SPEAKER 1: The Associate Vice President for Inclusion and Workforce Diversity and also one of the co-chairs for the university's Diversity Council. Since 2012 now, our colleges and administrative units have been aggressively addressing diversity inclusion efforts to do a framework that was developed that year called Toward New Destinations, which I'm sure everyone has heard of by now.
But the program requires each college and administrative unit to identify five diversity and inclusion initiatives that they develop, and then implement, and measure. And so this particular [INAUDIBLE] supports the Student Academic Services Diversity Council's efforts in terms of addressing diversity and inclusion. So I commend them for this effort.
I want to welcome to the session-- it's called taking Adversity out of Diversity-- Building Inclusive Organizations. And Dr. Maura Cullen is the speaker for today. She's got 25 years of experience as a trainer and a keynote speaker.
She's widely considered one of the nation's foremost authorities on diversity issues on college campuses today. She received her doctorate in social justice and diversity education from the University of Massachusetts and is now the founder of the Diversity Student Summit and a founding member of the Social Justice Training Institute and author of the book 35 Dumb Things Well-Intended People Say-- Surprising Things We Say That Widen The Diversity Gap.
Dr. Cullen is going to present an engaging program that will inspire each of us to create more inclusive communities. So this session will help us to get beyond our fear of saying the "wrong thing" and teach us more effective and compassionate ways to connect. So join me in welcoming Dr. Maura Cullen.
MAURA CULLEN: : Good afternoon.
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon.
MAURA CULLEN: : All right, so how many have seen me at least once? Twice? Three times? Wow. Hardcore. Hardcore. And hello, photographers. That will help. All right, so let's get busy here. How's your day going?
MAURA CULLEN: : Outstanding. This is my final presentation at Cornell. It's been a long but a wonderful two days. And I've had the pleasure of working-- honestly, I think you all put your good faces on. Because you have been outstanding, truly you have. And the students that I have worked with with the RAs, Greeks, and to the athletes have been good as gold, so I am grateful for my visit.
So with that said, this is a tweet-friendly zone. There's my handle @DrMauraCullen. Some of you have been sending some tremendous tweets. Those are always nice. What I want you to do is simple now-- is please, please-- gotta plug this in. Perfect. Please add the numbers out loud in unison. You got the instructions? You good? Here we go. Add away.
AUDIENCE: 1,000 1,040.
MAURA CULLEN: : Yeah, don't forget to add them. So 1,040.
AUDIENCE: 2,040. 2,070. 3,070. 3,090. 4,090. 5,000
MAURA CULLEN: : 5,000, not so good. How many people are responsible [INAUDIBLE]? Please stand. And I'm going to take these away from the people who were here last night and saw this. So outside the people who saw it last night, please stand if you got the correct answer of 4,100. How many of you who saw it last night still screwed up?
All right, so what happened is this. If I were to say to you, hey, take out a piece of paper, jot these numbers down, take your time, add them up. You would have gotten the right answer. You truly would have. But that's not what happened. You took these same very simple numbers, which you are fully capable of adding, and the only difference is you did it out loud as a group. So something happened in that dynamic.
Have you ever done something in a larger group that ended up being wrong that you probably would not have done if people left you alone? Yeah, it's the whole notion of peer pressure or group pressure. And no matter how old we get, we all experience it. True?
How many of you in your work lives-- because we're big kids now. We're not young ones. We're big kids now. How many of us still do things because of peer pressure? And me, too. I'm in there. And so some of the things we do have little to no consequences. But other things can be game-changers.
And so sometimes, especially when we talk about issues with diversity, is ways we succumb to peer pressure is when we know something needs to be said so we're afraid to say it. We don't want to be that person. We don't want to be the first one to say this. We don't want to be seen as the boat rocker. And I know there's boat rockers in this room. I know. And I know it is hard being new. And I know people make it harder on them. And that's why it would be much nicer if more of us would let go of the peer pressure just a little bit so that person's not the only one who's calling folks out.
And I think for those of you who have seen me enough during my time here, for me, calling out is a very different form than calling people out. Calling people out, for me, is giving them some information or a different way of looking at things without humiliating them. My goal is to educate, not humiliate. Because I believe that people are more likely to give you thoughts considerations. Does that make sense?
The other thing here is about stereotypes. The whole idea of stereotypes is, we believe the same thing. That's what makes it a stereotype. But just because we believe the same thing doesn't make it right [INAUDIBLE]. You all believe the same thing, but you weren't [INAUDIBLE]. And the same is said about stereotypes.
Now I'm going to throw something else on the screen. Just shout out what you see when you see it, please.
Help one another see the duck and the bunny. If your neighbor's having a hard time, helping each other out.
I'll leave this up here a moment longer for those of you who are a bit abstractly challenged, OK? Or maybe you saw something else. The point of this is as soon as you laid eyes on this image, you were able to make sense of it somehow. And if you took a moment longer or you heard other people's perspective, you saw something more. The same is true for us. As soon as we lay eyes on one another, we begin to think thoughts. But just like this figure is multi-dimensional, so are we. What you see is not always what you get. But in real life, sometimes we get stuck in only seeing the duck in one another so to speak, that we don't or we won't see anything else. We make you one-dimensional.
What I'm hoping that we transfer to our students is to get them to see beyond their perspective. Because we can get stuck in seeing one world view. But the longer you look at something and the more you hear, the more you see.
Now if I were to give you all alone $50,000, thanks for coming today, go buy a car. Bring it back. I want to see what you got. There's going to be a variety of cars in the parking lot. Why? Because we like some more than others. The same is true for people. We like some of you more than others of you. But that's not a coincidence, and that's what we're going to take a look at.
One reason you might buy one car over another is the size of the car. Do you want a compact, midsize, or luxury model. Cars come in different sizes, so don't we people. But depending on what size container your body lives in determines a lot. Sometimes it determines who our friends will be, who are lovers are, and who we hire. Is this the truth at times? Yeah, an unpleasant truth, but a truth. So my sister lost 185 pounds. And I asked her, Colleen, how has your life changed, if at all, since you lost so much weight? She said, Maura, I can't begin to tell you all the different ways; let me give you some quick example.
