"I first met Dr. Collins in 2014 when I assumed the position of Diversity Initiatives Specialist for the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Illinois (Illinois). Dr. Collins was serving as the Inclusive Illinois representative for the College of Media at Illinois. In this voluntary role, appointed by the Dean of the college, she served as a liaison between her college and the institution for matters related to diversity and inclusion. I had the privilege of working with Dr. Collins over the next five years in various capacities as we shared in the work of sustaining a diverse community and advancing inclusion for faculty, staff, and students.
Creating inclusive spaces is at the core of Dr. Collin’s scholarship and personal mission. She designs her classrooms and speaking engagements around active centralized empowerment. This pedagogical style is designed to place the ownership for content, ideas, critical thinking and problem solving back in the hands of the individual, ultimately creating space for their unique and diverse set of experiences to shape the outcomes of their work. This pedagogical philosophy gained traction both with students and faculty as a method for empowering traditionally marginalized voices.
Dr. Collins has experience with diversity, inclusion, de-marginalization, and empowering change through relationship building, curriculum design and implementation, scholarship. She has used her own deep faith to guide her work and belief in human experiences to create a deeper sense of belonging for those who have experienced much of their lives on the margins of religious diversity, class, culture, ethnicity, gender, nationality, race, sexual identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, and ability status in order to create a place where all feel valued. This depth of experience coupled with Dr. Collins deep knowledge of communication and media tools positions her uniquely to build a robust foundation to support the institution and articulate the complexities and dimensions of diversity, inclusion and belonging.
Director of Student Life
How It Is Done
Existentialism, Essentialism and the Value of Realia
Everyone should be allowed to exist and be included as they are, authentically, and everyone should have the opportunity to learn the basics, the essentials of knowledge and character building and to engage in activities of these theories using their cross cultural competency and intersectionality. This includes the experiences of everyday lives, the realia. One of the best learning methods to ensure diversity, equity, belonging and inclusion with power are a part of the process of Experiential Learning Methods, hands-on.
In practice and in my research, I specialize in processes of de-marginalization and empowerment because I believe that by unleashing a person's gifts there is movement towards optimal performance - optimal performance of an individual, organization, working or learning environment, as well as communities. Optimal Performance also helps us to be more inclusive, equitable, kinder, gentler, educated and fair. As a Social Scientist and Pedagogy expert in theories and practices for Leadership, Equity, Belonging, Diversity, and Inclusion, I spent the last 18 years creating a national award-winning and producing critical pedagogy and organizational design called, Active Centralized Empowerment (A.C.E.). I believe and practice that the core of effective DEBI-P initiatives contain diverse voices and opinions heard from diverse human beings. Each person has an equal opportunity to not only voice their opinion, but, they are allowed to act on their perspective with support when appropriate. A.C.E. is very unique in that, within the frame of its design, everyone can be included as part of this process for Optimal Performance. No one is allowed to be marginalized in this environment, self-imposed or group imposed. This means those found in the “minority” as well as the “majority” are all included and can benefit from this type of learning environment from working and learning together. What is also unique is the Power element in A.C.E. . It actually contains strategies to help you not just talk about DEBI-P but ways you can engage and make it happen actively and with Power! If we want to be more inclusive on all levels of DEBI and better prepared, we must be willing to transform or enhance our traditional way of working, teaching, learning, engaging and living
Before I get into the science and theories of how A.C.E. was created, I think it's important for you to know that I have been doing DEBI-P since I was a child. As long as I can remember I was being trained and raised to appreciate diversity, to understand the importance of inclusion and a person's well-being, to understand the importance of everyone getting a fair and equal opportunity to achieve, and how, at the end of the day, we're all in this together. We all belong and should feel this. But, with all of this, if any of this is missing, it's important to incorporate power to make change.
