Diversity Straight up: Mark Nook

Diversity Straight up: Mark Nook
Diversity on a College Campus

On the latest episode of Diversity Straight Up hosts Sarika Bhakta and Anthony Arrington, talk to Mark Nook, president of the University of Northern Iowa. Mark discusses the work required to make sure all groups have equal opportunity for success on a university campus, how his previous experiences with prejudice have prepared him for his current role, and how a nationwide pandemic has impacted the communities he represents. Listen below or subscribe to the show wherever you listen to podcasts – OR you can catch the new video podcast at the CBJ’s YouTube channel.

Season 2 of Diversity Straight Up is brought to you by GreenState Credit Union and sponsored by Alliant Energy. Additional support is provided by Collins Aerospace and the city of Cedar Rapids.


About the hosts:
Sarika Bhakta is president of Nikeya Diversity Consulting and a Certified Diversity Executive with more than 20 years of experience in leadership, management, talent attraction/retention and resource acquisition/development. Born in Gujarat, India and raised in the Midwest, Sarika empowers leaders to identify their authentic self to be successful change agents in today’s global economy.

Anthony Arrington is co-founder and managing partner with Top RANK Professional & Executive Search and Consulting, a search firm focused on helping companies acquire professional and executive-level talent, with a special emphasis on diverse and inclusive leadership. He has more than 20 years of experience in management, strategic planning, leadership and staff development in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors.

Transcript of Diversity Straight Up Podcast – Mark Nook: Equal Opportunity for Success

Voice-over 1: You’re listening to a Corridor Business Journal podcast.

[Music]

Voice-over 2: It’s time for straight talk about diversity. Frank questions, honest answers, and real insights. It’s Diversity Straight Up, brought to you by Green State Credit Union with your hosts Sarika Bhakta of Nikeya Diversity Consulting and Anthony Arrington of Top Rank professional and executive search firm. Diversity Straight Up brought to you by Green State Credit Union is a Corridor Business Journal podcast. On today’s episode: Mark Nook, president of the University of Northern Iowa

Mark Nook: …and it’s important that we all start to ask the questions of each other and be open to hearing different perspectives and really engaging it in an open educational environment. 

Voice-over 2: We’ll be right back.

Voice-over 3: Green State Credit Union is proud to sponsor Diversity Straight Up. Established in 1938, Green State is Iowa’s largest financial cooperative serving nearly 250,000 members of all walks of life. Green State’s products include checking accounts, loans, investments, insurance, commercial services, mortgages, and credit cards. Profits are returned to members in the form of better rates on deposits and loans. We encourage you to learn more at greenstate.org. Green State is federally insured by the NCUA and is an equal housing opportunity lender.

Voice-over 2: Diversity Straight Up brought to you by Green State Credit Union is also sponsored by Alliant Energy.

[music]

Anthony Arrington: Welcome to another episode of Diversity Straight Up brought to you by the Corridor Business Journal and Green State Credit Union. I am your host Anthony Arrington.

Sarika Bhakta: And i’m your host Sarika Bhakta. We’re having an exciting episode here with our guest executive president of UNI: University of Northern Iowa, Mark Nook. But before we get to that uh…

[music]

Voice-over 4: Something’s on my mind.

Sarika Bhakta: Something’s on our mind, right Anthony?

Anthony Arrington: Yes yes, Sarika. You know I’ve been keeping up with the California recall election. For our listeners, they’re recalling uh doing a recall election for Governor Newsom there and I’ve been keeping an eye on that because I know it has national implications on the results of that. And once again it’s just been disturbing to me um to read the news articles regarding the opponent um already putting out advertising that one party’s… that the the the Newsom camp is cheating um and there… there’s false voting already again and we’re having the same conversation we just had. Um, the same problem and it’s just it just blows me away that whatever happened when we were kids you know and mom told you you know you lose fair and square and you live to fight another day and all those things that we were all taught. it’s just it boggles my mind the amount of attempts to suppress voting that’s happening and just to win. um, just I don’t know what what’s your thoughts about that it’s just it’s really disturbing to me.

