, strategy, and learning as a Partner + COO at Intention 2 Impact (I2I). In this role she partners with purpose-driven organizations to measure and maximize their impact, while also building I2I into a feminist business grounded in authenticity, transparency, equity, and abundance.

She serves an assortment of clients, including the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Earthjustice, and The Rockefeller Foundation. Kathleen is fired up about high-quality evaluation practice and collaborating with transformational organizations, who are reimagining a more equitable world.

Dr. Albertina Lopez

Dr. Albertina Lopez is Senior Associate at the Center for Evaluation Innovation. She leads and supports CEI’s evaluation portfolio and field-building work, applying her knowledge and skills in justice-oriented evaluation and research, organizational development and learning, and inclusive facilitation.

Prior to joining CEI, she worked with Kaiser Permanente’s Community Benefit in Southern California where she managed projects in the organization’s grantmaking department on evaluation, learning, and strategic planning. Before that, she consulted at the Claremont Evaluation Center and collaborated with nonprofits to help advance their strategy, learning, and evaluation practices.

Aly has a Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University in evaluation, applied research methods, and organizational behavior and an undergraduate degree from San Jose State University in psychology and philosophy.

Transcript:

Announcer:

Pedagogo. The podcast for anyone and everyone in higher education.

Today’s episode is all about community and collective action. What can community help us achieve, individually and as a society? We’ll explore what it takes to build and sustain meaningful communities centered on social justice work — in higher ed and beyond.

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. I am so excited for our guests today. We have Dr. Albertina Lopez and Dr. Kathleen Doll with us, people that I have been in community with for over a year, um, as we have been trying to build community and work through, intentionally, what that looks like in our decolonizing way. Welcome, welcome, Aly, Kathleen. Thank you for being here.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Thank you. It’s such a treat to always connect with you in any space that we get to engage in.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Thank you, Kathleen.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Yeah, thank you so much for having us. I’m excited to talk about community and just always happy to be in dialogue with you, too, and to have conversations. I feel like our, our conversations are always meaningful and I always take away so much from them.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Thank you, Aly. I want to share with our listeners the context of how Aly, Kathleen, and I met and what the work that we do together. We’re all evaluators, we all come from an evaluation program, evaluation background. We are working together to decolonize the publishing process, to create a volume around intersectionality and around evaluation work and what that looks like. We’re trying to decolonize the publishing process the call for proposals process, the publishing process, and the writing process as we think of it. We have been in community trying to do that for over two years now. That’s the context for how we have been working together.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

This season, we are talking about community, why that’s important, why community-building is an essential, um, aspect of life and a skill. I wanted to start off with what is community and what does it mean to you?

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Yeah, I can kick us off here and, you know, in preparation for this, I did a little thinking and, honestly, the more I think about it, community is so much more than a tangible collection of people or a region. It’s really a feeling. And, for me, when I break that down, it’s a feeling of belonging, fellowship, warmth and comfort, even though I’ll admit, a lot of times, being in community also means discomfort-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

… and regenerative friction and tension, which I’m sure we will talk a lot more about later. Um, but, yeah, it, it really has a positive connotation for me and I think that also comes from my place of privilege. I’ve been very fortunate to be in communities where I feel that acceptance, support, and regenerative kind of action. Yeah, I’m curious to also hear what Aly thinks about what community means to her.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Yeah, I love that, Kathleen. I feel like I am in a similar space. I am really inspired by Mia Birdsong, who I actually saw at a conference presentation a couple of years ago. She wrote the book How We Show Up: Reclaiming-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

… Community, Family, and Friendships and-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Nice.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

… it is, yes, a beautiful, lovely book, encourage everyone to go out and read it, ’cause she really just breaks open this majority view of what is possible and what the bounds are around community and family and friendships. The big thing that she says is really right in line to what you’re saying, Kathleen, like community is about belonging, and I really feel that. It’s about being seen and heard. It’s about feeling connected and relating to people. It’s interdependence. It’s where we go to give and receive support when, like you’re saying, Kathleen, too, like those inevitable hard times come up either in community or from other communities, you bring it to, you know, a community that you can feel like you can get supported around. And that’s really, you know, when we think about equity, too, is like how we transform the systems that are marginalizing us into ones that can really empower us.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

I love the perspectives that both of you have shared and, Aly, thank you for that resource. Kathleen, what spoke to me about your response was, when you talked about community can be a space where you can engage in action and where you feel supported, but then where you also feel challenged, right? What comes up for me then is that it still feels like a safe space. It feels like a space that you can come back to where you can have disagreements, where you can have differences, but it’s a safe space where you can come back to and still feel like you belong. Would you say that that reflects what you are thinking of when you think of community as well?

