DANIEL T. MCMULLIN: And who wouldn't, considering the endless days of cold and snow since January. Although, being a native Minnesotan, I found it kind of invigorating. You no doubt know that today on campus is Cornell's Giving Day. I only mention it because there are literally hundreds of important departments, and offices, and programs seeking generous one-day donations. I'm not asking you to go out and do that. I'm hoping you have family and friends that will.
But our Soup & Hope program is funded completely through Cornell United Religious Work, which, as you know, kind of lives in the division of Student and Campus Life, while also engaging colleagues and students across the entire university campus. So I hope, before the day's out, you might take a look at that Giving Day website, if for no other reason than to be inspired by the fine work you and all of our colleagues do in giving students here such a remarkable educational and co-curricular experience.
As I said, this is our second to the last Soup & Hope event for 2019. Hard to believe that this many weeks has gone by already. Our team will soon meet after the spring break to debrief this year's program. And we would certainly welcome any insight-- mostly compliments, but we'll take constructive criticism if that's there too-- and also suggestions for future speakers as well. I'm happy to receive them at dtm33.
If you remember that, that's OK. If you don't, we're easy enough to find. Or you can approach any of the Soup & Hope team members. Or if I get done what I want to, we'll have some information for you for the last gathering in two weeks time, to offer any kind of insight or suggestion. So thank you very much for your loyalty. Because your presence inspires us as much as we have all been inspired by the speakers who stand before us here.
We're extremely grateful for the many colleagues who have taken on the important work of serving our lunch. They enliven and enrich our shared experience of Soup & Hope. And I'd like to just acknowledge them from Human Resources. They include Ashley Fazio, the Director of Communications, Ashley Miller, the events manager, Darren Jackson, who is a compliance lead in the Department of Inclusion and Workforce Diversity, and Ruth Katz, who is a consultant in HR analytics. Could we thank them for their help?
Now it's my pleasure to invite Sharon Brown to come forward to the podium to introduce today's Soup and Hope speaker.
SHARON BROWN: Thank you, Ben. It was 2015. It was a Thursday. It was lunchtime. It was also one of the regular monthly Women of Color colleague network group meetings luncheons. We were coming in to hear a speaker and connect with women colleagues of color from across campus.
As Angela Winfield entered the space, I realized that I had not met this woman and I approached her and introduced myself. She reciprocated with a pleasant smile and a solid handshake. We got seated and enjoyed the presenter, the discussion, and of course, the lunch.
Our interaction was brief-- Angela's and mine-- but it was memorable. Angela didn't have to say much for me to know that she was very present and observant and was taking in as much as she could within that hour. She was quietly confident and poised.
As life and luck would have it, the next year in 2016, I learned that Angela Winfield accepted the role of director for the Department of Inclusion and Workforce Diversity and she would have the honor of being my supervisor. It was within this relationship that I got to know her and learned a great deal about myself, Cornell, our department, and of course, Angela as well.
Angela not only taught me about leadership, but a new way to lead. With Angela's guidance, and as my director and supervisor, I learned the best leaders are also students as well as teachers. She arrived in the department curious. She connected and engaged with her team by meeting with us individually and getting to know who we are as people and not just Cornell employees. She not only wanted to understand the work, she understood that there is value in getting to know the people who would be working with her side by side, as we strive toward Cornell's missions and our department goals.
In the role of director, and now as Associate Vice President, Angela Winfield has gained the respect of her entire team as a knowledgeable and effective supervisor. Through her vision, insights about the university mission, and her dedication to inclusion and diversity, she has also garnered the respect of her own superiors and colleagues. In addition, it's because of Angela's kindness, clear communication style, willingness to see and hear us as individuals, and of course, her mentorship, that I am happy and honored to call her my friend. Ladies and gentlemen, help me in welcoming Angela Winfield.
ANGELA WINFIELD: Thank you. Thank you. It's my pleasure to be here with you today. And it was wonderful to hear those very kind words from you, Sharon. It always makes me chuckle when I hear people describe me as having vision and insight. But I will own that.
And one thing that I have learned in my life is that things do not go as planned. Things don't happen as you expect them to. And for me in my experience, that has been the best thing possible.
I didn't expect to lose my sight. I didn't expect to be here with you today and in this role. When I was born, I had sight. And I had sight for a good while, until I was diagnosed as being legally blind, which was a big change. I was never able to drive. But I could see, and I did not have a white cane, or a seeing eye dog, or anything like that. I was able to rely on my physical vision. And I thought that's how my life would be. I knew there was a possibility that I might lose the rest of my sight. But I feared that possibility.