I grew up as a military brat who traveled the world and the world came to our family. I learned at a very young age that diversity was a wonderful teacher when it came to difference. As a standout student-athlete my entire life, I learned the importance and reward from working as a team, as a collective, and the importance of good leadership during action and during times of strategizing. A team is only as strong as its weakest player who also brings their own unique strength and gifts to the team's success. It is the responsibility of the entire team to encourage and support each other. It is the responsibility of the "weakest" strongest player and each player to come ready for every game and every battle. From this, I learned inclusion, the effects of good or not so good leadership, and the importance of accountability and responsibility and having the right attitude and perspective.
I won my first award and held my first leadership position when I was in the second or first grade. I was crowned St. Patrick's Day Queen and I still have the beautiful plastic trophy to this day. I tasted success and responsibility so early in my life that it became my framework of navigation. I learned very early on that the determining factor of whether I won or could lead sometimes relied on how I defined "winning" and if a team or group, saw me as a leader or their leader and how I saw myself. So, if a person says to themselves, I am winning because I never give up, they will continue trying, as long as they want to "win." My "winning" was defined by questions such as; Am I doing my best? Is there a way that I can help others or a team or group of people? Seeing the success of others, helping them to achieve, or simply cheering them on for achieving, made me a winner. I enacted self-agency and I found value in engaging self-agency within a collective - a collective of everyone being a leader. A.C.E. allows self-subscribed navigation but also allows a space to reexamine if there is another level to be achieved. Is there an area of "preparation for elevation" as my brother would say? Usually there is.
The Importance of Self
Representation of and how a person feels about themselves is extremely important and a determining factor when it comes to DEBI. Let me tell you a short story as an example. There are 5 levels of creating and developing Self. Without getting into the sociological terms, from the moment a person is born, their sense of Self is born as well. As babies, they are cared for. They begin dreaming of what they want to be. Their primary sources, their parents, will say or do things that either connect with their dream or redirect it. For example, a child may want to be a singer. Their parents will either support this dream or redirect it. "There is no money in singing. Why don't you try being a doctor?" The child thinks about it as the secondary group comes in-such as a sister or brother or someone close. The same thing happens there, encouragement or discouragement. Then influences from the reference groups - friends, schoolmates, teachers, all help to define this child's definition of Self. Since their dream of being a singer is not supported or encouraged, the child begins to second guess themselves and steps further away from their dream. They begin heading in the direction of being a doctor. The child gets a medical kit to play with, enrolls in certain classes and does well. They get rewarded for doing well in the medical field by getting jobs, raises, awards. The child, now adult, goes on to become a doctor, marries a doctor and works as a doctor for 35 years before retiring and living on a yacht. The great life right? But, this child is not completely happy. The adult is successful, but the inner child within the adult is not happy. They still want to be a singer. So, at 62 years of age, they begin singing every night at a karaoke bar just to return to their original Self and they sing beautifully-because they are happy and doing what they have always wanted to do and to be, a singer, but at 62. It is still a beautiful thing that they returned to their true Self. I'm sure this doctor helped others and I'm sure that the smile she shines across the room of a local bar is just as needed and helpful, to herself and others.
Now, you may think that this story has nothing to do with DEBI-P, but it absolutely does. See, when a person is marginalized, most times influencers tell them who they are, what they should do and what their value is in relation to others. Black, Brown, Indigenous people of color, gay, queer or straight people, women, physically special people, even white people, white males, are all told who they are, who they are to others and their value. This can be positive or negative. In most cases, without intervention, they only return to who they truly are and who they are meant to be later in life, if at all. Some Black young males are told that they should be a professional football player. Women are told that they should get married and have lots of babies. Other women are told that they should not get married or have kids. Just work and earn money. Gay people are told that they are deviant. White people are told that they are racist. Poor people are told that they don't matter. Black people are told that they are criminals. And through this form of Symbolic Interactionism, this is how people are treated and judged. From a place of perception, not necessarily truth or factual, individually. It amounts to living a life that other people want you to live, not one of your authentic desire. In these situations, you will spend a great deal of your life either proving them wrong or adhering to their vision of you. In either case, the individual can become invisible.