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Yeah, I would say so, but I’d also say that (laughs) getting to that place and building communities where you do feel that safety and that comfort to be challenged and challenge others is definitely a long, long, long journey. I feel like it never ends because, even in the tightest of communities, discontent can arise and uncomfortability and new boundaries can be broached, like the idea of boundaries in communities, that’s really interesting and I don’t think I’ve thought a lot about the different boundaries that exist in some of the different communities I live within and how some are much wider than others (laughs).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

We’ll dive deeper into that a little later in the podcast because I like that point, too, about boundaries and exploring them. And so I wanted to jump to the next question tied to, when we think about what community means, which is belonging, safety, what can community help us achieve individually and collectively?

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

For me, community is what helps us achieve our dreams. We don’t get to where we want to go as individuals or collectively without it. I was sitting with this question and I was like, “We can’t grow, we can’t thrive, we can’t survive, we can’t live without community.” For all of the dreams that we have and, if we want to get to equity and justice, so that we can all live full lives, then we need to be in communities. And I think that’s partly speaking to like the what, like who is in the community. It’s being around people who are like us, whether that’s around race or gender or class or occupation, but also like being with those who are not like us. There’s the people who are like us, but there’s also people who are different from us that help us achieve our dreams.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Like we have to be in relationships with people who are different from us because we have complementary powers, I think-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

… and like getting to those spaces-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

And a space to learn and grow.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Exactly. We can activate based on our networks are who we know or the power of positions that we’re in so that we can all move toward the goals that we have for ourselves and for our communities.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

That was beautifully said, Aly. Thank you. Kathleen, did you want to add anything?

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Oh, I’ll say plus one all around and a piece that (laughing) and a piece that like especially slapped for me was Aly noting that, um, like no success can be ever be achieved outside of community. I’ve just been reflecting a lot upon that lately because I’m getting married later this year and I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want that day to be and, honestly, it all comes-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Congratulations (laughs).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Yeah.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

[crosstalk 00:07:39]. It honestly all comes back to community and I want that to be a time where I get to celebrate the people in my life and they all come together for one moment and one moment only. The communities I’ve built in my life, including the two of you and our group, communities are, honestly, the biggest success of my life.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

That’s beautifully put. So building on that, why is community important in higher education?

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

I’ll take a pass at this first (laughing). Honestly, I have, I have a lot of feels about this (laughing) question, um, as a recovering graduate school, um, student, I’ve only been out for two years or so, but some of my most treasured and important communities were developed during college and graduate school and I think that’s because, for students, getting an education, being in those environments, can be very vulnerable. There’s a lot of uncertainty. There’s a lot of resource drain happening, time and money that it takes to be incorporated in higher education. There’s just so many challenging experiences and a lot of time away from communities that you have grown up in or, um, you’re used to being in.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

There’s, uh, really a lack of psychological safety in higher education, from a student perspective, so foraging communities during higher education experience is like essential for survival and it’s really what helps students survive and thrive is the communities they’re able to build in higher ed. Aly-

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Yeah.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

… if you have anything you want to add on to that.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Yes. You know, since Kathleen, you and I were in the same graduate program, although I imagine this is a common experience among people who have tried to work toward a PhD in some form or another, is like (laughs) I think I may have blacked out the whole seven years I was in graduate school. No, I’m kidding. I definitely needed, um, (laughing) I definitely needed my, my people, my communities, and I guess this is related to what I was saying earlier, which is we don’t get to student success without community. Teachers need their people for support and around designing their curriculum or just around the hard day they had or whatever, and students, in the same way, we all have things that come up around our lives while we’re in school-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

… so we need to not only deal with the stressors that come at us from being in that school environment, but like having to navigate that while other things in life are affecting us in our environment. We need that space to be in community with each other.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

I, I love the perspective that both of you shared in reflecting on the student journey and the perspective of finding spaces where you can normalize your lived experience and, given that you’re in, um, as, Kathleen, you put it, psychologically oftentimes unsafe space, and vulnerable space, it’s important that we find the people who can help us normalize and help us strategize or give us tools that can help us deal with the situations and move on. Having talked about what is community and you’ve talked about how it is a sense of belonging and sense of safety and, and vulnerability and warmth, how can we build this? How can we build the sense of belonging and build community?

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

The first thing that comes to mind for me is it depends (laughing). Like all things, it, how to build community really depends. Every community, every group, has a different tolerance for how much scaffolding they need versus how much emergence they’re looking for, and this is definitely a theme that’s come up in the work the three of us have done with our group, like how much process do we want versus how much emergence are we open to and how can we make sure everyone feels safe in that group, to do the work and get close to one another? I think the ideal state of community-building is this liminal space of intentional emergence and, by that, I mean collective forethought, effort, attention, and intention to form a foundation on which you can be emergent and you can be organic in the building of the community.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

I think … that’s great, intentional emergence (laughing). That’s uh, a fun thing to sit with, I feel like, Kathleen. I feel like just one thing to add to that is maybe even thinking a step before that around,  building community is just like asking yourself like what matters to you and then like go find the people who share your dreams and values. And I feel like those are the threads that connect you into like the beautiful quilt that you turn out to be in your community and like that’s exactly what happened with us in our work together. Like we all like gathered around something that we were feeling was really important to us and that mattered to us and that is like the thing that we started from and then, to your point, Kathleen, started (laughs) trying to work out this intentional emergence and like how do we all be in space and community together?