And so she rattled a lot of things off. But the one thing that stuck out for me is she said, you know what? People are just plain nicer to me now. They're just plain nicer. She said, people hold doors open for me now than when I probably could have used a little more help back then. She said, people smile at me. People talk to me. And when they're in conversations, they give me more eye contact. She says they're nicer. And you know what? It pisses me off. That's my sister.
She said it, pisses me off. She said, I always knew that I was getting treated a little poorly, but I didn't know how badly I was being treated. She said, it's just wrong, Maura. And would you agree? It's just wrong. And yet, the fat jokes-- you know, like-- I'll be candid with you. So she lost 185 pounds. And it was only within the last 15 months. So it's been kind of a new phenomenon.
And so I have been sharing her story. But just how I delivered it to you now is different than when I started to deliver it. Because this is how I used to deliver it. My sister lost 185 pounds. And then, I pause. And what do you think happened? Applause. People started to clap. And I was like, wow. I'm wondering what sort of an impact that has on people who might be heavy. And that wasn't feeling good to me. I was like, eh.
Because again, it was one of those unintended byproducts. And so I was like, you know, I thought it was important to share that story and share that learning, but it wasn't feeling good. So then, I tried the, don't hesitate. Just keep moving. And it solved that problem. And you're the first group I have shared with the dynamics of how we present things, and things we say, and to begin to realize the dynamics of others and the impact. Does that makes sense? All right.
So please stand up if you know someone who has or has had an eating disorder and remain standing, please. And take a look around. Would you agree this is a lot of people? Please remain standing if any of these people have ever been hospitalized or even died as a result of the eating disorder. And look around one more time, please. That's a lot of people. Please sit.
Eating disorders are particularly rampant on college campus. It's not a diet. It's an illness. And like any other illness, if left undiagnosed or untreated, it progresses. And you saw the natural progression. I didn't make this stuff up. It's real. And when I asked the students, the same percentage of people shoot up.
For folks who have eating disorders-- and I tell the students especially [INAUDIBLE]. Because in the first month of school, particularly a first or new students are experiencing an enormous amount of stress on top of the Cornell stress. It's even more. And so eating disorders are exasperated with stress. And so you can see how that is problematic for our folks with eating disorders. And so I tell them, if they haven't already, get to the counseling office and make an appointment. Be proactive.
And for those of us who may know people with eating disorders or you may even suspect-- sometimes we're afraid to bring it up. Get over it. Because you could literally be saving a life. And guess what? They may lie to you. No, I don't have a problem. What are you talking about? OK? I don't care if you have to hound them. If you really see any proof of them having an eating disorder, you've got to step in.
Take a deep breath. I love deep breaths. Magic trick. Oh, magic tricks. I need an assistant for my magic trick. Who would be so lucky? Oh, come on down!
So are we being videoed? Nice. Everyone wave.
MAURA CULLEN: : So, Bill, I have some things in my magic bag. Would you take them out and show folks what you have, please?
AUDIENCE: All of them?
MAURA CULLEN: : Please. That's it.
What's one of the first things you notice about these things?
Color. In every other way, these things are the same. We tend to notice how they differed first. Same is true for us. We have a lot more in common than that what's different, but we tend to notice differences first. Does that make us bad people? No, it makes us people. It's how our minds are wired. We notice differences and distinctions. Noticing never, ever, ever the problem. It's what we do once we notice that can be. All right, Bill, please, put them back into my magic box. Outstanding. Isn't he doing a great job?
And I'm going to show as many of you as I can. And then, Bill will be the last one to verify it. Are they in there? Do you need to take them out and reverify?
AUDIENCE: They're in there.
MAURA CULLEN: : They're in there. Now do you kind of know any magical words or motions?
MAURA CULLEN: That works. It's true and tried. Actually, could you take them out, please?
Even though I messed it up. Just like [INAUDIBLE].
So-so. Just like we can make [INAUDIBLE] appear and disappear, so can we make one another appear and disappear. It is through our acts of cruelty, of exclusion, of bullying that we render people invisible. And it is through our acts of kindness of inclusion that we make people reappear.
In this life, it's rather simple at times. We just have to figure out how it is. We're going to work our magic. Another way we make people appear and disappear is color. Cars obviously come in different colors and so dpn't we people.
And it's not only the black and white thing that we make here in the United States. Because when we do that, we render invisible a whole lot of folks, right? Asians, we clump them like there's one group. There are more Asians in the world than any other number of people. Hispanics, Latinos, Latinas, we crump them like there's one group. We clump black folks-- we think all blacks are African-Americans. [BUZZER SOUND] Thanks for playing.
We clump white people-- we think whites have no culture. We're just this mass blob of whiteness. We have [? Kabardian, ?] Pacific Islanders, East Indians, West Indians, Native Americans-- I mean, the list goes on for an eternity. And many of us, [INAUDIBLE]. But depending on what color this stuff is determines a lot.
I am white. I know. You didn't that coming. But can you always tell by looking? No, you can't. But that doesn't prevent people from making assumptions and then acting on those assumptions. For those of you who are white here-- and there would appear to be a handful of us here, see if you can empathize with me for a moment.
I never much thought about my whiteness. It isn't like we have conversations about this. Hey, I was thinking about my whiteness today. Well, shut up! So was I! Unlikely. If you were born in the United States-- and I'm not assuming we all were-- I'll get to that in a bit-- and I don't care what neighborhood you grew up in, you were raised in a white-dominated culture.
So at the time when I was working at the University of Massachusetts, I was a residence hall director. And one of my RAs-- her dad died. She's an African-American woman. I decided to go down to Queens to pay respects to she and her family, took with me two her friends, also African-American women on my staff.
We get to the church; we're late. I walk in. I feel like I'm Kmart, blue light special. Attention, shoppers, white woman in the church. I'm the only white person in the whole place. And because we're late, all of the good seats were taken. And the only seats available were where? Boom.
And there was an elder gentleman standing up front, and I learned him to be the usher. He's going to like this. It's like [INAUDIBLE]. And as I'm walking down the aisle, no longer am I white because I'm turning red from embarrassment, I was certain people were saying, hey check out the snowflake that just blew in. Like, what's that white girl doing here? It took me like 10 minutes to relax. I was thinking, the more I put it in perspective, the people gathered there, they [INAUDIBLE] a loved one.