Sarika Bhakta: Um, I enjoy the topic of politics um political diversity is a part of our DNA around the world but especially in the United States, when you’re thinking about you know democracy and I think that when it comes to fair and just; if people are saying the outcome is not… you know, what they’re looking for then I would always say go back to the processes. Look at how that is being implemented, how it’s being executed. We can always improve. if people are having this perception, is there a reason why? But if the uh they maybe if people aren’t waiting for the results, but even then if they’re seeing something maybe that’s the reason why they’re bringing it up. And I know we’ve seen this happen throughout different you know election cycles, that um people are feeling that it’s not fair or it’s not right and we’ve always said that people’s perception is their true reality and it’s going to drive their decision-making process regardless of what the data shows etc and that’s where we have to make that connection to be able to connect. Are we doing this in a very fair equitable manner? And maybe there’s opportunity for awareness and education at that to help people connect and resonate. Or is it, where they know it is and they’re just not liking the outcome? That’s the difference.

Anthony Arrington: That’s the latter.

Sarika Bhakta: That’s the different aspect of it that I think of that there’s two prongs there and I’m always going to go to the first prong. Is there a way to make it connect to them more and then if not and this just they know it’s right and it is you know the democratic process and it played out fairly, squarely, justly yet it’s not the outcome that they liked. There’s opportunity to continue to stay engaged in the civic engagement process and try to alter the outcomes, right?

Anthony Arrington: Yeah, we could travel President Nook, that’s what’s on our mind today. we’ve been thinking about, I don’t know if you have any thoughts, but you know we always started our segment with some things that’s on our mind going on in the landscape today and that’s something we’ve been thinking about, so… 

Mark Nook: Yeah yeah, thank you! It is an interesting discussion, it’s one that’s uh you know across our country, it’s not just in California uh it touches all of our elections.

Anthony Arrington: Yeah yeah yeah. well, let’s…let’s get on with the show. let’s move forward with the show here so um… Mark Nook! Originally from Holstein, Iowa he began serving as the 11th president of UNI. He also served some time as chancellor at Montana State University in Billings. He was there from 2014 to 2016. Also spent some time in the University of Wisconsin system. Worked as a provost, an interim chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and also spent some time at the University of Saint Cloud or St Cloud State University in Minnesota. So graduated from Minnesota State with a Bachelor’s Degree in Physics and Mathematics, a Master’s Degree in Astrophysics from Iowa State, and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. So, quite a scientist. Welcome! President Nook and his wife. They reside at UNI President’s house, and three adult children, two granddaughters, and two grandsons. So, welcome President Nook. Welcome to our show. We appreciate you coming on Diversity Straight Up.

Mark Nook: Yeah, Anthony and Sarika, thank you very much for the invite. It’s a pleasure to be with you and to talk about these important topics.

Sarika Bhakta: Well, Mark, we know that when you came on as president in 2017 since then there have been a lot of hurdles that you and your administration faculty and staff and student body have been really overcoming and engaging in dialogue around equity diversity inclusion, and engagement. I want to go back just a few years, especially in 2019, when there’s a controversy that began around the Waka Faka Flame concert; where there were potential concerns around gang violence at UNI, based on information that you had received from different law enforcement parties. Based on that, the decision was made to pivot the location of the concert as well as who could attend the concert. And um based on that there was some contemplation that was uh being shared by both students and faculty around a range of issues that were related to racial bias and lived experience of students especially those that are members of the underrepresented group. We know that you had issued a formal apology and took responsibility for the inaction by University of Northern Iowa on these issues. I know there’s a lot of context that we’re kind of trying to set up here for a listener. Question for you is, how have uh you helped change uh the culture around this and personally what has your perspectives been around this and how has it changed for you as an individual? And what have you done as a leader to really improve race relations um on campus?

Mark Nook: Yeah, we’ve done uh several things both on campus and within the community to reach out and uh first of all the really important thing is to listen and to understand where the communities are at and where the different perspectives are coming from and how to bridge some of those gaps um that are in that communication chain. Because that’s almost always what’s going on is there’s a breakdown in some of the communication and how people are talking to each other and understanding different perspectives. Uh, one of the things that we’ve done uh recently, meaning a little over a year ago is to start the President’s Council uh which was originally a President’s Advisory Council on Diversity Equity and Inclusion and we gave the committee the opportunity to do a couple things. One was uh to adjust their charge. We gave them an initial charge, but we said you know it’s really up to this committee to think about what are the things we’re missing? Um, and to help redefine that charge and they also redefined their name and they changed their name to the President’s Advisory Committee – or Council on Inclusion Transformative Social Justice and Advocacy. Expanding on the original sort of definitions around diversity and equity and inclusion. They came to me and asked me if that was okay since it’s a president’s council and i said you know absolutely. That’s part of the redefinition of the charge and what it is we need to work on. The other thing is we cited this thing as a president’s council one of the things that’s important to realize is that there were had only been three presidents councils ever named. One of those was around budget and the other two were around some of the benefits that we have that came about with legislative changes around negotiations and things on our campus. And so the highest level um uh committees are presidential advisory committees and so we wanted to make sure that we seated our work around um uh equity and inclusion work at the highest level in the university and uh then we went about a completely different selection process on how we seated this committee too. Within our shared governance system so faculty reached out to and actually took nominations and had people make a statement by about why they wanted to be on the committee and how they thought their work would be uh their background their work would be helpful to moving the university forward. And um then that selection was made by those shared governance groups and moved forward we put together what is a pretty exciting committee they work most of last year and they’re continuing to work this year um to really look at the university deeply.