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Both of you articulate nuances so beautifully (laughs) to everything. But then I go back to the question of why, in today’s day and age, is community important? And I’m answering this for myself before I’m throwing it at you (laughs). It’s, I think it’s … there’s something about the whole COVID experience after two years of kind of not being in person, not having the physical aura of the person next to you, yes, we have built communities online and we’ve explored all technologies to access each other and connect with each other. So, in that, there is this need, that need for connection has been brought to light, I feel, and the importance of being able to collaborate, right, but you can’t just do it alone and it’s not one person’s success is their own, that we have to connect with each other, feels even more important given the isolation that COVID imposed on us, um, at least that’s what’s coming up for me. Why should folks pay attention intentionally to building community?

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Two things come up, one, this idea of like community as a tool, as a process, to like round things out, ’cause we all have our blind spots, and community brings these new perspectives, helps fill blind spots, to then make like a rounder movement that is less porous, it has less gaps, so to speak, to like move the needle on social change. I’ve been doing a lot of work now with, um, organizations working on narrative change and movement-building and power-building and community is truly like the heart of that.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

I think, you know, you’re making me think, Kathleen, and Divya too, about something I was thinking about was what communities are connected to. So like your point, Kathleen, around like movements and power-building and things like that makes me think of collective action-

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Mm hmm

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

… which involves community, but they’re not synonymous, right? Like if your community, or a subset of your community, wants to work towards some collective action, that is when you want to start to get to agreements, right, about things that you want to achieve and how you want to go about doing that, what that looks like for you and what you want to do and how everybody’s going to show up in their power and what assets you have at your disposal, what values you share, how you want to make decisions, all of those things.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

So then what both of you are sharing brings up for me the importance of relationship-building and communication, right? When we think about building communities or sustaining communities, I would think it’s significantly relationship-building and effective communication. I don’t know that we necessarily, at least our generation, has been intentionally taught that as a skill per se, saying, “These are things you need to keep in mind,” that are general norms that we try to say, “These are best practices in communication,” but interpersonal communication, relationship-building communication, I don’t think that we have necessarily, uh, been taught that officially. We learned that on our own. And so what are some things to take into account when we are thinking about building community?

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

I think I started to talk a little bit about that when I was saying, you know, what are the agreements that you want to make and what are the norms that you want to build for each other? We are a group of students, for example, Kathleen and I, with some other folks that we’re in school with, and we are moving towards some collective action, right, so we want to work with our communities to move toward a shared goal about having a different process for a dissertation defense, for example, and what that might entail. So we come together, we make agreements about how we’re going to show up, we make agreements about how we’re going to make decisions, we talk about how we want to manage conflict together, we talk about what’s important to us, what are our values.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

And it’s really relationship-building, yes, and also an entryway into building trust and to getting to know one another in a way that, typically, when you’re in a organizational context or a school context, what have you, like these things are implicit. And, when things like that are implicit, that means you’re not making your thinking visible and talking about like what is equitable and what is just and what matters to each of us as human and in our communities together. So I think the things that we need to take into account is, back to what Kathleen was saying before, is about how can we buy intentional about the space that we want to create together.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

I want to emphasize what you just said, Aly. We talked about shared values, shared, like shared vision, moving towards a particular goal when we think about collective action, but then thinking about your community agreements, your values, things that we adhere to, to Kathleen’s point about process, do we agree to this process of engaging with each other or following certain steps and conflict management, absolutely. Kathleen, did you want to add?

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

No, I mean, all that really resonates. I will say something else to take into account, and, we’ve talked a lot about this in our group, is like the different roles and skills that are needed and what different people can embody because it really does, you know, take a lot of different talents and mindsets and ways of thinking to move group work forward. I think that’s something I’ve learned from you, Divya, actually is like we just need some people to take notes sometimes, like we just need some people to critique or help mediate, and there’s like a role for everybody in the group. To Aly’s point, we can be transparent and less implicit about that so no one gets left behind and everyone knows where they fit-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yeah.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

… and that can go a long way.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

I learned that as a faculty member when I was teaching because I feel there’s often some faculty members saying, “We don’t want to assign group work. It’s the hardest thing to evaluate and assess,” and I see, a lot of times, the pressure on students because, you know, that student who wants to get an A grade, that student who’s a hard worker, uh, kind of a perfectionist, kind of always trying to do the best they can, what ends up happening is that they take the burden, as opposed to saying, “Okay, I have four different courses that I’m registered in right now. I can’t take the lead on everything and then get overstressed (laughs) about every assignment. I need to know my role. Am I first author? Am I second author? Am I third author?”