And I thought they were focusing on me, a total stranger. I was focusing on me. Because in 28 years of living, I had never been "the only" regarding my color. And yeah, I wigged out a little bit. How many of you, by a show of hands, have ever been the only in a sea of different colored folks? [INAUDIBLE]. Would you agree that some of us have that experience more often than others of us?
But regardless of how often it happens to you, is it safe to say is that in that opening moment, you're more aware of your color? It doesn't mean you stay focused on it, but for that moment, there's a heightened awareness. Can you then see why some people walk through this campus, walk through Ithaca, a little more aware of issues of race than others of us? Yeah, they're not being paranoid or sensitive. They might just be having a different experience.
So on the way home, I was telling my two RAs-- I said, you know what? At the church, I felt awfully uncomfortable. And they were like, no. I said, save the sarcasm. It wasn't like I was having convulsions coming out of the church aisles. They said, Maura, let's play a game, and you can play this game here. They said imagine you as you imagine Cornell as a predominantly black university, they said to me. Every day you wake up, you wake up to a sea of black faces. And you, you're white. You go to class. All your professors, they're black, except for the ones that teach "white history." All right, you gotta give them a point on that, right?
The only time that black professor calls on you is to get the-- yeah, the white perspective. Like, what do your people think? Like, all us white people, we think the same thoughts. Like, if you asked one of us, you've asked us all. That is so convenient.
You leave the classroom, you go to the cafeteria and hang out with some of your white friends. Students of color, [INAUDIBLE] attitude. They're like, look at all those whities coming together like rice. Oof. How do they expect to get anywhere if they don't mix with the rest of us? And what the students of color fail to recognize is that they, too, are clumping; they just do it in bigger numbers. We are all clumpers. It is what human beings do. We clump.
But what we need to realize is that we are multiclumpable. You are parts of many different clumps. Chances are, you're sitting next to or near a clump [INAUDIBLE] in your life, hm? [INAUDIBLE]. But sometimes, people see you hanging out with one particular clump of people, either they don't like those people or they don't you're comfortable around "them." They get stuck in seeing the proverbial duck, and they don't or they won't see anything else. They make you one-dimensional.
You leave the classroom, you're going back to residence. And in a distance, they said to me, you see another white person. You don't know this person from a hole in the wall. But it's like, hi, hello, with a knowing nod, like. Because even though you don't know them, maybe you know one thing. Maybe you know what it's like to be one of the few white students on this predominantly black campus. You know the looks, the assumptions-- not just by students of color, but by some faculty and staff of color, too. They think all us white folks are here to fill a--
MAURA CULLEN: Quota. They need an X amount of white folks here at Cornell in order to be federally funded. And because we're not a terribly bright group to begin with, they had to lower their standards to let the few of us in. It's so hard to find a "qualified" white applicant. It doesn't matter if you're the best and the brightest [INAUDIBLE]. Because as soon as people lay eyes on you, they begin to think thoughts and that maybe you didn't deserve to get in here. Or maybe we're in here due to our athleticism. Us white folks, we are known for our athleticism. Please give me some popular white sports.
MAURA CULLEN: Hockey, soccer. Lacrosse. Tennis. Swimming, diving. Golf.
MAURA CULLEN: Skiing and snowboarding. I'm fond of-- or this. I mean, we can go on and on. That's how athletic we are. And it doesn't matter how supportive your friends of color try to be. The poor things, they try so hard. They say things like, some of my best friends are white. Mm. Good for you.
Like, what does that mean when we say that? Like, you know one? Or, you've got one as a friend? Then you couldn't discriminate? No, no, that's not what I meant to say. What I meant to say is, I don't see color. I'm colorblind. Help me with this one. In order for you to actually acknowledge you don't notice something, typically, what occurs first?
MAURA CULLEN: You notice it. Second time I'm saying this-- noticing-- natural. It's how our minds are wired. Noticing difference is never, ever the problem. It's what we do once we notice that could be.
I don't always know how much any of you have seen this. So go with it. And I would be remiss if I didn't address the issues in Ferguson, Missouri, as if that's a one and done. We've seen this movie before, right? Just the character [INAUDIBLE].
So what I really want us to begin to think about is group identity versus individual identity. When people don't know you, they will always treat you as your group identity. What they see. We all enter at the group level. So people see me as a middle-aged white woman, who's thin, who-- whatever. And we don't get treated at the individual level until we know each other. Make sense? All right.
So here's the thing. How many of you have ever been pulled over by the police? I know, how could they be wrong? Sue 'em.
Now this is not a judgment or commentary on the police enforcement industry. It's not a commentary on that. Because these officers get up every day, put their lives on the line to do their best to protect and serve. The thing is, growing up in this package, I have always seen the police as protectors of safety. That's how I've always seen police. Do all people view police that way? No.
Some people don't feel safe around the police, and they actually sometimes view them as a threat. Do you see how sometimes we just have different world views over different experiences? So that being said, the majority of police officers are good people who work very hard. The thing is that we all have prejudice. We all do. We all pre-judge. All of us have prejudice. And they come up with the darnedest stuff, right? They just come up.
The thing is this, is we usually don't have control when they come up, but once they're here in our thoughts, you have a decision-- is if it goes into action, or if you say, hey, go back. When police officers allow their prejudice to get this way, it can be deadly for some folks.
When I'm pulled over as a middle-aged white woman, I wouldn't want to be anyone else but a middle-aged white woman. You feeling me here? Right? Hm? The odds are forever in my favor. Who don't I want to be?
MAURA CULLEN: A young black man. And here we are, on the anniversary of 9/11, and I think since 9/11, young men of Middle Eastern descent sometimes have just jumped into the mix now. Brown young men, a Latino, Hispanic-- and yet, black takes first place, but these people are right there in the mix.
So when I'm pulled over, my end game is, I want to get out of this without a ticket. That's my goal. When many brown or black young men get pulled over, their goal is to get out with their lives. True? It's scary. And it should be scary for all of us.
Again, we're all prejudiced [INAUDIBLE]. They come up. I mean, we've just been getting too many messages all our lives. It's what happens next that we really need to be more mindful about, all right? So magic trick number two.
All right, sometimes when we talk about race-- because a lot of times we're-- how many of you have been so afraid of saying the wrong thing you've said nothing at all? OK, yeah. It's very common. So what happens, especially around issues of race, we're afraid to have honest conversations. So what we do is whitewash. Oh, I don't see color. We're all part of this human race. Because guess what? If we don't acknowledge it, then it doesn't exist.