Anthony Arrington: It’s great that’s great. I want to learn a little bit about uh Mark Nook the man the person you know and your background and you know we normally say oh tell us about your background but really I just want to learn from Mark can you talk to us about an aha moment in your life or some personal perspective or some self-reflection uh coming from Mark Nook the man that really impacts how you lead or changed the trajectory of your life. What have you. Was there a moment in your life, an aha moment in your career personally or professionally? And talk about how those things have impacted you personally as a leader, and how you carry that at UNI as a president.

Mark Nook: You know there’s several of them. One of them um when I was young, at the end of first grade my family had to move from Holstein to uh Colorado Springs because my brother was deathly allergic to soybeans, we found out right? So Iowa’s not the place to live and – one of the kids – and my parents are midwesterners, right? They grew up in Hamburg, Iowa, dad’s surround the ag economy they just chucked it all and moved us all to Colorado Springs, and uh that commitment to family you know really stood out in that move. But, it also meant that the school that I went to the next year was about 25 uh African-American, 25 Native American, 25 percent Hispanic, and 25 percent white, but all the teachers were white and I recognized that even as a second grader that you know there was something going on here. So, uh you know that was transformative and just simply stepping out of this rural small farming community into a larger city um and into a very diverse uh setting. One of the things though that professionally really hit me and sort of changed things as well as at st cloud state we had some very uh trying and challenging racial um events happen on our campus in the early to mid-90s. And, uh we had a student key a swastika into a faculty member’s door. She happened to be Palestinian um and uh you know we got the door fixed and then they did it again um we had KKK show up on a student’s whiteboard on our residence hall door. A few other incidents like – that some leafing some leafleting of cars by a white supremacist group in the area and a colleague of mine started a uh program on campus it was the hate crimes forum and it was just an opportunity for people who are interested in learning more and talking and understanding what’s going on to gather and to talk. And we all agreed that you know what’s important here is that we are from time to time going to make mistakes in our conversation but here’s an opportunity to talk to respect each other and if somebody says something that that you know set your teeth on edge a little bit uh let them know in a way that will help them grow. We’re all here to learn and it was a very educational process. One of the interesting things about that meeting is that you know after a while the person that organized it was a white male but he was from South Africa um originally and uh it was going pretty well but all of a sudden everything started to fall off and people weren’t attending anymore and he and I end up standing there and talking to each other maybe one or two other people and I looked in I said Jeffrey you know what if I send out the next notice and I sent out the next notice and we had 35 people there. And, you know white privilege kind of just smacks you in the face when those sorts of things happen. And uh I think I learned in especially in that moment the power of cooperation right? That as a white male, in particular, the privilege that I carry and the people that are willing to listen to me are different than the people that are willing to listen to different groups and it’s it’s the bringing these voices together that really allows us to to make some movements forward um and to grow as communities. And uh you know not long after that the university asked me to sort of chair the committee that wrote the university’s racial issues curriculum and their diversity curriculum as well. And uh yeah I’m still trying to figure out why the white guy that’s a scientist is asked to chair those sorts of committees right? These things that that isn’t who you normally turn to. But, um it was it is this how do you get the voices in the room and get the conversation going um so that you really get there. So those are a couple of “ah-hah” moments.

Anthony Arrington: Yeah thank you, thank you. We talk about that a lot though to your point about what is a white male scientist doing uh having this conversation? Your voice matters in this conversation and I think the more – Sarika and I talk a lot about and we advise our clients uh often about this process is challenging but it’s not a blame and shame process. Um and it’s our opportunity to use our privilege, whatever that privilege may be, that white privilege is something you have that doesn’t define you completely, right? And there are other privileges that I have as a human being, and Sarika has, how do we use that privilege to leverage uh diversity equity inclusion so so actually great, a great point.