Dr. Divya Bheda:

So faculty need to help students understand their role and how they can, you know, take on the correct amount of work and then be judged on that amount of work. That kind of plays out in real life as well, right? We don’t realize … we want to do it all and it’s like, “No, I don’t have that skill set. Can someone do this? I can offer this and this is my bandwidth right now.” I think that grace is needed.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

I love, Aly, what you also said about conflict management. I think someone once shared with me conflict, uh, is when, your reality doesn’t meet expectations, and so you have expectations and so, when you said it’s the hidden that becomes explicit, it’s the idea that sometimes we have expectation and assumptions and we think everyone is aligned with us or on the same page and, if we don’t make that explicit, it creates a perfect situation for conflict to arise… and conflict is normal, conflict is, uh, it should be expected in any group work, um, but it, it creates that perfect environment where there is miscommunication or misunderstanding because expectations don’t align and re-articulating those expectations then becomes important.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Yes. And I’ll say (laughs) that both of you know, from our own experiences, I have learned the distinction, I guess I would say, between conflict and disagreement, where conflict is something that’s really serious, right, and, a disagreement is something that maybe is not as emotionally charged and, if there is some kind of conflict going on, it needs to be surfaced by the people who are experiencing the conflict, not named or framed by the person who’s like not experiencing it because that can just make things more complicated than I think they need to be.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

But, at the same time, I will say that conflict can definitely be a good thing, even though, in the moment, it might be like, “Oh, my gosh, this is so uncomfortable. I, I don’t know what I’m doing. My face is hot. This is awful and I hate it,” but later, you can get to a space of like, “Okay, what happened? Like what’s going on with me?” and just having empathy and being open and curious together with the other person is so just important for that growth in your community.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Kathleen, did you want to add anything there?

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Yeah. Two things come to mind for me. One thing is, I’ve learned a lot from Aly, is like having a process for conflict management and mediation.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Absolutely. Yes, a huge shout-out to Aly, who brought some resources to our community-building work, um, over the course of this year.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Yeah, because, I mean, at the end of the day, we’re all people. Like we have a million things going on out, inside the community and outside of it and we’re tired and overstressed and overworked and so having agreed upon process and co-created values can be what you fall back on when it gets crazy (laughing). Uh, and, uh-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

As it will, as it will.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

As it will. And something else also came up for me with this. Um, our colleague Libby, who is also kind of in community with us, she once told me it’s like all about redirecting energy to ensure it’s life-affirming and life-giving and I feel like, in our group, we try to adopt conflict mediation processes that are all about re-channeling energy to keep moving us forward or … we’re not always moving forward, but, you know, to keep us moving (laughing) in a way that feels good for the group.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

No, I, I wanted to echo that, life-affirming, redirecting that energy to make it life-affirming. Thank you, Kathleen. Thank you for sharing that. Um-

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Thank Libby, not me (laughs).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yes (laughing). Aly, look, when I heard you talk about, um, you know, disagreement versus conflict, actually, what came up for me, I, I don’t want to get into the semantics of it, but what came up for me was actually what I have learned through community-building with you, as well as in other groups, is,  there is a level of depersonalization, there is a level of where I can feel things and that I need to think about my feelings, right? So there is a level of reflection that needs to happen-

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Totally.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

… about my feelings and trying to parse it out to figure out what is really bothering me about the situation and processing that in any group. It’s very easy, when you’re in a group, to want to disengage from the group completely, and this is especially true when we engage in social justice work. Any time someone calls us out on something that we probably have to take accountability for, or maybe they have misunderstood and we were in the right, so to speak, then results in this tension, where our easiest response, and especially now the technology where we’re not in person, where we are not like locked in the same room with each other, we can just completely disengage, right, and prioritize other things and say, “Okay, this group is not for me.”

Dr. Divya Bheda:

I think just the way they say, in any relationship, it takes intentional effort, what I’ve realized is that, if you depersonalize that interaction to be about that issue at hand that needs to be resolved, or the disagreement in perspective, and to be able to, uh, understand that, okay, that is not how someone else is experiencing it or sitting with it, you can still honor your lived experience and honor your perspective while honoring theirs without having to say, “Mine is better than yours,” or “My perspective is the right one, yours is not.” I think that’s what I learned from our process in learning about conflict management.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

And, again, I wanted to echo there are resources for engaging in conflict, which, again, Aly, like the resources that you have shared, in all my consulting with various clients, it has helped me so much to set up a space where people can then disagree in a way that is conducive, productive, and, as Kathleen and Libby have said, life-affirming rather than creating tension that takes us down a negative pathway, then there’s no work that we can move forward. So just thank you to you both.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

I just want to add one point that you’re making me think of-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