Then, as I have alluded to in this country, what we do with race is make it a black and white thing, which is at least an improvement because somebody's showing up on those pages. But the real deal is this. We all come in different colors and shades. That's a fact. People know what color they are. It is not a surprise. So the real world is a lot more like this.
OK, so because I've been here and I've done a lot of different activities, I'm going to ask you if you've done certain activities because I don't want to have to repeat them. So how many of you experience the [INAUDIBLE]? How many have not? All right, there's enough there. All right, yeah, let's do this. What do you think, people who've done it?
MAURA CULLEN: All right, we'll do it quick. All right, find a partner, find a buddy, determine a Player A and a Player B.
All right, player A-- are there any people who do not have a buddy? Like, you're the one single person? OK, everyone's good? All right. So player A, please form a tight fist. OK? Player B-- open their fist now.
OK, please stop!
Now for those of you who have played before, thank you for playing along and letting the other person do the hard work. So how many of you were successful in opening their hands? How did you do it?
AUDIENCE: Thumb. She let me.
MAURA CULLEN: OK, thumb. Thumb! What else?
MAURA CULLEN: So you invited her to relax her hand? Getting sleepy.
MAURA CULLEN: OK, she asked. And there it is. Sometimes the most efficient and effective way to get what you want is to ask for it. Does that mean you're going to get everything you ask for? Of course not. But by seeking the most cooperative way first, you have improved your odds.
And did you notice that the harder you tried to rip their fingers off, the tighter their fist became? It's called a clue, OK? What you doing-- not working. Start again. Because in real life, sometimes what happens is we make things harder than they need to be on one another. And I keep coming back, how can we lighten the load for one another? Life sometimes is hard enough. We don't need to pig-pile on people. How can we lighten the load?
Another way we make people appear and disappear is money. Would you agree that sometimes we pass a whole lot of judgment on people's socioeconomic status that we believe they are?
MAURA CULLEN: I'm going to give you three options. I want you to stand when I get to the option that most closely resembles your experience, particularly growing up, because economic class can change. Let me tell you the three, then I'll come back and ask you to stand.
I was raised in a family with more than enough financial resources, enough financial resources, not enough financial resources. I know it's limiting. Just do the best you can. Please stand if you were raised in a family with more than enough financial resources. Please stand. You may sit. Enough. Great, you may sit. Not enough. And you may sit. Besides it was nice to get up and stretch for a moment, how else did it feel to have to stand up? It depends on when you were standing up. How come? What are your thoughts?
AUDIENCE: Well, now, people know something about me that they never do.
MAURA CULLEN: OK, so there's a vulnerability. You all have a little piece of information now. And so what are you going to do with it? How many of you, in your head, thought, well, maybe people are judging me right now? Who do you think the people feel judged the most?
AUDIENCE: Not enough.
MAURA CULLEN: Probably the people on either end, right? And not in the middle so much. So most people don't come up to you-- even though research says we tend to clump with people who are from similar economic classes as us, most people don't come up and say, hey, you rich or poor? I need to know.
But we find this information out-- or least we come to some sort of judgment. How? How?
AUDIENCE: Their activities.
MAURA CULLEN: Clothing, the activities and hobbies that you do.
AUDIENCE: Which car they bought.
MAURA CULLEN: What car, do you have a car. Do you take public transportation? What kind of car do you have? Does it work? There's a lot in that car thing. What else?
AUDIENCE: Access to education.
MAURA CULLEN: Access to education.
AUDIENCE: Or that vacation you take.
MAURA CULLEN: Yes, can you go on vacation? And how big is this vacation? And how many vacations? What else?
AUDIENCE: Where they live.
MAURA CULLEN: Where you live.
AUDIENCE: If they work.
MAURA CULLEN: If you work?
AUDIENCE: If you work or where you work.
MAURA CULLEN: If and where.
MAURA CULLEN: There's a plethora of ways we find this information out. And, unfortunately, sometimes people get treated differently depending on what people's assumptions are. Think of on this campus. Are there some people who probably disproportionately get undervalued or mistreated because of their job titles?
MAURA CULLEN: No doubt about it. No doubt about it. And so what is our role in creating a more just and respectful community? So when I worked at a college-- one time, the residents in one of the residence halls, they wreaked havoc in one of the lounges. There was urination, defecation, broken bottles. The place was an absolute disaster. And so I gathered up the 32 residents of that floor. And I said, hey, who's responsible for this mess? And they're like, I don't know. I don't know. I said, fine, be that way. You tell me who's going to clean this mess up. And one of the residents said, Ellie. Well, who do you think Ellie was?
MAURA CULLEN: The housekeeper. I said, OK, I said I just want to make sure we're talking about the same person. Now Ellie, at the time, was about 63-- very close to retirement. And what she did, bless her heart, is she was responsible for three floors-- so, in total, about 100 students. And she learned the names and birthdates of each of those students. And when it was their birthday, she gave them a card and made them some baked goods. And then, when it was finals time, she made them a banner and brought in some more baked goods, which cost money.
I said is that the same Ellie you're referring to? And the chuckleheads said, yeah, that'd be her.
I still think of him today. Just like, ugh, that kid was lucky! That is arrogance. That is privilege. That is a sin. Some of it, like, I ended up like being silent for about 20 seconds. Some of it, I was simply stunned that someone would be like that. And then, the other part of me was waiting for something. What was I waiting for?
AUDIENCE: For somebody to speak up.
MAURA CULLEN: For somebody to speak up, to step up. Did it have to be the ones responsible? Would that have been nice? Yes. But anyone could have spoken up. Anyone take leadership. Anyone to be that person. Nada. Everyone was quieter than a chorus. Ever been there? Sitting in shame? Hoping somebody else would stand up and say something? That whole thing of diffusion around this responsibility, the more people there are around, the less likely any one person will take action. And if not you, then who?
So I said to the students, you know what? Ellie's not going to clean this mess. She will give you all the cleaning supplies you need. But you're big kids now. Clean up your mess. And I left. I came back two days later. In the interim, I learned it was two of the residents, some of their off-campus friends. So when I got the residents together, I said, listen, I only got one question for you this time. I want to know who cleaned the mess up. Was it the two who made it or the rest of you? What do you think?