In an A.C.E. collective environment, the exploration through self-reflection takes place. This means that there are activities where you have to write about your activities, how you are feeling, how can you improve and what you did right. While this is happening, the objective of reaching a task-oriented goal is not prohibited, rather, it is enhanced. In other words, one can use explorations of self-discovery to determine how to navigate within a collective to get a job done. "I'm a procrastinator so you all may have to help me get motivated, but I'll do what is needed to make sure we make deadline." "I've been told that I'm not as smart but I'm going to do what it takes to make the best grade that I can make in this class." Freedom-to reinvent and redress and de-marginalize themselves is a beautiful occurrence to witness.
It can be tricky at times, this idea of people casting their perceptions onto others. There are benefits and negative points on both sides. The great and accomplished Andre Agassi wasn't really into tennis as much as everyone thought. He played because his father forced him to play. On the plus side, he made a lot of money, was really, really good at it, found prestige and power and was a role model for other little girls and boys who wanted to play tennis. All good things. The downside is that, at 36 years old, Agassi told the entire world that he always hated playing tennis. In his book he wrote, "I play tennis for a living, even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion and always have." Can you imagine? He did not feel that he had the freedom to be his authentic self. Is this why he became known as one of the "bad boys" in tennis, throwing temper tantrums on the courts? Because he wasn't happy? Was he acting out - calling out for help? He was dealing with emotional challenges, but, who could he tell? Where was a safe space?
My thought and hope and the reason why I created Active Centralized Empowerment is for people like Mr. Agassi. I wanted to create a space where individuals could achieve but are also free to speak their truth. "I am only in school because it feels like the right thing to do, but, I am not really happy here. I want to do this or that. I want to be this or that. But, while I am here, I will do my best. Thanks for listening." The collective responds, "It's ok. We understand. Thank you for letting us know how you feel authentically." The A.C.E. teacher or facilitator says, "Awesome! Thanks so much for sharing. Now, let's get back to work and since you are comfortable with being brave and expressing yourself, perhaps you might want to do your next class project on this phenomenon? Perhaps call it, "When is the right time to be exactly who you are?" It is an exchange that does not guilt, shame or bully or berate, but encourages. The feeling of having Self-agency and being empowered to move from the margins. I really love it and it's been happening in my spaces of employment and various places of consultation for over 20 years. Voice is so important when it comes to DEBI-P. See how that works? These are just some examples of how A.C.E. can work for you. You can learn more from reading my book, Teaching Without Borders, enrolling in the A.C.E. online program, or inviting me to present a workshop or for consultation. I would love to work with you. I would have loved to have met and talked with Mr. Agassi during his time of challenge as well. But he has continued to be successful and being more of himself. Bravo Mr. Agassi. Bravo.
Collectives, Confidence and Leadership
From experience and research I have also learned the importance of group confidence and self-confidence and, as a leader, many times, you're as good as the accomplishments of those you are leading. I am as good of a teacher as my students are able to perform and succeed and learn. I am as good of a journalist as the stories I present help bring attention to important facts that help citizens make better choices in their lives from being informed. I am as good of an employee as I am able to succeed in helping my employer reach their goals. You are as good of a leader or teacher or boss of DEI initiatives as your team, students, or employees perform DEI applications. It is true when they say team work makes the dream work. But, it is also ok going it alone when it is warranted. As you know, "winning" is not always easy. Being the "only one" or "first" one learns of marginalization and microaggressions on so many levels that they wouldn't dare try to count them all. Some were subtle. Some were aggressive and blatant while others were unintentional. From this, one learns how important it is to have a voice, courage, and to know how self-value and agency can change any situation, hopefully, for the better. Anyone of any race, creed, color or age can be cruel. A key to unlocking Optimal Performance within an A.C.E. environment is not to be cruel. The key is to be kind, supportive and encouraging without being codependent. This includes individuals in leadership positions. There are pros and cons to Opinion leaders as well as Transactional, Transformational, and Resonant leadership styles. Choosing the best leaders and style of leadership within a collective is extremely important.