… which is just like sometimes we need to disengage.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Like sometimes there is a feeling that shows up in our body and we need some time to sit with it and figure out what’s going on for ourselves so that we can reengage. And I don’t want to maybe reinforce any ideas about being perfect around how we respond-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Absolutely.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

… to conflict or like how we show up in our community. The point isn’t like we have to be a certain way all the time, but it’s about-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Absolutely.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

… yeah, being present and like, if we do make a mistake, like owning it and being like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m so sorry. Like I shouldn’t have said this,” or “I shouldn’t have done this and like can I please make it to you?” or whatever it is. So giving ourselves some, some grace to be imperfect, because we all are.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Absolutely.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

I have a, I have a kind of a follow-up question-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

… an this is something I struggle with is the disengagement piece.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Um, like what do you think is the best way to communicate to the community that you need a timeout, like you need to (laughs) disengage for a minute so you can come back and double-down?

Dr. Divya Bheda:

That’s a great question, Kathleen, and what I have seen, you know, folks who are a lot more experienced than me, uh, with a lot more, years of activism behind them, you know, engaging in this work, what I’ve seen them now start to do really well is to, to Aly’s earlier point in the beginning of this conversation, draw boundaries and explain those boundaries.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

And sometimes people don’t understand those boundaries, but I have started really paying attention to it and realizing the importance of it, where people say, “I need time to recharge. I need time to, to think through, whether this is where I spend my time and energy.” And I have found it really, really meaningful, even from community-building, like in a conflict situation, so that disengagement, but also disengagement from even where you’re extending yourself as a resource to mentor someone, right, where I’ve seen people draw boundaries saying, “I’m so sorry. I’m not available for mentoring. I’m not available for being in community at this point because I need some time to just be and live my life without engaging and I will come back to this when I am ready.”

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Your question makes me think what can the group learn from it, like are there things that can be learned from it that we can do differently or there is nothing and that person has to deal with their stuff, that they deal with their stuff as they need to and they can communicate that. I’ve often heard people, also, say leave loudly, right, sometimes, especially in social justice work. and, actually, let’s make, uh, let’s that distinction that Aly made, the, the difference between collective action and community, right?

Dr. Divya Bheda:

So if you are the person engaged in collective action where you are representing a community and you are part of this collective action community moving social justice work forward or building inclusion or you are the diversity committee in an institution and you’re the lone, you know, Black or Indian woman or whatever it is trying to move the needle, you can leave loudly, saying, “I don’t feel heard.” or “This is not the time for me and I think there needs to be certain things that need to happen.” We can still do that respectfully and then use that as an opportunity for everyone to take a step back and learn about whether this is the way they need to be engaging in collective action. Great question though. I’m still thinking about it.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Yeah. I would add to that to just say like … just my own personal experience would just be like a response from me would be, “Thank you for sharing. Um, I’d like to sit with that more. Is it okay if I get back to you next week?” And then, if I’m not ready by next week or the time I said, then, you know, I can communicate that, but, for me, it’s building in some space for me to just sit with whatever I need to sit with and go journal or meditate or walk or whatever it is I need to do and then come back, and the person’s expecting me to come back, right?

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

And so they’re expecting like the, the dialogue and the conversation. They know I have something that I want to share and-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Someone gave me that advice as well, I think, within the last year, step away. Like when you step away, give it three, four days. Like nothing has to be replied to immediately, even if it feels like it has to be replied to immediately, to Aly’s point, like we can say, “I need four, five days. I need a week. I need a whatever.” Uh, but whatever seems pressing is not. It’s an artificial deadline that’s created.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Oh, yes, urgency-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yes (laughs).

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

… artificial urgency.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yeah.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

And, and so recognizing that and just stepping away and seeing if, two, three days later, your feelings are the same or do you have clarity of thought and you’re feeling… that will help you articulate, um, your needs better. Um, okay, this is, this is wonderful conversation (laughs). Okay, so, um, we’ve talked a little bit about conflict management and how important it is to understand or to learn about tools to, um, use when we disagree and processes to adopt and have some common understandings or common expectations around the same. How do you build capacity individually and collectively to build community?

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Uh, that’s a tough one (laughing). You know, I guess, kind of like a starting point is always, and Aly alluded to this earlier, starting with the end in mind, like what is the purpose of this community, what is the purpose of the individual in the community, and kind of working backwards to identify the things that need to occur for that to happen. What kind of capacities do people need? What kind of alignment, what kind of mechanisms and processes? And that’s kind of like a overarching macro-answer, but I, um, when I was thinking about this, I was also reminiscent of this little postcard poster that an old boss gave to me, and it was like, “Small things to do to build community,” and it was just everything from like asking a question, singing together, having a potluck. It doesn’t have to some like massive overwhelming undertaking. I think, by doing small things, like honoring our elders, honoring our other community members, we can build our capacity little by little to be better stewards to the group.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yeah. It, it sounds like a few celebrations and maybe a few rituals which are positive, um-

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Yes. Yes, rituals.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

… and enriching. Great suggestions, Kathleen. Aly?