MAURA CULLEN: The rest of them. I said, you haven't learned a thing. You see, peer pressure cuts both ways. Peer pressure can be used as a force for good. It is not enough to know what the right thing is to do in life. We have to dig deep and find the courage to actually do it, even at our ages. It's still scary, right? It is. It's still scary.
AUDIENCE: Was the arrogant guy one of the guys?
MAURA CULLEN: Say again?
AUDIENCE: Was the arrogant one one of the ones who did it?
MAURA CULLEN: Yes. [INAUDIBLE]. Yes. So I got to visit with him in a little longer conversation. And I would love to say that that had an impact; but to be honest with you, I don't know. So sometimes this is how we render people invisible.
Another way is around gender. And Miss Julie, thank you. Look at you, attending to my needs. [INAUDIBLE].
MAURA CULLEN: I know you were. I love you, Julie [? Page. ?] And so do we. Who doesn't love Julie [? Page? ?]
[INAUDIBLE] Stop it, you're killing me here. Too bad! Accept the love! All right. So another way to make people appear and disappear sometimes is around this gender [INAUDIBLE]. When we think gender, typically, we think two categorizes, male and female. But who are we rendering invisible? Everyone else, right? Everyone else. Transgender is kind of like an umbrella term. So for our transgender friends, what kind of additional challenges might they face? Additional challenges?
MAURA CULLEN: Yes, restrooms, right? Simple fixes. Simple fixes. And unfortunately, for some folks, using a particular restaurant could be a life-threatening event. Would you agree?
MAURA CULLEN: It has been. People have been physically assaulted, even murdered for using a restroom that someone else has deemed inappropriate. What else besides restrooms?
AUDIENCE: Locker rooms?
MAURA CULLEN: Locker rooms, athletics.
MAURA CULLEN: Any application, right? It's just the two little bubbles.
MAURA CULLEN: Wonderful. Pronouns.
MAURA CULLEN: Could be clothes shopping.
AUDIENCE: Resident hall assignments.
MAURA CULLEN: Yes, resident hall assignments.
AUDIENCE: ID cards.
MAURA CULLEN: IDs. And getting passports is tricky, depending on where folks are in a transition, OK? The Greek letter system. And a lot of times, it's our looks. It's the little hushes. It's the snickers, right? Would you agree we make things harder than they need to be? Right? We make things harder.
Everyone here has challenges, you know? And sometimes life gets heavy. It would be nice if people tried to lift us up instead of keep us down. And those are our options. We get to do that every day.
So the other thing around the gender split is around suicide. Women make the most suicidal gestures. Men, however, are more likely to complete suicide. Please stand if you know someone who has either attempted or completed suicide and remain standing. So those of you who are seated, chances are you do know folks, you just don't know this about them. Of the folks who are standing, raise your hand if any of them are, say, 24 years of age or younger.
So we're talking a lot of young people. No more [INAUDIBLE]. And I don't have to tell you here at Cornell, me, having lived in the Ithaca area for a while, the amount of suicides that take place here, Never mind how many people contemplate it. Of the people who are standing, remain standing if you know someone who has completed suicide. Please sit down, and I am sorry for our loss.
There is a plethora of reasons about why people contemplate suicide. Sometimes one of the reasons is around invisibility. Like, if I were [INAUDIBLE]. The number one reason is depression. The good news about depression is it's one of the most highly treatable, not curable, treatable illnesses that exists. That is fantastic news. The downside-- it's still so stigmatized that people aren't getting the help that could literally save their lives.
So if you are on antidepressant medications, hear me loud and clear. Do not go off your medication without the assistance of your physician. Because sometimes, people say, yeah, but I'm feeling better. Mmm, yeah, because you're on your medication. I know and probably you know people who have gone off their medication, fallen into that pit of depression, and just haven't been able to climb out. So please, if you're on medication, please don't go off without the assistance of your physician.
How many would agree with the following statement-- I believe that acts of cruelty, even verbal cruelty, can take lives? If you believe that, what else am I hoping you believe?
MAURA CULLEN: Great minds think alike. Acts of kindness can save them. Do they have to be big acts of kindness? Small acts-- from a smile, to introducing somebody, to welcoming. Have you ever been impressed that somebody remember your name? Not talking big things here, [INAUDIBLE]. We're talking small things that can make a huge difference. It means sometimes when somebody's is new to Cornell is to say, hey, can I take you to lunch? It's just checking in with them. After a month, how's it going here? Do you have a family? Tell me about them. Just making that first connection.
I remember my very first job, my supervisor bought me this little green plant. That's it-- with a little card. And I thought, wow, that's fabulous. That is just fabulous. The thing cost probably $0.99. Fabulous. It's been 30-something years, still remember that [INAUDIBLE]. Small things mean a lot.
All right, foreign or domestic. How many people here are not from the United States? OK. Let's do a check-in. So who's here not from the States? Where you from?
MAURA CULLEN: Kenya. And also if you are from a US territory.
MAURA CULLEN: India. Please, over there.
MAURA CULLEN: Scotland.
MAURA CULLEN: Did I Haiti?
MAURA CULLEN: [INAUDIBLE] anyone else?
AUDIENCE: Saint Croix.
MAURA CULLEN: Saint Croix. Anyone else? How many of you know people not from the United States? What kind of extra challenges might our international friends, particularly new international colleagues, faculty, even more specifically students-- what kind of extra challenges might they face?
MAURA CULLEN: Language. Let's start there. Please stand if you can speak or sign more than one language-- and conversationally, not like, just, hey, [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]! Like, you can have l conversation. So please stand if you can speak more than one language. Outstanding. Three or more, remain standing. Three or more. Four or more. How many you got.
AUDIENCE: Five, five and a half.
MAURA CULLEN: Five, and a half. Outstanding. That's pretty impressive.
Oh, how many of us are like, two is impressive. Yeah. Yes. And disproportionately, students from the United States have a lower rate of being bilingual than many of their counterparts throughout the world. And yet, we cop an attitude of, hey, you gonna live in this country, learn the language. Which they have, and they know, like, four more. But they speak it with an accent. See if this fits for any of you.
Sometimes if I'm talking to someone whose accent I'm having a hard time understanding, they'll say something-- [INAUDIBLE]. So I say, you know, could you repeat that, please? Which they're kind enough to do, but, yeah, I'm still not getting it. So I ask them again. Could you repeat that again? Which they do. Boom, not getting it. So I'm not going to ask them another time. So I go, oh, yes.