Concluding and Heading into the Methodology
So, what do all of these anecdotes have to do with the methodology you ask? Great question. The answer is - To thine own Self be true. True to who I am, I am a scholar and practitioner of intersectionality. Because of this acceptance, I have won national and recognition in all four areas of assessment of professorship (teaching, service, creative endeavor and research). Instead of trying to fit a single corner so that others could assess me with a narrow view, I accepted who I am and worked from my 4 points of competence. It was my choice. As a researcher of mixed methodology, the results found in my quantitative and qualitative research studies on de-marginalization helped to guide my teaching methodologies and approaches. This helped to guide my choices of committee memberships and other service positions.
This all led to choosing specific topics for my creative endeavors that de-marginalize. True to who I am, it is important to me that my research connects with my teaching, service, creative endeavor and more research so that I can gain an understanding of the best theories to challenge marginalization and the best practices to directly hit it out of the park! I wanted it all to matter to a human being and their lived experiences. I didn't just want to know the numerical data. I wanted to know why marginalization and other opponents to DEBI were happening. I wanted to know the theories and processes of marginalization that needed to be challenged and how can I take all that I have learned and apply it to real-life experiences and transformational change? So the anecdotes of realia that I learned from myself and others helped to design my approach to the methodology of creating A.C.E. step by step for the human condition. I wanted the data to matter to the human being. It is the benefits of Applied Science.
Real-Life Goes to School
Finding ways to reverse marginalization of individuals is found at the intersection of my creative endeavor, research, service and my teaching methodology. Since the year 2000, I have studied forms of marginalization in media, media content, classrooms, communities, business organizations, nonprofits and even individuals. I wanted to explore how the increasing problem of not having enough diversity, inclusion and equity in a nation that is beautifully diverse, extremely inclusive compared to many other countries and a formidable provider of great opportunities that allows some form of equity, could be addressed directly. When I think about it, my qualitative studies of exploration actually began even before 2000, when in 1986, I began working as a professional journalist, producer, news anchor, copy editor for an advertising agency and a radio talent and producer. I noticed that representations of DEI initiatives were, often times, connected to geographical areas, a company's budget, the prominence of a company and historical foundations of practice. For example, initiatives were found in: geographical areas that were, historically, predominantly inhabited by a single race, in company's that had the budget to hire someone to do the DEI job (good or bad), the good name or reputation of a prominent company was in jeopardy, or the way things were operating were causing problems that could cost the company money. But, these are just a few examples. The motives and reasonings continued and continues to change to this day.
Then in 2004, when I returned to academia to teach and earn my Masters and Doctorate, I began to focus more closely on the designs, infrastructures and methods of what we call marginalization. Understanding marginalization dictates that I also study and explore what it is like not to be marginalized. I have personal and professional knowledge of not being marginalized and not working from a place of marginalization. I learned very quickly that solving this problem was going to be complicated and complex, but I always felt it could be done. At least I could get closer to a solution. I didn't just want to come up with another theory to be discussed. I didn't want a bunch of data to be used as a solution. As a Doctor, I wanted to work within Applied Science, where a theory, data and solution could be implemented, tested, and developed. I studied marginalization in prime-time commercials, people, teaching methods, learning spaces and working professional environments, leadership positions in various industries, any area where marginalization was being discussed, practiced or theorized, I researched and studied.
As a professor, I decided that I would first look for a solution that could be used in socialization processes found in educational learning spaces. I, then moved onto communities and then organizations and then individuals. For 18 years, each time I found a hint of something that could work, I implemented it into my classes, asked other educators to do the same, wrote research papers on the subject and results and submitted them to national conferences. Once the papers were accepted and I was invited to present my findings, I used the opportunities to get feedback from other educators then went back to the drawing board with what I had learned. I would then tweak the potential solution again and again, implement it, test it and repeat the same steps over and over until I finally felt confident enough that I had actually found a solution that holds water, quantifiable and qualitatively, with promising results. Of course the biggest determinant factor on its success came from those who were most impacted by A.C.E., students.