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

I love that. Yeah, I love that, Kathleen. Um, I think, when I was thinking about this like an individual level perspective too, so when we think about building capacity, it’s about being self-reflective-

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

… and, also, just being loving in relationship-

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

… with one another, and that you’re sharing those rituals, like you’re talking about, Kathleen, and experiences that are both fun and hard. There’s the potlucks and the celebrations and there’s also like the funerals and the mourning-

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

… and it’s being there for each other in those moments of like the, both the joyful and the painful ones. And I think … I also thought of, uh, something that Brené Brown says a lot in her podcast, Unlocking Us, which I love, um, which is like, “Stay awkward, brave, and kind.”

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Oh, yes.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Yeah. I just … I mean, it feels like definitely a mantra (laughs) to live by-

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

… when you’re in relationship and in community with each other. And I would say, when we think about equity and justice, it’s also just getting clear on the power that we have in our communities and how we’re using that to complement other people’s power, if we’re in that collective action space, and to advance the equity that we want to see.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Your response, Aly, brings up, a question from me, which is, um, when you think about the decolonizing space and community that we have been trying to build and that we are continuing to try and sustain, um, how would you say it’s different from traditional ways of being in community or what advice or insights do either of you have about our community space, as opposed to other spaces that people can kind of learn from or, or draw on for inspiration as they think about building communities around social justice?

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

I can o-, obviously, only speak from my own experience in the communities that I’ve been in, but I will say, you know, with the distinction we were talking about earlier around collective action, like the group that we are in together is around collective action. We are gathering and have intentional purpose about how we want to be in a space where we are co-creating knowledge and producing it in a way that feels equitable and justice-oriented and we know that our process matters as much as the outcome of the thing that we’re making. So, because we know that, we have been very intentional about how we make decisions. We are being intentional together about these different ways of relating and sharing space to make decisions and manage conflict and all those things that we were talking about earlier, which, I think, in other collective action like space, like just working in an organization, for example-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

… like if you just work in a university, you’re all working towards a mission and a vision, right? So-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

… th- th- that feels a little bit more distant, I think, when you’re working in a big organization, but, um, similarly, those mechanisms tend to be already built in without inclusive conversation around-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

… what everybody wants it to be and like what matters to them.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

I love the focus, Aly, that you had on process versus destination, like that we’re paying attention, that we don’t try to achieve equity when the process to get there is not equitable at all, (laughs) right?

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

And then the emphasis on decision-making and the idea that then we are paying attention to power and who gets to decide and identities and, speaking to all our earlier conversation, like the idea of rituals and celebrations and mourning and everything, you can do all of that in community only when you bring the full person in, if you have the full identity, you allow space for the full identity of the human being and not just the one identity that you are interfacing with in that space, right-

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

… or that one room. Kathleen, did you want to add?

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

I’ll just second the idea of something that I have found unique in our group is, yeah, the, the fervent intentionality about being process-driven-

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Fervent (laughs).

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

… not product-driven-

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Yes.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

… just like resolute, like through and through, and it has been such like a paradigm shift for someone like me who’s a do, do, do, and do some more, um (laughs)-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

… to really be more intentional about the process. And one other thing, also, that I’ve seen modeled in this group recently that I have never seen really modeled elsewhere is, um, this idea of a generous exclusion, which is a term I picked up from the book The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker, um, and being really thoughtful and really intentional about finding the right people and having boundaries in the group about who is a part and who is not a part, um, not to be exclusive or inclusive, but to be in pursuit of the work in a way that’s generous.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Totally.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

We’ve had a lot of conversations about who group members are and who they are not and why.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Wow, that, that’s beautifully, beautifully put. Um, I think something that also came up for me, when I think about group, is that we think of our work as iterative. I don’t think it’s a closed-

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

… that anything that we do is finished. It is never finished. When we think about knowledge, when we think about ideas, when we think about the so-called destination, that needle keeps moving and even what we articulate as our values, as our commitments, everything, is evolving based on where we are at the time and in the space and who is in community with us. And I think we have come, over time, to accept that that’s the reality of life, like the minute you say, “This is it and nothing more,” you close the opportunity for a different perspective, a different lived experience, a different way in which we are furthering or perpetuating oppression in unconscious ways.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

And I hope our listeners as you’re listening to this, when you think about engaging in social justice work and building a community or engaging in collective action intentionally, I hope some of these ideas of being process-driven, being iterative, engaging in generous exclusion, paying attention to power in decision-making, who gets to make decisions, how, when. I hope all of these, um, ideas kind of speak to you and you can take them and apply them in your own spaces.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

How can we sustain a community? How do you keep the momentum going in a community? That actually builds off of, Kathleen, what you said, ’cause when I heard you say generous exclusion, I was thinking we are graceful when people say they can’t participate because life is very full, (laughs) you know, and we say, “Okay, what can we do to mitigate the load on them, and can someone else take the load at this point in time?”