Because what I thought was certain is, if I lost my sight, I would lose my vision. I would lose my dreams. I would be the person who lived with their parents for the rest of their lives. I would be the person that wasn't able to have a career or profession, take care of myself, be independent and self-sufficient. I wouldn't be lovable if I were blind. I wouldn't find a person who would want to be with me and share their lives. This is what I thought was certain for someone who was blind.
So when I did lose my sight, fully, I was at Barnard College. I was 19 years old. And it was towards the end of the first semester. I woke up with a headache. I thought it was a migraine. And it didn't get better, but I thought, it'll be OK. I have to do a presentation in Spanish class, and I'll get through it. It'll be fine.
When I got into the Spanish class to give my presentation, I had handwritten out my notes on note cards, and I went to look down to read my notes. That's when I realized I couldn't see what I had written. I panicked, I sweated, I took a few deep breaths. And I gave the worst presentation of my life. But I did pass the class. And when I made my way back to my dorm room, as I was looking around trying to rely on my physical vision that I used to have, I realized that things were getting cloudy, that I couldn't see the same way that I used to see, and that something was very, very wrong.
When I got to the doctor's office-- my parents came down to campus, picked me up and took me to the doctor's office-- and the doctor said that I had a flare-up with my condition, that I would have to take mega doses of prednisone and other medications to see if we can get it under control, and hopefully, my vision would return-- hopefully. To me, it's never really a good sign when a doctor starts resorting to hope. But that's what we had was hope.
My vision did not return. I finished up the semester and I had a decision to make. I had to decide whether I was going to go back to college, whether I was going to take some time away, and if I went back, what would that mean for someone like me. Because I was certain-- remember my fear? I was certain that being a blind woman-- let alone a blind African-American woman-- that there were no options for me. I was certain. And that made me go so deeply within myself and have no hope, quite frankly. Because I was certain that that was going to be the outcome.
Until I had a moment-- and it wasn't probably just one moment. It wasn't this dawning of realization, but it was a little crack of light-- this curiosity, this possibility of what if? What if that's not certain? How will I know? The only way I'll know is if I try. And that's when I started to realize the power of possibility and the power of uncertainty and change.
I went back to college. And one of the things I went back to was wanting to study abroad. It was my dream. Even before I got in college, when I was looking at colleges and I was in high school, I was certain I was going to be abroad. That's what I wanted to do. When I was in my first semester in college, I went into the dean's office for study abroad and I said I will be studying abroad in my junior year. She looked at me and she said, you just got here? I said, but I want to be prepared. I want to be prepared.
When I looked back at that and I was like, oh, I was preparing. And now things have changed. I'm not the same person that I was when I went into that dean's office and asked to study abroad and what it would look like. I was now blind. And was I still going to move forward with it? And I did.
And the way that I got through it was through a number of different things, but one of them was the wonderful support that I had around me. My mother physically sat down with me and helped me fill out the application to study abroad in England. This was back when we actually had to hand-write applications. And she did this for me. I was her baby. I was the youngest of three. And I had just gone blind.
And she was adamant. I knew-- she made it very clear-- she didn't want me going across the Atlantic for six months. But nevertheless, she stood by me and she was my scribe when I dictated my answers for that application. And when I was dictating my essay, she surely gave her feedback. It was, "I don't think that's such a good answer. I think you can do better." I had to reminder her, "Mom, you don't even want me to go."
So she supported me. And my family supported me. I went over for the spring semester and I'm a Christian-- grew up in a Christian family. And we had Christmas. And under the tree, there were some presents for me. One was a brand-new laptop with JAWS software on it so I could take that with me, and a set of luggage that I still use to this day. And that was my family's way of sending me off.
My brother got on a plane with me, took me to London, showed me where my flat was, gave me a quick tutorial of the campus, showed me how to get to my first class. He got me-- I think it was two or three days worth of food. Then he said, "All right, kiddo, give me a call if you need anything." And I knew no one. I knew no one.
And I had this white cane, because I wasn't a guide dog user yet. I had a white cane, a little bit of hope, a lot of fear. And I was sitting there in London saying, what am I doing? What am I doing? So I leaned in to the uncertainty. I'm not going to know unless I go out and try. If I give in to my fear and stay in this room, I will most certainly fail out of my classes, I will most certainly starve because I only have three days worth of food. So I think I might as well go out and try.
And my first interaction outside of that room-- I was sharing a flat with other graduate students, actually. And I had a shared kitchen. And I went out with my cane and I introduced myself to one of my flatmates. She looked at me and she said, "What is that white stick?" I was like, OK, I can deal with this. I'm newly blind, but I can handle this, right? I said, "It's a white cane. And I have it because I'm blind." And she said, "What do you mean, you're blind?" And I said, "I can't see." And she astutely said to me, "Well, then why are you wearing those glasses?"