My research studies on leadership helped to answer the question of, if the majority of graduates from journalism and mass communication programs are individuals who define themselves as women, why don't they make up the majority of top-level leadership positions in the industry after college? Of course, I use "top-level" with a traditional understanding. But, still, there was low representation. My studies on marginalization through race and race relations led to research areas in philosophy, sociology, psychology and anthropology and how symbolic interactionism and primal migration may play a role. My studies on marginalization in the classroom and in board rooms led me to research issues of power and how they are constructed, positioned and executed. Year after year, using mixed-methodology, I kept at it like a mad scientist (said in the most loving way). It became my passion. I was determined to find a way that everyone, no matter who they are, could be given a fair opportunity to be the best student, worker, person, leader that they could be - even in a collective. It was a long, arduous process that I never gave up on.
With students excelling, teachers feeling empowered, individuals doing better in their lives and careers, communities getting healthier, and companies and their employers doing better and feeling more fulfilled, and my peers in academia offering valuable and positive feedback and recognition for my research, I felt that I was really onto something, Active Centralized Empowerment was born. From all of the hard work and all of the contributions and feedback from students and teachers and members outside of academia, A.C.E. became one of the first pedagogies and organizational designs for DEBI-P initiatives that is Fully-Inclusive and Fully designed for movement and de-marginalization of everyone and in every environment, when appropriate. If you will, allow me now to share the basic foundation of the methodology and the execution of A.C.E . (Caveat: Of course nothing is perfect. But, solid? Yes.)
Methodology = The Design of ACE
The foundation of my mixed methodology studies consists of researching and studying image portrayals, self-perception, self-esteem and confidence, leadership, and issues of power. The tools that I use at the very basic line of my research and assessments consists of online confidential surveys, observations analyses, group discussions and focus groups, and in-depth one on one interviews. I sought to ascertain if, how, and why marginalization was occurring, who was affected and what solutions could be applied to help deter marginalization from happening. This is an example of how it works.
If I am assessing a class or learning environment that has a set time duration like in a school setting, at the beginning of a semester;
I distribute a self-assessment, online survey to students to test for representations of self-esteem, Transformational leadership skills, confidence performance, and representations of marginalization.
Through non-participant or participant observation analyses, I then observe the milieu to determine if the results of the online self-assessment survey coincide with their representations of performances in the classroom.
I, then, redistribute the same online survey to see if there are any changes between how they first assessed themselves at the beginning of the semester compared to the end of the semester.
I, then, conduct in-depth interviews with students and professors to help explain discrepancies and outliers in the results of the research. This also assists me in finding solutions that may work from their point of view.
Climate Surveys are also used as well as Focus Groups.
I analyze content being asked to be produced by students. Class or individual projects, research or term papers, news stories, newscasts or science lab projects or engineer innovations are some examples that I would evaluate for representations of DEIB.
SPSS is used for quantitative data analysis. Arguments, counter arguments, methods and theories introduced and developed by some of the greats like Dr. Thomas R. Lindlof, Dr. Bryan Taylor, Dr. Tricia Naddaff, Dr. Elizabeth Spelman, Dr. bell hooks, Dr. Margaret L. Andersen, Dr. Patricia Hill Collins, Dr. Max Weber, Dr. Edmund Gettier, Dr. Bernard M. Bass, Dr. Cheshire Calhoun, Dr. Howard Gardner and others prominent theorists assisted me in my creation, my thinking and, subsequently, my application of all that I had discovered into the design of A.C.E. . I am grateful for their brilliance. I must also say that my team of scholars throughout my Masters and Doctorate matriculation played extremely important roles. Dr. Mia Consalvo was the most amazing Chair along with Dr. Roger Cooper, Professor Mary Rogus and Dr. Christine Mattingly, Dr. Edith Dashiell, Dr. Lena Wright Meyers, Dr. William Berndt, Dr. Anne Cooper-Chen, Professor Bill Reader, and other amazing professors and colleagues at Ohio University made up the support team of my dreams. I am truly grateful.