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). This, you know what, Divya, this question keeps me up at night (laughing). Like I think, um … so I’ll just … so one … it makes me think of a few things.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Are we in group therapy right now (laughing)?

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

I’m just being honest (laughing). Like I just, um … so when I think to our earlier conversation, where we were talking about collective action, so how do you sustain people in that, that is the work of organizing, right?

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Like there is all kinds of brilliance out there around how you need to develop leaders and how you need to-

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

… make sure you’re connecting with people, like one on one, to understand what matters to them and connecting the dots to them for how that connects to the shared goals you have. So that is, uh, something that makes me think about, but I was also, when I think about sustaining community, I also just thought about, you know, some communities, at a point in time, we’re really engaged with-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

…. ’cause wherever we are in that moment in our life just happens to be such that we have a strong engagement in that space, and I’ll give you an example. So I experienced, um, a trauma a few years ago and was diagnosed with PTSD and I was in a group of people who had a similar experience and I was super active in that community, engaging with people, we had our rituals, right, we had our norms and our practices and we did things together. But now that I’ve been able to work through a lot of that, like, yes, I still am connected with some beautiful friends that I had made there, but I am not as active in that community as I once was and I don’t think that that’s a bad thing. It just means that-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

… I am in a different place in my life now. So I feel like-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

… the idea of sustaining community just makes me think about, as individuals, how some communities are more resonant for us at certain times in our lives.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

That makes total sense. That’s, that’s such a nice cognitive way of thinking about it and reflecting on where you need to be and bringing what’s unconscious … like, okay, why am I not fitting in or maybe I’ve outgrown this community or maybe I, I need to focus on this is what’s speaking to me now and I, I think that’s such a beautiful way of putting it. Thank you, Aly. Kathleen (laughs)?

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Yeah, so I don’t know, I guess, is the answer to your question (laughing). Kathleen?

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

I mean, yeah, I have no secret sauce here (laughs). I just want to show appreciation for both of you, and that response, Aly, about sharing your experience in community and how there’s a time and a place for every engagement. I will say, I think, as a group member, especially when you’re, there’s some sort of collection action on the table, communicating it to the other group members that your role is changing in this group. You don’t need to specify why, but, um, that way, the group can continue moving forward even knowing that your role is going to be different.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

See, Kathleen, you just answered your earlier question about how do you communicate that like to the group. I think that’s a great expectation that, if we set that up as an expectation in the beginning, saying, life happens, life, life experiences happen.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Yeah, norming that, yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yeah.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

And, and norming that and saying, okay, as you see that, if you’re not able to make meetings or if you’re not able to be there for decision-making or be there for input, then to be able to say, “I used to be able to give 10 hours. I can give only two hours. I was doing this in this level. I can only do this now. Can you go on without me?” So, yeah, beautiful.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Okay.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Yeah, and I think, also, norming that that changes the balance of a community or a collective action you know let’s say, “Myself in the group, I need to bow out. I can only give two hours now to this effort.” Also norming that someone else doesn’t need to pick it up. Maybe the process is just go slower for the whole group at that point-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

… and not feeling like someone else, like, “Aly, since Kathleen’s out, you need to double-down,” um, (laughing) and making that also (laughs) clear and normalized.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

And this goes back to Aly’s earlier point about making, uh, implicit things, many things that are implicit just more explicit and figuring out where those gaps are. Anything else?

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Oh, just knowing that roadblocks are going to arise. They are normal, uh.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yes.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst (laughs).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yes (laughs).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Maybe they’re better thought of as like speed bumps.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Yeah, speed bumps.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yeah, I like that.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

[crosstalk 00:45:08].

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Like you’re going to encounter them and it’s fine.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yes.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

It just means you got to slow down for a little bit.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

I’ve heard this often from people saying, when you’re trying to achieve change, whether it’s social justice change or whether any other kind of of change or working towards something, you know, folks will say, “Pace yourself,” and some of us may not be that kind, like where we go gung-ho, all in, like get this done, move to the next. But I, (laughs) and so understanding who you are and figuring out, “Okay, I think I’m going to burn out and I think I’ve burned out,” or “I’m done with this,” um, to Kathleen’s point, that, “I’m ready to disengage from this, and that’s fine, I’m okay with that, and do please like accommodate whatever change needs to happen,” you know, but then also facing yourself and trying to see, if this work has been ongoing, especially social justice work has been ongoing for years, like centuries, it, it’s not, “Oh, we’re going to make a change and it’s going to happen tomorrow and there’s going to be world peace,” right (laughs)?