Sarika Bhakta: So, Mark, you mentioned a cooperation. What about coopetation there’s cooperation in competition especially among regent universities not only in Iowa but across all the states in the United States. How do you value the competition yet put aside to work together to really positively impact equity diversity inclusion and engagement collectively? I think that that’s how you’re going to move the needle move the dial in a very aggressive manner. I want to ask you, in your opinion what are some key, key collective steps that must be taken by all of the regent universities in this state? What do you think are the top three?

Mark Nook: Yeah, I think one of them first is just recognize that we’re not where we need to be, right? We really – and the three presidents, uh we meet um somewhat regularly and talk about various issues that are facing our institutions and equity and diversity issues are ones that we do talk about how do we address these issues? I think you know as we work through these how do we, one: make sure that we’ve got the faculty and staff on board that we need to show that we really do care about this. This is uh, that we’ve got the representation if you really want to serve students of color, uh students that are members of the LGBTQA community. If you want to serve students from the uh with from the disability community you’ve got to have faculty and staff that they see that represent them. They’ve got role models, they’ve got mentors here on campus they can see that they can be successful in the in the higher education environment and they’ve got people that are on the staff and faculty and in the administration that understand their viewpoints and are able to represent them from a culturally specific background. So, making sure that that we have uh diversity not just amongst our students but amongst our faculty and staff is is extremely important on our campuses. We’re continuing to sort of think about our language carefully here on our campus. You know when I was at Wisconsin in the system office and things, and even now we still talk often about things like the uh the gap between the performance between white students, Latino/Latinas students, and black students, Asian students in terms of uh graduation rates and things. And we’re starting to change that language because too often what that sounds like is a white normative, right? The whites are performing here, uh the Asians are performing here, the Latino students are reporting here, the black students are here, and it’s all how do you do relative to the white students and everybody else is falling behind. And they aren’t able to perform at the same level, and automatically you’re saying they’re not as good. And while that’s not what you’re meaning to say, your language sort of subliminally sends that message. They just aren’t the same. So what we’re trying to do is talk about educational debt and it’s not the debt that they create for themselves. It’s the debt that we create for uh individuals for populations that we aren’t supporting in a way that they have equal outcomes, right? As I think about equity and inequality what I’m really thinking about in inclusion is if we’re providing an equal and an equitable opportunity for everybody to be successful then we get equal outcomes. And if we don’t get equal outcomes then we’re creating an educational debt for different populations and different groups and how do we address that, right? So how do we pull that apart and make sure that we are providing everybody with an equitable outcome so that we can achieve the – an equitable opportunity, so we can achieve the equal outcomes?

Anthony Arrington: Educational debt, I never heard that one before, have you heard that term?

Sarika Bhakta: I have in other circles but I appreciate [Anthony Arrington: Yeah, thank you!] Mark how you indicated that you have to look at groups and beyond just groups; I mean I heard you say collectively whether it’s whites or Asians that are creating this um standard even within the Asian community there’s so many different communities that what I’m seeing quite a bit even in the academia, or in the business sector that, oh Asians are performing well they’re highly educated they’re financially performing. They’re taking care of, let’s go on to some other groups. And the reality is that everybody’s putting all of these Asian communities together that you may have the Chinese or the Indian that skews the data and you’re leaving out other Asian communities that are just falling through the cracks and the gaps and I think part of that equity is – I understand why people look at groups together. We need to continue to peel back the layers of the onion and take a look at the data. [Anthony Arrington: Yes]

Mark Nook: We really need to recognize that it that, you know, it’s a spectrum, it’s like a rainbow where the uh in a rainbow in a spectrum the colors bleed together, right? There’s just this continuum of things it’s hard to say: there’s Asians, there’s African-Americans, there’s Native Americans, there’s Latinos. Those populations have a range of diversity within them. And um you know, lumping them together uh makes the numbers work out, but it doesn’t help you attack the real problems of the issue underneath there. You know we saw this especially in the, you know, in some of the other institutions in the 90s as uh we had a lot of Somali people coming to especially the Saint Cloud area. The Somalis were uh performing very very differently than African-Americans who had been raised in the United States, right? And we weren’t tracking that well. We saw it with the Hmong population in the late 90s as they really moved into higher education, some of the challenges that they faced and especially the females in the Hmong population and things and just starting to think more broadly about those pieces and how you serve as, I said before, all of those individuals equitably. And it’s really about understanding each student and making sure that you meet them where they’re at, and then take them to where they need to be to reach their educational goals.