How many of you have done anything like that? It's a commonality. The thing is is we think we have somehow fooled the person on the other end of this conversation. Not so much. But they're going to play along like, oh, she hasn't a clue, but they nod they're heads, too. So next time, you see this person, what are you most likely to do?
MAURA CULLEN: Avoid them, run away. Avoid them. Why? Because it made you feel uncomfortable. So there's a couple of things I know about accents. One, is we all have one. How many of you think I have an accent? [INAUDIBLE].
Boston! Right? You come back to Massachusetts, who might have the accent? Perhaps you. See the thing about accents, not only do we all have one, but who has the accent is determined by who's in the conversation and/or where that conversation is being held.
The other thing I know about accents, is the longer you listen to them, the easier they become to decipher. Have you found that to be true? So logically speaking, the hardest conversation you've had with this person has already been completed. Unfortunately, many of our international friends are rendered invisible on our campuses.
You ever notice how-- like, a lot of the international students, they clump together. And this is the kicker. Even if they don't speak the same language, they clump together, right? Why? Because all they know is they feel "other." That's all they know. And yet, they find ways to communicate. Other challenges our international friends may face--
AUDIENCE: Currency exchange.
MAURA CULLEN: Currency. Absolutely.
MAURA CULLEN: Food is huge, which puts a lot of pressure on our dining services. What else?
MAURA CULLEN: Health care. What? Oh yeah, climate issues. Many folks have never-- how many of you hadn't ever experience snow till you got here? And they do snow good here. And many of our students are ill-prepared, right? Like they don't have a winter coat. They think a winter coat's like a windbreaker.
AUDIENCE: I never had one.
MAURA CULLEN: Mm. And they become icicles. They're underprepared. So climate issues. Sometimes its laws. Sometimes it's distance from home, being able to get home, time zones. Like, there's a plethora of things on their plate. And we need to reach out to our international friends, and faculty, staff, and students because we can make the adjustment a lot easier on them. Whoo! [INAUDIBLE].
OK, another way-- just quickly, come back to this. How many of you, religion is pretty important to you? Religion? How many of you-- yeah, not so much religion, more spirituality. And how many of you, yeah, not so much either? Absolutely. Now for some, religion and spirituality is one in the same thing. Correct? And for others, it's very different, and very distinct, and never the two shall meet.
Would you agree that-- and on this planet, some of the biggest wars have been and continue to be about religions-- that we literally kill one another in the name of what or whoever? Contradiction, it is to some but not for others. What my truth is is I believe that religions were created to build spirits, not to break them, to build communities, not to kill people.
And I believe that sometimes, religions are misused as weapons to tear down another human soul or group. I don't believe that to be religion. Whatever religion you ascribe to or do not ascribe to, that it is the right one for you.
Now Please stand up and face the wall to your right, please. Nothing in your hand. And please ask the person in front of you, would they like a massage? And if so, [INAUDIBLE]?
OK, turn the other direction. Don't forget to ask.
All right, say thank you.
Another way we render people invisible sometimes is around mileage. The people who have kind of like a lot of mileage on them, if we see them advertising their products, what are they advertising?
MAURA CULLEN: Depends, drugs, wrinkle cream.
MAURA CULLEN: Viagra. Rogaine.
MAURA CULLEN: Help me, I've fallen, and I can't get up. The scooter store, like it's a whole industry. And we laugh. We laugh. Would you agree, in this country-- because it varies from culture to culture-- but as a whole, would you agree that older folks in the United States probably tend to experience invisibility at a higher rate?
MAURA CULLEN: Now when I had the pleasure of welcoming an incoming class to a college or university, I always ask them to send a car or a letter to someone who may be feeling invisible or someone to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. And we all owe gratitude. And I tell them, no virtual cards or e-mails. It's not that we don't appreciate-- we do, right? But it's different. It's totally different.
So one time, when I was at Hamilton college, I had asked their incoming class. And at the end of the presentation, one of the orientation leaders came up to me. He said, you know, Maura, I was in your presentation last year. And you asked us to send a card or letter. She said after you left every Friday, I put into the mail a card or a letter to grandmom.
She said when I was home visiting her, I noticed on her nightstand a shoe box full of my cards and letters. She said to me every night before I sleep, I read one of your cards and letters. It's like a good-night story. She went on to say my grandma passed away last month. And here's the shoe box. I came back here to thank you. Because if you hadn't put the idea in my head, I'm not sure I would have done it. I only have one regret. What is it?
MAURA CULLEN: I didn't do it soon enough. Not one of us here today are promised to be here tomorrow at this time. True?
MAURA CULLEN: Nor the people we love most on this planet guaranteed another day. But would you agree we take a lot for granted?
MAURA CULLEN: We think tomorrow we'll tell them how much we love them. Or tomorrow we'll say we're sorry. Well, tomorrow doesn't always come. You know this. You know this. Is everything that is urgent, is it necessarily important?
MAURA CULLEN: No. And everything that is important, is it necessarily urgent? No. The trick is is taking the important things and making them urgent as much as possible. And those things are typically called people. So I'm going to ask you to send a card or a letter to someone maybe feeling invisible or someone to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. And I want it done by Sunday. Because what we put off typically, doesn't get done. I want it to be urgent. It'll be one of the best things you ever done.
I get e-mails or people coming up to me-- because I go to a lot of schools every year-- and they tell me stories. Tell me stories. It's fascinating. So trust me on this one. Send a card or a letter. Another way we make people appear and disappear is ability. Some of us are born with a disability. Some of them, we get a little later on.
So I have a friend who is a wheelchair user. And I ask her, Laura, what's the hardest part of having your disability? I assumed accessibility issues, that she couldn't get everywhere I could. She said that's a typical TAB response. And TAB is an acronym for "Temporarily Abled Body." Temporary, why? Boom. Could change on a time. For those of us in this room right now, that could change tonight. We could be in an automobile accident. We could have an illness in us but we know nothing about that could change our lives and how people treat us.