Dr. Divya Bheda:

And so … ’cause the goal that we’re trying to, trying to achieve for ourselves in our mind and pacify ourselves, saying … because we are not able to accept that the work is always ongoing, right, and so (laughs) … um, okay, what are some ways in which we could know that our community or the collective action that we’re engaging in, uh, is successful? What are some indicators of success? Are there some, are there any metrics of success for a community, like when we think about, if we think about sense of belonging or if you think about collective action.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Yes, my evaluator, my evaluator friends, (laughing) what are our metrics? Well, I think … um, you know what this made me think of was we were in our, our group space and we were having a hard conversation and you could tell that the space was being held in curiosity and in love and in accountability and that people were like sharing their perspectives, they were asking questions about the thing that happened that some people were having a hard time around, and that they were challenging each other and helping each other grow. It didn’t turn into like a big thing, right? It was like … it turned into a thing and then we had a conversation about it and then it got resolved. And I, I just-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Fizzled out, yeah.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

… I, well, I just remember getting off of that call and being like, “Wow, we have come a long way.” Like we have done so much work together, that to be able to just like have that conversation and be in that space, for me, just felt like a big indicator of success. And knowing what that means for our future work together of, oh, when we come upon a challenge, we have the trust and the love for each other to be able to sit in that space. And it might not look beautiful next time around, but that … like I have confidence that our community will get through it.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Definitely. I remember that moment too, Aly, um, and feeling like, yeah, we’ve really (laughs) come a long way together in our work together. I mean, it’s been about two years now. We’re all still here (laughs).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Right.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

We’re all still together (laughs).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Oh, yeah, it has been two years. [crosstalk 00:48:38] I’m been saying-

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Oh, my gosh (laughs).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

… I’ve been saying one year. It’s been two (laughs).

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Yeah, I mean, uh, if that’s not like some indicator of something-

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Wow.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

… like … (laughs).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Yeah.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Yeah.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

And I think something, too, um, I don’t necessarily have precise indicators or metrics around it, but the idea of adaption and being nimble and responsive, I mean, the work that we’ve engaged in as a group has looked so different even month to month, year over year, and the fact that we’ve been able to pivot and adapt so many times, I think, is a testament to the group and the community.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Any other final thoughts to share for folks who are trying to engage in, in higher education and beyond? Uh, because I know both of you all are heavily involved in spaces outside, like in the nonprofit world and in spaces outside higher ed, in moving the needle around equity and social justice. Any final thoughts, tips, suggestions?

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Something that’s coming to mind for me is, um, I’m going to bring up Brené Brown again ’cause she just popped into my head, but she talks about, you know, who are your five people, like you can count them on your one hand, right? Like so you don’t have to jump off and go start building new communities. Take stock of what you have right now, who are your people and who has deserved the right to give you feedback and interact with you and be with you in community? Who are those five people?

Dr. Divya Bheda:

And, for me, building on that, it is are you willing to be vulnerable enough to ask them to hold you accountable and to ask them whether … am I, do I have it or do I have actually spaces to grow? Do I have it all or is there room for me to grow, especially when we’re thinking about social justice, right? Are there ways in which I can improve?

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

One more thing that’s coming to mind for me is, this is a blanket statement, but try to show up even when you don’t feel like it. There are so many times I’m like, “Uh, not another Zoom meeting, like I (laughing) …” and I show up and I always feel better after, always. And, uh-

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

… yeah, that feels very life-affirming too.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Yeah, that’s a great reminder.

Dr. Divya Bheda:

So find those spaces where you actually attend a Zoom meeting and you feel good after (laughs).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Yeah.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Yes. Yes. Number one indicator of success (laughing).

Dr. Divya Bheda:

Thank you both. Thank you, Kathleen. Thank you, Aly. Thank you for being here in community and in conversation with me. I really appreciate the insights that you’ve shared with our audience. You know, as you define community, as you talk about how we can build it and how we can be thoughtful, the ideas that you’ve shared about being graceful, about being kind, being empathetic, being vulnerable, paying attention to process and decision-making and taking stock and being reflective, right, and all of those, those tools. Mindfulness, I would say, uh, is so important today, now more than ever as we move forward in, in whatever work that we’re trying to do to advance students’ success or to advance equity or to, um, just grow and learn together as human beings so that we can make a positive influence in the world in whatever way we can. I appreciate you so much and I look forward to our conversations outside of the podcast. So (laughs) thank you.

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Thank you so much, Divya. I appreciated, uh, the invitation and the conversation with you all.

Dr. Kathleen Doll:

Likewise. Thank you for having us, Divya, and, Aly, thank you for sharing in this experience with me (laughs).

Dr. Albertina Lopez:

Yeah, thank you.

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Pedagogo, brought to you by ExamSoft, a 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 Karsten and the A2K productions crew. This podcast is intended as a public service for entertainment and educational purposes only, and is not a legal interpretation nor statement of ExamSoft policy, products or services.

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Published: June 7, 2022

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