SIY Leadership Institute 28-day challenge: Day 3 (Meeting Jan Karski)

Two-minutes of meditation on the metro this morning. I set the timer on my phone, focused on my breathing, and imagined the train noise as a white sound cloud enveloping me like a fog. The whole thing was a little trippy. I’m curious enough to keep going with the daily challenge.

At the leadership training last week, we participated in mindful walking. Imagine the scene on Georgetown’s campus – 100+ people exiting a building, then walking slowly in all directions. It looked like the zombie apocalypse. Prospective students and their parents visiting the campus looked confused. Their enthusiastic Hoya tour guides pretended they didn’t see us. The courtyard cleared out quickly.

My walking meditation took me to a corner of the campus with a small pond, the sound of rushing water, and the strong scent of petunias. Seated on a bench was a life-size statue of Jan Karski, a name I didn’t recognize. Below is the accompanying plaque:

The line, “The man who told of the annihilation of the Jewish people while there was still time to stop it,” landed on my heart hard and gave me pause. I thought of climate change.

I learned later that when Karski met with FDR to tell him about the mass murder of Jews in Poland, the President never asked about the atrocities or the people, only about the condition of horses in the country.

Discovering Karski was unexpected. Or perhaps such encounters are actually the norm for a contemplative walker. I need to pay attention. Jan Karski is a reminder that if we just look around, we are surrounded by examples of greatness.

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Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute 28-day challenge: Day 2 (Ignore the Heavy Breathing)

It’s Monday. This is where it gets real. How do I bring mindfulness and meditation to work?

Today’s SIYLI prompt was to take three mindful breaths. My reaction was, “Really? That’s it? Seems like a pretty whimpy challenge.” Enter the inner critic voice that loves to ruin a party. I decided to save the breathing exercise for the metro ride to work. The accompanying reflection prompt was to “notice the impact.” Not sure there is much impact to report other than likely scaring the poor guy sitting next to me with all my heavy breathing.

More meaningful was using the loving-kindness meditation from yesterday and taking a couple of minutes to wish love, peace, joy, and health to each of my staff by name before I got to work. This actually did have impact. I felt a slight shift towards lightness of being when I entered the office. Seems like the heavy breathing might be paying off.

I know I haven’t connected this to feminist leadership. Stay tuned!

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A Note about the Relaunch of this Website

June 2019 – It’s been 22 months since Kent and I intentionally upended our lives and moved to DC. After 20 years as a tenured professor at a university in rural PA, I am now an executive director of a nonprofit. It’s been a wild ride, by choice, presenting us with new challenges, joys, and ways of being in the world. House to apartment. Rural to urban. Prof to ED. Conservative to Progressive communities. Car to Metro. It’s been a great lesson in letting go and embracing change. An advantage of living here is the opportunity for programs focused on professional development and personal growth. In service to those goals, I’ve relaunched my website and returned to blogging as a tool for exploring and articulating a model of feminist leadership at the intersection of feminist values, mindfulness, allyship, and some wild women wisdom. All of these pieces fit together. Writing will help me figure out how. Want to follow along and join in the conversation?

Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute 28-day challenge: Day 1 (Got Superpowers?)

Mindfulness and meditation are superpowers.” That definitely got my attention at the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute training last week. It also inspired me to resurrect this website and blog about the SITLI 28-day challenge as a means for holding me accountable and developing a mindfulness practice. The goal? To become a mindful badass. And a compassionate leader in service to social justice.

Day 1 of the challenge was simple, to complete one full cycle of breath and consider how it felt and how it impacts the state of mind. I’m combining this with instructions found in the book, The Mindful Day by Laurie Cameron. While I struggle not to judge meditation as a bunch of woo-woo weirdness, the SITLI training presented empirical research to back up the benefits. In addition, the practices we engaged in over the two days were actually quite centering. At this stage, as a beginner, it’s really just about sticking with it.

