Interview with Shaundra Walker

Shaundra Walker is the Associate Director for Instruction and Research Services at Georgia College. She holds a B.A. in History from Spelman College, a Masters in Library and Information Studies from Clark Atlanta University and Ph.D. in educational leadership with a concentration in higher education administration from Mercer University. Her work and research in libraries and education is deeply influenced by her experience attending and working in minority serving institutions. Her research interests include the recruitment and retention of diverse librarians and organizational development within the library. Dr. Walker is teaching a class for Library Juice Academy next month, titled, Cultural Competence for the Academic Librarian. She has agreed to be interviewed about this course and her background for teaching it.

Hi Shaundra. Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed.

Thanks for the interview. I’m very excited to be teaching this course.

I want to start by asking you about your research and professional experience in relation to this course. What are some of the experiences that you will bring to it as the instructor?

One of the most valuable experiences that I hope to bring to this course is my experience and familiarity with organizational development and diversity. For my dissertation, I used Peter Senge’s systems thinking as a theoretical framework to explore the role of a leadership development program in developing future librarians of color. Systems thinking suggests that organizations learn when their employees learn. I’m a firm believer that if libraries want to prepare for the impending diversification of higher education, developing cultural competence among our employees will help us to remain relevant. Since earning my PhD, I’ve continued to conduct research in this area. Most recently, I completed a book chapter that dealt with the recruitment, retention and promotion of librarians of color and I’m currently working on another chapter that delves into a bit of the history of our profession and some previous attempts at diversity.

In terms of my experience, as a librarian of color, I’ve worked in higher education for over 15 years, in all types of libraries. I’ve worked in a predominately White institution and I’ve also worked as a person of color in an HBCU. I think those two very different experiences have given me a unique perspective to engage in a conversation about what it means to be a culturally competent librarian.

Thank you, I agree that your unique perspective and your experiences make you the ideal person to teach this class. Turning to the class – would you outline it for readers?

We’re going to start with an overview of cultural competence, what it means within the academic library context and why it’s important. Next, we will engage in some self-reflection activities designed to help us understand our personal identities, followed by some activities designed to aid us in comparing and contrasting our identities with those of others. Finally, we’ll practice developing culturally relevant library programs, services, and resources.

I am wondering, how is your approach different from related diversity training programs that people may have been exposed to?

This approach is different from other training in that it is focused on the development of the individual, recognizing that we are all different people, with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Whether we realize it or not, we bring those identities into our work. One or more policies has driven a lot of diversity training that I have attended. Very often this training is designed to make sure that employees maintain compliance with policies and to prevent them from creating any legal risk to the organization. An individual policy is not guiding this course; it is not designed to help any person comply with a policy in the workplace. What it will do is put individuals on the path to being more conscious about who they are, help them to recognize that others may share different identities and experiences and hopefully bring that kind of sensitivity to the services and resources that they provide to the libraries where they are employed.

Thinking about what you’re saying, I can imagine that it might be scary at times for some people to explore their identities and those of others in the context of diversity. Do you agree with that? Is it sometimes scary?

Yes. I definitely agree. Discussing one’s identity can be very challenging work. And for that reason, I want to emphasize that the course will be a very non-judgemental space. This course is not about defending who you are. Also, there are no right or wrong answers. Your identity is…your identity. It’s a very personal reflection on how you see yourself. Engaging in this type of exercise can be very helpful in the sense that it helps people to see that others are much more than what they appear to be. Also, when we talk about diversity, it’s important to recognize that diversity is very complex. When we hear the word “diversity,” we often think in very binary terms (ex. black or white). There are many dimensions to diversity. The very word diversity has become a loaded term. A lot of people automatically think race when they here diversity. Certainly, race is important, but there are other aspects of one’s identity and what that looks like varies greatly from person to person. For some, it might be their gender, for others it might be their family status, for someone else it might be their faith. Again, there are no right or wrong answers here!

That is really nice to hear. I think with that sense of safety people will be relaxed and eager to learn from the class. And I imagine people will learn a lot from each other. Related to the non-judgmental aspect, I am wondering how you will handle the important diversity-related wrongs that are being discussed a lot in the culture right now – microaggressions, structural racism, and other forms of identity-based oppression. A lot of people want to talk about these issues, and a lot of other people seem threatened by them. How will you handle that?

Luckily, there are some great LIS-related resources out there that delve into these topics, such as In the Library With the Lead Pipe, the LIS Microaggressions Tumblr and many others. As much as possible, these resources will be worked into the course or provided as supplemental resources. There are a lot of voices out there right now that can help us to see and hopefully appreciate the lived experiences of individuals who have identities that are different from our own. I agree with you, when you bring up topics like microaggressions, structural racism, and others, things can get tense. In my work, I have tried to help people to understand that engaging in these sometimes difficult conversations is helpful if we keep in mind that it’s not always possible to comprehend another person’s lived experience, but it is possible to understand that others have lived experiences that are different from our own. When we respect those differences, it makes this work much easier. I hope to bring that spirit into the course.

That sounds great. I’m kind of out of questions, so I’ll just close by asking, is there anything you’d like to add?

I’m looking forward to guiding this course and learning from the students, as well.

I’m very glad you’re going to be teaching it. Thanks for teaching and for agreeing to the interview.

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