Outcomes of A.C.E.
Results of my studies, students’ blogs, presentations and evaluations and comments from students, professors, teachers, participants at A.C.E. workshops, quantifiably and qualitatively, reveal that A.C.E. works. It increases self-esteem, confidence performance, empathy, Transformational leadership skills, a willingness to engage in multiple areas of diversity in inclusive ways, and feelings that emotion well-being is being addressed. There was a sense of empowerment and encouragement and the desire and willingness to think and perform using their authentic voices. There was also a pronounced ability to transform negatives into positives through cross-cultural competency. Content produced were also more diverse as represented in selections of topics, frameworks and diversity in the final product. This list of ROIs, Return on Investment from Representations of Inclusion, is not exhaustive, of course, but it gives you a good idea of some of the benefits. I believe the list of benefits from using A.C.E. will continue to grow as more and more people use it and find benefits that I have not thought of or predicted. This is exciting!
Extensions Across Businesses STEM the Arts and Countries
Over the years, I extended my studies, research, and work to include places of business, organizations, communities and individual development. A.C.E. has also been used and studied across disciplines including STEM, the Arts, grade levels from K-12, college and university campuses and across nations. For businesses and communities I use similar methodologies to assess what is working, what is not working, and suggest solutions.
It's important that power is found on the ground, that attention is paid to aspects that are in ones' control. By focusing on your strengths and implementing and being Active on a Centralized Agreement and Goal of Good, the Empowerment is felt inside a person's CORE and the CORE of the community and group. For example, A.C.E. produced Transformational changes in neighborhoods result in crime numbers went down. Businesses wanting to make a profit from impoverished and underserved communities now include citizens from these neighborhoods in their business plans with a percentage of profits going back into the community. Employment opportunities increased and self-esteem as well as the percentage of self-confidence representations increased as well. It looked and felt like the entire community just came together, came back to life, found hope and everything was brighter and just simply glowed.
I have used A.C.E. across disciplines and countries. I have worked closely with local communities, businesses, the community of STEM and STEAM intellectuals and practitioners, Educators and Heads of NGOs, and nations and countries across the world to assist them in developing and implementing more effective ways to be inclusive in their spaces, problem solving and solution application. Using A.C.E. I have actively cheered for individuals honing in on their purpose and calling in life which brought happiness and fulfillment, helped individuals recognize and understand their value to the point of asking for a raise, holding others accountable and responsible for their trauma but themselves accountable and responsible for their healing. A.C.E. has helped people become emotionally and psychologically healthier. It is truly holistic and sometimes heuristic in specific settings. But, every situation is different, so I try to tailor my approach to include what results and achievements are actually being sought. I am inclusive in my practice.
Final Consideration of Great Things to Come!
Now, here's the thing. As good as A.C.E. is, it's only as good as who's working it and working with it. There are no silver solutions. Not even A.C.E. . But I strongly believe that we are getting closer to being better and doing better when it comes to DEBI-P. A.C.E. has been shown to be a praxis, theory and organizational design that brings benefits and impressive success stories. Plus who doesn't want to A.C.E. something? I do! And I bet you do too! I will be offering online training courses and workshops for A.C.E. certification that will be announced on this website in the very near future. Stay tuned! In the meantime, email me or give me a call if you'd like to set up a consultation or workshop on becoming an ACER!
I'm always looking for new and exciting opportunities to share A.C.E. with others.
A.C.E. becomes better with you.
Let's connect & work together to gain Optimal Performance & Outcome for All!
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I Look Forward to Speaking and Working with You and A.C.E.ing It !