Today I am particularly drawn to Laurie’s suggestion for invoking loving kindness. She suggests spending five minutes bringing to mind individuals or groups of people and “Then offer good wishes to each person by repeating the phrase: May you be healthy, may you be safe, may you be well, may you be happy.”

Imagine the power of this when we include people we are different from and afraid of, or at odds with, or we don’t like. As another SIYLI workshop participant expressed to me, “This is hard work!” Yes. Indeed. Breathe.

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#BringTheFire: Calling out Toxic Masculinity for a DC Free from Domestic Violence

It was an honor to speak at the DC Coalition against Domestic Violence Rally on the eve of International Women’s Day 2019 alongside kickass leaders like Alicia Sanchez Gill and Karma Cottman. This was a true bucket list moment! Here is my speech.

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Hello, beautiful people!! How’s everybody doing? I don’t think Mayor Bowser and the DC Council can hear you. Let’s make some noise!

Thank you, to the DC Coalition for bringing us here today, and thanks to all of you for stepping up on behalf of survivors of domestic violence. You had a choice about where to be today and you chose to be here.

Let’s show our appreciation for each other, shall we? Would you please turn to someone you don’t know, right now, shake their hand, and say, “Thank you for being here.”  

It’s such an honor for me to represent DV LEAP and join this remarkable group of women leaders, to speak at Freedom Plaza, a space dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. So many historic marches and protests have kicked off from this location.  

We all stand here on the shoulders of the social justice giants who came to this plaza before us, always speaking truth to power. Now we carry that torch. We must bring the fire.What are we gonna do?Bring the fire! Mayor Bowser, we are turning up the heat!  

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, in the 21st century. The 21st century. Yet, violence against women around the world remains a major public health problem – and a violation of basic human rights.

I have witnessed these atrocities first-hand in the US and in my own research on sexualized violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of my work with Dr. Denis Mukwege, the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Together we co-founded Panzi Foundation USA in support of Panzi hospital, where Dr. Mukwege and his staff treat thousands of women for their injuries due to rape. Please remember them on this International Women’s Day and keep them on your conscience and in your heart.

Global estimates indicate that 1 in 3 or 35% of women worldwide, have experienced either physical and/or sexualized violence in their lifetime. In DC, that statistic is 39%. What are we gonna do? Bring the fire!

When we bring the fire, we shine a much needed light on the source of this violence: toxic masculinity. This destructive construction of manhood is characterized by oppressive, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic beliefs and actions.

As Amanda Marcotte wrote for Salon, “It’s a manhood that views women and LGBT people as inferior, sees sex as an act of domination, and valorizes violence as the way to prove one’s self to the world. Toxic masculinity aspires to toughness but is, in fact, an ideology of living in fear: The fear of ever seeming soft, tender, weak, or somehow less than manly.”

In this town, there is certainly no shortage of examples of toxic masculinity. What are we gonna do? Bring the fire!

At DV LEAP, we aren’t just up against perpetrators when we represent survivors in court on legal appeals. We are also up against this same toxic masculinity internalized by judges, lawyers, mental health professionals, even guardians ad litem and other supposed advocates in the judicial system.

Too often survivors are denied protection by the courts for themselves and their children, jeopardizing their safety and well-being.

I want you to think about the number 58,000. This is the size of some sports arenas and towns. 58,000. This is also the estimated number of children court-ordered into the unsupervised cared of an abusive father every year.

The implicit bias of judges against survivors is pervasive throughout the judicial system. Two words: Brock Turner. Consider the sentencing of this rapist, a white male, convicted of multiple felonies for assaulting an unconscious woman, who only received a six-month sentence in a county jail. Why?

As the judge said, because “a prison sentence would have severe impact on him.” What are we gonna do? Bring the fire!

Men are almost NEVER taught to NOT rape. If we are going to de-toxify toxic masculinity, we must fully fund domestic violence prevention education and policy in our schools. In DC, this is now possible through the recently passed School Safety Omnibus Act.