Anthony Arrington: You know President Nook, these are great initiatives, and um they take, no pun intended, manpower, right? They take human resources, right? And oftentimes organizations, be it uh higher education or the private sector when it’s time to look at budget, it’s time to look at we’re constrained particularly we know that three regent universities are constrained financially and we try to figure out where we’re going to cut a lot of organizations tend to cut these types of initiatives, tend to cut the diversity and the equity and inclusion initiatives to cut the budget. But it’s just it’s as valuable as the computers that sit on your desk and the chairs that we sit in and so how will you, or how do you as a president, when you know you’re facing cuts and knows and know that DEI is at the top of your priority list how do you make sure that there’s continued funding there, continued resources so that those efforts don’t lose traction and become like, well like Saint Cloud: where suddenly just two people are showing up to the meetings.

Mark Nook: Yeah, yeah. I think one of the things to really recognize is what we’re really trying to do is meet the educational professional and personal life goals of our students, right? And if you focus that and you take an equity mindset that it really is about being inclusive and making sure that everybody has an equitable opportunity to be successful and you’re recognizing the backgrounds of your students, what you’re really trying to do is set up a support network for for all of your students and for your faculty and staff so they can be successful as well. And and while it may look like on the budget that you’ve cut back on diversity issues, the question is have you continued to support at at least the same level overall in your budget those issues and continue to support students faculty, and staff so that they have an equitable opportunity to be successful and you don’t create a deeper and deeper uh debt for different groups of students, populations of students, that you continue to focus on on trying to get everybody over the bar and make sure the bar is set appropriately so that they’re successful when they leave your institution uh with a with a diploma. 

[Alliant Energy Advertisement]

Sarika Bhakta: Mark, I’m sure many administrators probably do not think leading a campus during a global pandemic was going to be something that they had signed up for. Knowing that the Covid has a lot of diverse perspectives beliefs and value systems abound masking, not masking, vaccines, not vaccine, diversity of perspective, diversity of thought, which we embrace. How are you creating psychological safety to engage in dialogue where you can agree to disagree in terms of perspectives and more importantly how do you create that physical safety on top of that psychological safety so that people can be their best, show up as their best as a student, as a faculty admin and staff.

Mark Nook: Yeah, this is one of the biggest concerns that I have um and Covid has stressed it. It isn’t the primary impactor, but it certainly brought out these pieces right? How do you protect the physical, and the mental health, and the emotional health of your students, faculty, and staff, and uh especially as we’re in politically charged times? As the segment that they opened with, the discussion of Governor Newsom and the recall election in California, the contentions around the last presidential election, and what happened on January 6th. All of those things it’s just a very politically charged atmosphere, and we don’t um seem to be able to have conversations, we like to yell at each other when we disagree. And so, finding ways that we can open these conversations up and really make them teachable moments and learning moments not just for our students and not just for our faculty and staff but for our communities, for our state, for our country, is what’s really important. So how do you model some of these things? How do you bring people together and say, look here’s the reality of where things are now, what can we control in that. What can we do to make sure that people feel: one, comfortable coming to work here, coming here to study, being engaged in this, given the realities of Covid. Given the realities of the political discourse that’s out there, and I mean that small p political, uh not necessarily r versus d but just the dynamics of the conversations in our country at the moment. And finding a way, like we did through the hate crimes, for him to say this is about learning. It’s about us sharing what I’m thinking in a way that I’m not trying to say you’re wrong, but I don’t necessarily agree with what you’re saying and I want to understand what you’re saying so that I can be informed and see how our pieces fit together and where things don’t fit and we can then have a dialogue and how we can move together. We will never all agree on anything, but the question is how can we see that the decisions that are being made uh the way that I approach the world is is viable within sort of the constructs that are there. And then how can we find what are the central issues those tenants within our university, those tenants within our community, whether that’s the Cedar Valley or the Corridor, those tenants within our state and our country that really are central to all of us. We all agree on those. We all believe those. We all support them. And then how can we build a sense of community, and more than just a sense, build real community around those.

Anthony Arrington: Well, let’s take a question uh from our listeners, shall we do that?

