The University of Mississippi brought me in Friday night to give a keynote to 300 students from community colleges in the region. We talked about what allyship and advocacy can look like in the #metoo era as they enter the workforce. This is the first time I did something like this to non-artists and such a large audience. The school had a cancellation at the last minute and hence I got the call that morning and was panicked about doing a good job.
I let the audience know as soon as I hit the stage how this was a first for me and how nervous I was. I'm so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone. I shared my personal story and research about sexual harassment in the arts and how artists are fighting back by creating processes of accountability. My goal was to limit myself talking because I really wanted to see how some ideas I presented can be applied to their lives. We had a great and thoughtful discussion.
The average student in the room was about 21 years old, entering their junior year and from rural areas of the region with interests in medicine, education, and social work.
My biggest takeaway was how many of these students were passionate about what models of shared leadership and power look like. They were super shy at first and then this topic got them to light up the room. Many shared they were already exploring shared leadership in their student groups, and thought it was weird that this is considered a "radical" way of working. The idea that this generation thinks hierarchy is so "old school" makes me ecstatic. Our culture has to stop dismissing millenials and GEN Z, as they are our greatest resource in moving our culture forward.
I was also surprised that many vocal supporters of this idea were some young white men from different areas of the room speaking up about how important this was to them. They were ready and able to share and even give up power and had an awareness of how these old models of power and leadership are what excludes so many, keep people from speaking up if they see someone excluded or treated unfairly and yet this is what is constantly modeled to them as excellence to work towards. These kids weren't "snowflakes" I don't know what political alignment they were but their awareness and passion about this at such a young age gives me hope.
So I left them with the models of collective action, alliance building and how this generation can build new systems to create healthy workplaces and generate success where everyone can feel supported and safe to do their work.
I am really interested in doing more of this kind of work as well as building the exact tools and information a young person needs when they are faced with harassment as they are entering the workforce. The statistics on what they will face are startling. In reality, our culture conditions youth to think this is the norm and to let these things roll off their backs in order to move up the ladder to achievement.
I'd like to thank Jen McGrath from The Orpheum Theatre for recommending me to Amy Bernstein at The University of Mississippi. It always amazes me how others see our capabilities when we don't. This was a first for me. I really loved feeling the impact in the room have so and much to learn from this generation.
If you are interested in having me come to your school or organization, please contact me. It's of value to me at this moment to offer this locally to explore further what works and what doesn't so I can do more of this professionally.
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