Mayor Bowser, the key to ending dating and domestic violence is investment in primary prevention and early intervention. We must fund programs that focus on healthy relationships and consent education so that all DC youth have the tools they need to thrive. What are we gonna do? Bring the fire! Thank you!

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Thank You, African Students Association & South Dakota State University!

16640678_1209850562386164_3709982696404962511_n           L to R: Dr. Nacasius Ujah, Confiance Mfuka, Dr. Lee Ann De Reus, Godfrey Havyarimana, Sefa Adekpui (photo credit: Enoch Banza)

It was a true pleasure to visit South Dakota State University and give the keynote address, Daring to Make a Difference for DR Congo – and Beyond for the “Women’s Challenges and Opportunities in a Complex Political Situation” event hosted by the African Students Association. A special thank you to Dr. Nacasius Ujah, Dr. Emmanuel Byamukama, Confiance Mfuka, Godfrey Havyarimana and Sefa Adekupi for organizing the conference and the opportunity to interact with students and the local Congolese community. I enjoyed our stimulating and in-depth discussions about the DR Congo, Panzi Foundation USA, the work of Dr. Denis Mukwege at Panzi Hospital, and my own research about the resilience of Congolese women. I look forward to continuing the conversation and our future collaborations! img_6399                                                               (photo credit: Enoch Banza)

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Brilliant Minds for Desperate Times

“The country is being played,” wrote a friend in a recent email. I would add that people’s pain is being exploited by the purveyors of neoliberalism. How do we understand where we are and ways forward? For astute critical analysis, perspective, and direction during these dire times, I read the following journalists/authors among others:

Amy Goodman at @democracynow:                              @NaomiAKlein a Canadian author and columnist:           @jbouie at Slate & CBS:
@CharlesMBlow at the NYT:
@tanehisicoates at The Atlantic:

No false hope or solace peddled by these authors. Instead, their hard-hitting writing further exposes structural violence and the injustices that jeopardize us all. At this moment, four days from the next President’s inauguration, I am not optimistic about our future. But I refuse to be a bystander with so much at stake. Read, resist, reclaim.

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Transformative Teaching: The Swedish Fish Strategy

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A former student emailed me recently, excited to share the latest developments in her life. Wanda (pseudonym) transferred to a much larger campus and, despite a difficult adjustment, took the bold, unlikely step to get involved. She joined two clubs related to her major, sought out a professor for research experience, and started planning a summer internship. Wanda wrote,

 “I am very excited that a lot of doors are beginning to open for me. I honestly would not have gotten this far without your encouragement. The meetings that we had in your office have  had a huge impact on me and I can not begin to thank you enough.”

Students come to my office often, in search of direction, encouragement – and candy. Over Swedish Fish we talk about their interests and imagine the possibilities for their lives. Few know what they want to be when they grow up, or realize their awesomeness, but most are willing to kindle the inkling of potential that brought them to my door in the first place. In class I shamelessly bribe them to attend office hours with the promise of food, coffee, a rocking chair, and the opportunity to talk about themselves. Transformative teaching extends far beyond the classroom.

My goal is to help students identify their passions, create a strategic plan for their career path, and get excited about their abilities and options. I joke with them that it’s always easier to figure out someone else’s life rather than your own. It can also be downright fun to engage in intentional self-reflection. Who doesn’t love to talk about themselves, especially when there are snacks?

We start by discussing their interests and strengths. I ask them to describe the perfect job and work-life balance. If they imagine themselves 15 years post-graduation, what does the day-to-day look like? What is living the dream? We then plot out short- and long-term goals and an action plan. Together we create a “to do” list of simple Google searches they can conduct about certain careers, graduate programs, or causes to pursue. I refer them to inspiring books, TED Talks, and people they should meet. No one leaves without this homework, a hug, and a promise to meet again.

It was a joy to hear from Wanda. I’ve had hundreds of these conversations with students over 19 years of teaching but I don’t often know the outcome. Her note is a reminder of how simple it can be to touch a life. Sometimes all it takes is a little encouragement and some Swedish Fish.


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