For those of us in this room with a disability, and I know we're here-- one and seven of us have a permanent disability. Most of those are hidden to those of us who can see. You could get some more. Because illness, accident, and disease are an equal-opportunity employer. She said, Maura, answer me some questions. She said, do you cut your own hair? And I got paranoid. Like, no, I paid for it! She said, do you fix your own car? I said, no, I take it to the shop. She said have you ever asked for help in lifting something that was heavy? I said, sure, doesn't even have to be heavy. What's your point?
She said, my point is you have limitations. And in order to achieve more, you must solicit the help of other good people. She said, I, too, have limitations. Some of mine are more obvious than some of yours. But why is it, Maura, people see you, they think possibilities and potential-- what can Maura do? But when people see me, or rather this wheelchair, they think what can't I do. And the games begin.
The biggest barrier, she said, is able-bodied people's attitude. How many of you have ever seen this scenario? You've got a little kid and an adult. Somebody with an obvious disability goes by, right? And the little kid's like, what's wrong with that person? Typically, how might the adult respond?
Yeah, at first, like, lose the arm. And then, we, shhh. Now, we've already sent this little kid a message, right? Like, there's something wrong, and they're not supposed to ask about it. That little kid becomes big kids like us. And we wonder why we're so afraid to notice difference, never mind come out and ask about us. Now many of us are taught, particularly here in the United States, when you see somebody with an obvious disability, in order to be polite, you mustn't what? Don't stare.
And in all our paranoia, we have translated, "don't stare" into "don't look." We think if we don't look, we won't screw up and stare. See, we're always thinking. Now imagine that you're the one with a disability. And all your life, people did one of a couple of things. Either they stared at you or they deferred their eye contact, or look away, or even start pulling their kids away from you. Do you think that might have a cumulative effect on your self-esteem? Yeah. Like, what's wrong with me?
One way we acknowledge one another in this culture is we look at each other. Can you tell me when somebody is looking at you and when they're staring at you? So can people with disabilities. They're really bright that way. You see, what was taught to be an act of kindness is an unintended but misguided act of cruelty. We make a whole lot of people disappear. And the saddest part is, we think we're being nice. And the last one. Yeah. All right. And the last one. Image.
If I pulled up today in a Toyota Prius, you might have a different image of me than if I pulled up in a hummer. The cars you drive or don't drive, the way you dress, the people you clump with, all say something about your image. But too often, we don't want to be seen hanging out with these gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Because if you're seen with one, what? You must one, too. Like it's an airborne disease. Please stand if you know and like or love someone who is either gay, or lesbian, or bisexual.
Thank you, hope you enjoyed your stretch. You may sit. For those of you who were not able to stand, fear not. Because you know someone, you even like some, you just don't know you know. Because very often, sometimes gay folks hide in what we have labeled the proverbial "closet." Like, why do gay folks hide? Merely to torment heterosexuals. [TAUNTING] Why hide? Why?
MAURA CULLEN: Safety.
MAURA CULLEN: Fear of?
AUDIENCE: Of judgment.
MAURA CULLEN: Judgment, violence.
AUDIENCE: Losing your job.
MAURA CULLEN: Losing your job. Is that legal? In most states, not New York, but in most states, it still is.
AUDIENCE: And for some, to protect their family.
MAURA CULLEN: OK, protect family and friends. Because sometimes, it's just not you, but it's the reputation of the family.
AUDIENCE: Lose your family or friends.
MAURA CULLEN: Lose your family and friends, right? Rejected. OK. Some good reasons, right, why some folks who are afraid to come out. One of the higher rates of suicide amongst any one group is gay and lesbian group. We would rather be dead than to experience your rejection. And I say "we" because I'm one, too. I'm lesbian, and it's never a coincidence that I save this till the very end. Why do you think? Because that how fits on the PowerPoint? That does kind of have a nice little shape. But it's not the reason. Why do you think I save it till the end?
AUDIENCE: Because maybe people would walk out.
MAURA CULLEN: Yep, that could happen, right? That wouldn't be good for business. What else?
AUDIENCE: You don't want people to pre-judge you if there's judgment?
MAURA CULLEN: Yes, the judgement. Remember the duck and the bunny thing we did early on? Is that when people learn that I'm lesbian, they get stuck in seeing the duck, so to speak, and they don't or they won't see anything else. They make me one-dimensional. That's how some people make me one-dimensional. Perhaps they make you one-dimensional in other ways. But the impact is the same. It is intended to make you feel less than. How many of you, anyone has ever tried to make you feel less than? What kind of an impact does that have on you?
AUDIENCE: It hurts your self-esteem.
MAURA CULLEN: Yeah, it really-- your self-esteem, it can kind of plummet.
AUDIENCE: It could make you angry.
MAURA CULLEN: You get angry, frustrated.
AUDIENCE: You doubt yourself.
MAURA CULLEN: You've doubt yourself.
AUDIENCE: Less competent.
MAURA CULLEN: Less competent. Defensive. It starts to take its toll, right? And think of how many, particularly little kids growing up, of all the different messages they are given. And they say that it takes about, I don't know-- no, I'm making it up, but it takes like 20 times a compliment to begin to erase one-- I think the numbers are even higher.
Sometimes it just takes that one person to say, you know what? You're not terribly bright. Or maybe you should think of going to a location, not [INAUDIBLE]. Sometimes it's that one person. And sometimes if that person is a parent or a caregiver, ugh, boom! It's really hard for that person to get out from under that rock.
OK, Eleanor Roosevelt has a great quote. "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." That's easier said than done, agreed?
MAURA CULLEN: Yeah. And that's why we need good people to stand up and help, to speak up, to help lift people up, not to pig-pile on them. Would you agree that we all have builders and breakers in our lives?
MAURA CULLEN: And I'm hoping some of you builders will be getting cards and letters in the mail real soon. This final story is about some special builders in my life. And this is my coming-out story to my parents. At the time, I was about 25, having a conversation with mom. And a scuttlebutt-- how many of you do not know the word "scuttlebutt?" It's kind of a generational term. It really is.
And when people tweet, I'm on a one-person mission to hashtag #scuttlebuttt Because they just drop words out of the dictionary. And scuttlebutt is a good one. Go ahead, say it!
MAURA CULLEN: So scuttlebutt means, you know, what's the word on the street, what's the gossip or whatever. So the scuttlebutt was that my mom's sister, Auntie Minnie was getting remarried. Auntie Minnie has a gay son, Cousin Gary. If Gary was permitted to bring his partner to the wedding, then one of his other brothers wasn't gonna show.