Now, I had worn glasses for most of my life. I was used to wearing glasses. This is where my comfort zone was. These weren't your ordinary glasses. These were these glasses. Now, I don't know if you can see this from here. These glasses are about a half an inch thick. They've got bifocals. Most people that I show them to-- and I don't show them to many people at all-- have never seen glasses quite so thick. I've seen thicker glasses. They were called my reading glasses. But after losing my sight-- I had no physical vision-- I continued to wear these glasses.
So I went back into my room. I had a little egg on my face because I was like, I don't know why I'm wearing these glasses if I can't see. And I took the glasses off. I couldn't see anything. I put the glasses back on. It felt comfortable because I'd been used to wearing them, but it didn't change anything. It didn't make my sight any clearer. So I took them off again. And I never put them on again.
I embraced the change. I was no longer someone who was trying to see. I was someone who wanted vision. I wanted insight, I wanted experience. I wanted to lean in to the uncertainty and to harness the power of possibility. And I never expected all of the joy, all of the experiences, all of the learning, all of the people that showed up for me while I was in London.
I would plan outings-- just me. I went to St. Paul's Cathedral for a service, alone. I took myself out to a cafe. I went to Vinopolis, which is no longer in London. It's a wonderful wine museum. And I would meet these people along the way every time. I would still plan. I would plan and prepare. I would know exactly where I wanted to go and how to get there. I'd make arrangements.
And someone would show up and say, oh, I can assist you to get out of the tube. Do you know where you're going from there? I said, yes I do. I know exactly where I'm going. I'm just going two blocks to the left and the building's going to be on the right. And they would say, do you mind if I walk you there? It's a beautiful day. And so I'd say yes.
And I met so many people that way. And I learned so much about myself that way-- that I was capable of changing. Because I was not an extrovert. And I'm still not an extroverted person. But I used to be very shy. And I learned to get over that, and I learned to connect with people. And the power of seeing people-- not with my eyes-- but seeing people in their hearts, and seeing people through their actions, seeing people with that connection. That's what I learned.
And I learned that the uncertainty is where the hope comes in. When you're certain of things, you're most likely wrong. There is always room. And you will be surprised. When I thought I was certain that I would never have a job, or a house, or someone to love me, I was wrong. And I am glad that I was wrong.
And I'm glad that I was able to see the uncertainty and live into it because that's where things get wonderful. And that's where the hope is for me. The hope is that I know things will change. So I need to enjoy them, be grateful for them while I have them, and know that in the future-- even though things may not go as planned-- there are greater plans. And there is loads of hope. Thank you.
Thank you. Oh, you stood! I never know until you sit down.
Thank you. I'm very open to questions if people have them. I don't know if they have time to take them from here. Yes, I would love to take questions if anyone has questions. I know there are questions.
ANGELA WINFIELD: Ah, I studied at Queen Mary in Westfield College. And while I was there, I studied Shakespeare, and poetry, and all the things that I didn't major in. Because I majored in political science and was pre-law. So I did all the fun stuff.
ANGELA WINFIELD: Ah, that's a great question. So technology is a wonderful, wonderful thing. I have a number of different tools and software that I use. But primarily for textbooks, I would get them electronically. So as long as it's accessible-- so in a Word document or an accessible PDF. And I'll give a plug out to Cornell and the CIT team.
Because we're doing a lot around web accessibility now. And this is the reason why. Through having accessible documents, I read all of my textbooks through my computer with a software called JAWS-- Job Access With Speech. And that's how I do my work today, primarily. I can scan things in, and convert them into an accessible format, and read it-- and the same with my iPhone and et cetera.
ANGELA WINFIELD: Yes, my relationship with my dog and how that's changed-- where to begin with that? It's an incredible bond that I never knew I could experience. I never had a dog growing up, at least not one I took care of. It was my parents' dog, right? That's what happens when you have children who want dogs. It's not really theirs. So I never had the experience of taking care of a dog or working with a dog.
But what I wanted-- because I used a cane for about a year and a half before I decided I wanted a dog. And the thing that drew me to it was the walking speed-- the ability to walk freely and not have to think quite so much. When you're using a white cane, which I still do on occasion depending on where I'm going-- you're constantly listening.
You're constantly getting and processing feedback from the cane. You need to make sure that you're staying on the sidewalk. Are you trailing the grass? Are you looking for the door? You've got to listen to the sounds. It's a lot of work. It's really pleasurable because it helps you get around. But it takes a lot of mental effort to do it and do it well. And I was a solid cane user. But you also walk slower than you normally would because you're taking in all this other information.
So I wanted a dog so I could walk faster. There are things that you can do with a dog, like give them commands, like "outside" and they can find a door. Which is really cool because you can't do that with a cane. And a dog helps you form connections with other people. With a cane, that tends to keep people away. Very few people would say hello. Once I got a dog, people would come up and share their stories about their dogs or just how wonderful my dog is.