Sarika Bhakta: Yes, let’s go on to another segment called “What’s on our listener’s mind”.

[Musical: I wonder what our listeners are thinking right now]

Sarika Bhakta: So, listeners continue to submit your comments, questions, and suggestions to info@diversitystraightup.com. We love to hear from you and you’re always keeping our guest executives on their toes. We have a question from Susan from Atlanta, Georgia. Anthony, you want to read the question that Susan has for Mark Nook?

Anthony Arrington: I will, this is a good one. Mark, I’m hearing a lot about critical race theory in the media. can you explain it?

Sarika Bhakta: That’s something, that’s a powerful loaded one Susan! 

Mark Nook: That is a loaded one and [Anthony Arrington: Thank you, Susan!] you know as the person that’s trained as an astronomer and not in critical race, probably not the right person to take that question on. So let me move it just a little bit and think about it. So, um you know, as we look at our institution we think about issues around race and diversity. What we know is that there is a real spectrum around the understanding of diversity, around inclusion, around equity, around belonging, and around the principles, and in particular how we got to this point in our nation’s history, and in our societal development. And critical race theory, for a long – you know really as it developed, developed as an academic pursuit: trying to understand the development of our country and the development of ideologies and principles within that society. And what, you know I think about is I take these as that’s a body of knowledge, there’s other bodies of knowledge how do they come together and then what is it that we need to be thinking about so that we can make decisions that really do make the university and make our community able to support all of our citizens and help everybody regardless of their background and where they come from be successful, and and have an equitable opportunity to reach those educational goals, and their professional goals, and their personal life goals. So I’m going to dodge the question on exactly what is the race theory because I’m not an expert in that area and if I learned anything from reading Plato it was you know you don’t go in areas that you’re not an expert in. And yeah uh you know but I do, I am aware of, you know, what’s being talked about there [Anthony Arrington: Yeah] how that impacts the discussion and you engage the people that really understand that to talk about it when you bring people together. 

Anthony Arrington: Yeah, great, thanks. I would ask for Susan you know – thank you, thank you President Nook for giving at least your perspective – and I’d for Susan you know it’s, continue to research. I think you know, what we’ve done, nationally is, you know, politicize our word. Sarika and I always like to say: words matter, you know. And, at the end of the day in its simplest terms, we’re just talking about the history of systems in the United States, and how race has impacted those systems. When you talk about redlining, and housing discrimination, and banking discrimination, and those things. We get wrapped up in words and, and uh instead of to what you were saying, just trying to learn if we’re really open to learn. So, Susan, I hope that gives you a little bit of perspective on at least what uh critical race theory means, and continue to do research. Plenty of opportunities to look for some information online, and seek some resources. So thank you for that question.

Sarika Bhakta: And we’re going to go on to another piece of this segment. I don’t know how well you play a ball Mark. This is a diversity thumb ball. I’ll show you a little bit, it’s got a lot of questions and prompts you may have seen similar ones out there. It’s very soft, squishy, so if I accidentally hit Anthony in the head if I don’t have a good aim… The purpose of this is that um we’re going to do this virtually with you. I will throw this first one at Anthony, and he’ll catch it on your behalf. Wherever his thumb lands on the prompter question, he’ll read it out loud, and that we just want you to authentically respond to it. Okay Mark?[Mark Nook: All right] All right.

Anthony Arrington: If you’re here we throw it to you [Laughter]

Sarika Bhakta: I guess I would attempt to throw it at you.

Anthony Arrington: All right, and the question is: how do, excuse me, describe a time you experienced prejudice

Mark Nook: In the position I’m in I have seen the prejudice not against me, but against others. I think most of the time. There have been an occasion, I’ll talk about one without specifics of it. But, I attended a pow-wow and the outside of where the event was taking place various Native American families were gathering, and the some of the children were not behaving the way that certain people that were walking by thought they should be behaving. And it was really just a cultural mismatch, right? They didn’t understand what the pow-wow was. I’m not sure they even realized that the pow-wow was going on inside the venue and they made some extremely-extremely inappropriate comments, not just to the children, but to the parents about moving back to the reservation. Which is odd, because they weren’t actually from a reservation. You know, so it was a very sort of tense situation at that point, and one that worked out in the end quite well because of the maturity of the parents that were involved.