And I said, do you think, well, one day, they set aside their differences for their mom? [INAUDIBLE]. She said, well, then there's your Cousin Eddy who's from another family. I said, what about him? She said, he's gay, too, you know. I said, Mom, you can't just make this stuff up. She said, I'm not. Your Auntie Margaret told me-- another one of her sisters. She said he'd been living with a man for like seven years. I was, like, oh? Because I am one, I think, at some level, I thought I could pick most of us out. But the gaydar misses bleeps.
And she said, well, Maura, just because two people of the same sex live together, it doesn't mean they're gay. I mean, look at you and Sue. Not a good example. Not a good example. And then, I just blurted it out. I said, well, look it, Mom, look at Sue and I, Mom. I said, we're gay. She said, no, you're not.
I said, yeah, I am. She said, Maura, I don't know when you're lying or when you're telling the truth. I said, Mom, I wouldn't lie with something this big. You see, when my friend Cathy told her parents, 11 years previous to this that she was lesbian, that was [INAUDIBLE] they disowned her. She didn't see or speak to her folks in 11 years, during which time her father died, and she was not permitted to attend the services. I said, I couldn't bear the thought of losing all of you, Mom. And she took a big deep, deep breath. And she went, [INHALE] I knew it! I just knew it!
And she asked a wonderful question. She said, Maura, is it hard being lesbian? And I said, Mom, some days I think some people were put on this planet to make my life a living hell. And they are being promoted because they do such a fine job. Like, people will intentionally spit on me. The first time I have ever been spit on was in the Ithaca Commons. Yeah. Here, in liberal Ithaca?
And they're all in on this. It's one of those-- [SPITTING NOISE]-- followed by some verbal remarks. My physical property, my homes and cars have been damaged repeatedly. My life has literally been threatened on two separate occasions. What I have a hard time understanding is why so many heterosexuals are afraid of me-- with my reality says I have much more to fear of them.
So I said, Mom, there is this one thing, kind of makes me sad. You know, heterosexuals have a wonderful institution-- in theory, sometimes in practice. It's called marriage, right? We women and men, we fall in love. We get engaged to be married. They throw us women a shower, and we get--
MAURA CULLEN: Presents. This is good, right? Then comes our wedding day. [GASP] More presents. And then, we go away for a week or two on our morning runs, right? It's a wonderful tradition, no wonder people do it like two or three times. And in our tradition, at a wedding reception, The bride does a solo dance with her dad, if she's fortunate enough to have a dad or one she wishes to dance with. I said, I have selected my son to dance with him.
I said, mom, you know I love you a ton. But Dad has a special place in my heart. You see, this could be the day I can show him off. He thinks he's showing me off. I'd be showing him off. But that day won't come for me. Because freaks like me are not permitted to be legally wed. Now, put a [INAUDIBLE]. Year's 2014. Now there are 19 states and the District of Columbia that permit same-sex legal marriage. 19 down, 31 to go. [INAUDIBLE].
Back to the story. I said, Mom, it makes me sad. I'll never have that day with that special dance with Dad. I said, are you OK? Do you need a book? A video self-help group? She was good to go. So I go upstairs. And soon after, I hear my dad come home. And I know my mom is like-- beeline to the door. Tom, news!
And soon after, I heard dad coming up the stairs, and my heart's racing. And he came up to me. He said, Mo-- it's a pet family name-- he said, we love you so much. And one of these days, we're gonna have us that dance. And he gave me a hug and a kiss. That, my friends, is unconditional love. Not all of us have been blessed with unconditional love, but that is through no fault of your own. The people who raise us, they're doing the best they can.
But the bottom line for too many of us, it's not even close to being good enough. And my wish for all is that you know what it's like to be loved unconditionally. But the deal is this-- is once you get it, you must give it. And you must contaminate as many people with it-- as you possibly can. Because not only can it change people's lives, it literally can save people's lives. We had that dance, my dad and I at my sister Colleen's wedding. The DJ said would Maura Cullen and her father please come to the dance floor? And I immediately began to cry. Like, I knew it was about to take place, but I didn't know how it came about.
So there I was going up to the dance floor. And thank goodness, I had long sleeves on. Because I was like, [SNIFF]. It wasn't my dress. No worries. So I started to dance with dad. And I said, Dad, did you request this song? He said, no, I thought you had. Couldn't figure it out. But as you recall, my mom [INAUDIBLE]. And as she is my angel in the next life, she was my angel in this one.
And unbeknownst to me, she asked, Colleen if she would be so kind to have the song that I wanted, "To Sir, with Love" play so I could dedicate it to dad. So Collen was going around grooving and grinning. "Hey, thanks, for coming; I hope you gave me a lot of money" kind of stuff, right? And she stopped what she was doing, and she watched my dad and I have this dance.
And then, our eyes caught. And when they did, she went like this. And then, I knew, in that instant, Colleen was like a little angel sent down to deliver me a dream. And however insignificant you think that dream was, it was not to me.
And our take-away message, it's simple. Each and every one of us, we're somebody's angels, so to speak. Some of those people are right on this campus. They might come in the form of students, colleagues. Others, waiting on our cards and letters. And still others are total strangers that we will meet once by happenstance. But you're supposed to bestow an act of kindness. But do we always get rewarded for doing what is right?
MAURA CULLEN: No. In fact, sometimes we get rewarded for doing what is wrong. And that's where we come back into the picture. Integrity. We all start off with it. We all just [INAUDIBLE] finish it. The thing about integrity is no one can take it from you, gang. No one can take it from you. You gotta give it away. And with the decisions we make, we decide how much we keep and how much you throw away. Careful how much you throw away. It's awful tough to get that person's trust and respect back. Everyone, take a deep breath.
[COLLECTIVE DEEP BREATH]
And one last thing. Can you please do the OK symbol. OK symbol. And then please, put it on your chin. And your chin is located where?
You may put them down. You see, people remember what you do more often than what you say. They will know us by our deeds. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank the Cornell community, and especially Miss Julie [? Page ?] for the kindness you have all extended to me. I really appreciate you. I wish you a wonderful year. Now go be those angels.
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Diversity expert Maura Cullen discussed inherent biases and the need to overcome them in a campus talk Sept. 11, 2014. The lecture was sponsored by Student and Academic Services' Diversity Council.