But working with her is teamwork. I have to put my trust in her and she has to trust me because it is teamwork. She does not know exactly where we're going. I can't say, come on, let's go to my office, and then she magically takes me there. It doesn't work that way.
What it is, is I give her commands-- left, right, forward-- which she understands. And her job is to go in that direction and not walk me into anything or anyone. It's her job to stop at the top or bottom of stairs until I tell her "forward" when I'm ready to go. Does she get to know places that I like? Yes-- and people that I like-- that too. So she'll indicate and kind of show me, oh, we usually stop at this door. Do you want to go there? And I can tell her yes or no.
But it is an amazing experience. I mean, she is not only a tool for helping me get around and also keeping me safe-- because at sidewalks, we get to an end of a sidewalk and she'll stop at the curb and she will wait until I tell her that it's safe to cross. I use audio and traffic direction to determine when it's safe. And I'll give her command to go forward. If she sees a car or she thinks it's unsafe, she won't cross. She just won't cross. That's called intelligent disobedience.
So I need to trust her, she needs to trust me, and it's been absolutely wonderful. She's certainly more than a pet. She's certainly more than a tool. I take care of her because she doesn't feed herself, she doesn't pick up after herself. That's still all me. She doesn't clean her ears or trim her toenails. That's again, me. So it's a combination of a number of different relationships. I don't even know how to express the connection I have to her.
ANGELA WINFIELD: That's a good question. I am so tired.
I was just having this conversation with my sister last night. I was like, are we getting old? We used to want to travel and go places. And now I just want to stay at home. But no, so the next one-- my next trip is going to be to New Orleans. And then after that, I think I'd like to try Portugal. I am a foodie. And that is a wonderful place to indulge and also take in some history.
ANGELA WINFIELD: Yeah, my process for adapting to change and whether it was linear-- certainly not linear. Certainly not. There were good days and there were bad days. And there still are good days and bad days. So the way that I adapt to change and started to deal with change is to really go into that place of uncertainty.
And one of the things that is probably always certain is that change is going to happen. Plans change and things just never go as planned. But I am a planner, so this is what I do. I plan to the hilt. I make sure that I'm prepared, and then I emotionally let go. I have my plan, I usually have a plan B and some contingencies, but then I tell myself, this is great. I'm prepared. It's not going to go this way-- it's just not. If it does, I am pleasantly surprised. But rarely does that happen.
In terms of life changes for me-- and with losing my sight, it's still hard. Most days, I don't think about it anymore. But in the beginning, it was definitely something that I thought about. And it took time to grieve what I thought I lost. Now I realize that it wasn't much. I've lost some conveniences, but I didn't lose myself.
So it was a lot of reflection. And I build in reflection time for myself. As I said, I'm an introvert. And that, in some respects, has been very helpful to me to be able to sit, and process, and learn to accept the things that I don't want to accept.
One of the things I always go to is the Serenity Prayer. Grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot, change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. That's something that I go back to. And that's something that helped me tremendously is to make those distinctions between what I had control over, and what I didn't have control over, and then learn to accept.
I grew up in Newburgh, New York, which is about four hours south of here and about an hour or so Northwest of Manhattan in Orange County. It's a very interesting little town and city that has tremendous diversity, tremendous poverty, tremendous wealth. It's a very interesting place. And I went to public schools there. And I am grateful for that experience. My sister actually still lives there. And I get back on occasion.
DANIEL T. MCMULLIN: Thank you, thank you, thank you, Angela. I had the privilege of spending a week with Angela a few years back as one of a cohort for the Creating a Climate of Respect. I learned a great deal of your keen intellect. But it's your heart that was most evident-- magnanimous, expansive, wonderfully inclusive. So thank you for being with us here today. Could we show our love and appreciation one more time?
So thank you again. In two weeks time, Riché Richardson will be with us-- a member of the faculty working at Africana. So come join us, bring your friends, and we'll see you on the 28th.
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Angela Winfield is the Associate Vice President for Inclusion and Workforce Diversity at Cornell University. She is an attorney, a published author, a professional motivational speaker and coach, a real estate investor, a wife, and an avid foodie and yogi. The experience of losing her sight and navigating the world as a blind woman has shaped her perspective on life, the world, herself and other people. She will talk about how the power of possibility, uncertainty, curiosity and change have been an unexpected source of hope for her.
For more than a decade, dozens of Soup & Hope speakers have touched, inspired, motivated, and stirred the hearts of those who gather during the winter months at Sage Chapel. Stories come from a wide range of Cornell staff, faculty, students, alumni and community members. These stories of hope reflect diverse personal, cultural, religious, political, and philosophical beliefs and experiences. They are shared among friends and colleagues, over bowls of hot soup and bread.