Mark Nook: One of the most moving incidents, and it’s not an incident of race, of sort of racism, but one of the things that touched my life a lot is when I was in high school back in Holstein, I had the opportunity to hear Jesse Owens, speak and I had dinner with him, and it was with a boy scout group. But, you know Jesse was talking about his life as an athlete, and what he went through and he’d just written a book at that time called “Blackthink” and you know it didn’t have great acclaim within the black community, necessarily, but it really had his perspectives on how things were at that time and the things that he had seen. And you know his descriptions of sort of the racism that he encountered and especially at that time going back to the 40s – the 30s and the 40s, it really touched me pretty deeply. And, you know it was I think probably fortunate that I was sitting in one of those seats right by the podium and so I – you know there wasn’t anything I was gonna do, but pay attention, plus he was one of my heroes, right? I grew up – everybody wants to be an athlete, he was the best-known athlete in the world, right? Everybody knew Jesse Owens, and it moved me to go home and read that book, even as a 15 or a 16-year-old, and find out what Jesse was thinking about. Very different than the world that I was living in and things. So, you know his descriptions of those had a real impact on me personally.

Mark Nook: I had an incident, sort of turning the tables around, I taught a course in a prison in Saint Cloud. It’s a maximum-security prison, and one of the times I was leaving the prison – I’d stayed a little late helping some of the students with their class and general astronomy – and I was leaving the prison at a time that the, a lot of the prisoners were moving and I hadn’t done that before. And I was moving through a uh an interlock, you go through one cell door, through one gated door, and there’s another gated door it closes and then you have to wait for the other one to move, and at that time I had a beard that was half brown and half white, my little vitiligo in my face – and it was a pretty distinctive beard it’s half white and half black – and I happened to be in the interlock with a group of prisoners who were African-American and they were having a lot of fun with my beard. And [Anthony Arrington: I bet they were!] giving me a critique about that and you know. And I was kind of all alone in there, and you know you’re an outsider, you’re not part of that community, you’re not an inmate. There’s a lot of ways that I was different, and I was the unique individual in that. Yeah um but I was also the person that had the most privilege because I was the one that’s going to walk out the door [Anthony Arrington: Perspective!] and yeah, but you know there was a lot of pressure [Anthony Arrington: Sure.] and I was really waiting for them to open that other door, right? Because it was a pretty hostile language [Anthony Arrington: Great story! Those experiences shaped you though.] It was – you know it’s a tremendous learning opportunity to be in that, you know, that kind of… it was extremely uncomfortable but I knew it was also one that I was walking away and I recognized that. You know, for many of our black students they never get to walk away for many of our [muffled word] students they never get to walk away, right? It’s a daily minute-by-minute thing so that you know that microcosm of what many people experience throughout their entire life, just kind of hit home.

Sarika Bhakta: Yeah thanks, Mark, for sharing your diversity thumb ball question, and experience around it. All right Anthony your turn keep this going here.

Anthony Arrington: We’re about to wrap up. We’re really about to close our segment [Sarika Bhakta: Are you going to throw it?!] Am I? Oh! Are we going to do – all right that’s right. Today, we’re doing all three. I forgot we all get to play today. Normally we play this but the last show we did we only played with uh with our guests, so I’m glad we get to play again. Your turn – [Sarika Bhakta: I’m ready!] Here we go.

Sarika Bhakta: I’ll be quick. What are the benefits of diversity? Oh! Where’s my laundry list? The benefits of diversity is that you make… you make better decisions when you have people that are different than you from a cultural background, racial-ethnic background, gender background, political background, religious background because it allows you to continue to question your own biases. So, diversity really allows you to be a better person, and the outcomes for the organization, the community is that collectively you can do better and be better because you have diversity that you’re able to leverage with equity, inclusion, and engagement. So I do want to have that caveat; the benefits of diversity and of itself is not going to be beneficial, you definitely need to leverage that as an asset with equity inclusion and engagement to really drive innovation and get that magic.

Anthony Arrington: All right! And on to me. Share a time when you went out of your way to make someone feel included. Oh gosh, lots of different times… I would actually say – I can actually say in the last 24 hours I had a conversation yesterday with a person on Facebook who hit me, on the side about I was going to an event here locally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and they knew I was going and it was an educ… – school event. And part of this person’s challenge was the disadvantages of blind people in schools, and in the workplace. And they begin to write me this long message about disadvantages, and I hear that you’re going to be speaking at this event Anthony I just wanted you to know how I feel, etc, etc. Coincidentally this morning, I’m part of a human resources association group, and coincidentally this morning we had our monthly meeting and the speaker was on adaptive or work adaptive tools. Job adaptability network and so I took my, I took an opportunity this morning to advocate on behalf of the conversation I just had yesterday and asked the individuals, because I knew that the cost of vision adaptive software was inexpensive, the expense really comes in how do you integrate it with other systems with your organization – and so the person that I was speaking to yesterday, that was concerned, said that the company wouldn’t buy the software for her friend because it was so expensive and I knew that wasn’t true. So I brought it up this morning, and I told him about a real-world situation and so I’m connecting those two individuals so that she can speak to this organization about adaptive technology for blind. Not that she didn’t know about it before, but this was an organization she never knew nothing about, and it hit me this morning on the call I figured I would step out of my way and advocate to make someone else feel like they matter. So… yeah lots of, lots of opportunities there so…

Sarika Bhakta: Well as we wrap up our show here, Mark is there any advice you have for our listeners, or leaders to help them enhance their own equity diversity inclusion and engagement journey? What are some of the key advice you have for them to continue to go on this journey and be better?

Mark Nook: Yeah, I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned, and continue to try to remind myself about, is simply: engage. You know recognize that that for all of us, and for this country that there isn’t… we’re never going to reach the goal, right? This work is going to continue forever because we’re talking about people and people’s lives and it’s important that we all start to ask the questions of each other and be open to hearing different perspectives and really engage in it, in an open, educational environment. Be willing to stop people and ask questions in a real intent to learn, and be willing to say, you know, what you just said bothers me, and here’s why it bothers me, I’m not angry about it but if you do it again I might get a little angry about it. And just be able to have that conversation and learn ways to be able to really engage, because if you don’t engage we continue to create these equity gaps and that really are then debts across our society. And, so I think the first thing is to just bare your soul a little bit, and recognize that we’re all carrying some biases. we all carry some isms with us. And the only way to understand them and to unpack them is to start to one, recognize that you know you have them, you may not know what they are, you may not recognize them, but recognize that they’re there, and then as you interact with other people and are honest and open with them and things you will start to unpack and really understand what those biases are and what those isms are and how you can start to work around them and become more equity-minded and more inclusive in your day-to-day life.

Anthony Arrington: Great advice. Great advice, self-reflection, a lot of being humble, being willing to… sacrifice, so to speak, your humility. Yeah thank you for sharing it!

Sarika Bhakta: Well thank you so much for joining us on our podcast, Diversity Straight Up. And we’re always keeping it real and so we appreciate your insights and your reflections and taking the time today to really help drive this journey, collectively.

Anthony Arrington: Yeah, so as we come to an end, you know appreciate your time. Thank you, President Nook. We’d like to give a shout out to our sponsors, our major sponsor: Green State Credit Union, along with Alliant Energy, City of Cedar Rapids and Collins Aerospace, as well, so…

Sarika Bhakta: Yeah, as we say on our podcast Diversity Straight Up [Anthony Arrington: Keeping it real, keeping it real!] see you next time everyone.

Anthony Arrington: Take care!

[Music]

Sarika Bhakta: Thank you to our listeners, as we wouldn’t be here without your support. Help us grow our subscriber base by sharing our show with others. 

Anthony Arrington: Love this new episode of Diversity Straight Up, brought to you by Green State Credit Union? Then head over to the most popular podcast audio platforms to describe, rate, and review us and check out our other episodes while you’re there.

Sarika Bhakta: Catch us on our next episode, which drops monthly.

Anthony Arrington: We’d love to hear from you. Hit us up and send your questions, comments, and suggestions to info@diversitystraightup.com.

Sarika Bhakta: Remember, wherever you live, work, and play, our backyards are increasingly global. It’s not enough to simply be a leader, be a global leader by leveraging diversity with equity inclusion and engagement, and share your journey. This may empower others to be bold change agents. Be courageous, be authentic, be vulnerable.

Anthony Arrington: Diversity Straight Up brought to you by Green State Credit Union

Sarika Bhakta: Keeping it real.

Voice-over 5: You’ve been listening to Diversity Straight Up, brought to you by Green State Credit Union. Additional support provided by Alliant Energy, Collins Aerospace, and the City of Cedar Rapids. For more from the Corridor Business Journal, please visit corridorbusiness.com. This episode was produced by Joe Coffey of Coffey Grande Studios.