Category Archives: leadership styles

Face Work: Addressing Racism and Exclusion in Pittsburgh’s Movement Families

By Maeve Gannon ’17

Let’s talk about activist communities and face work. You can consider yourself part of an activist community when you have a network of movers and shakers that you run into at every single protest you attend. This is my definition.  Face work, on the other hand, is Erving Goffman’s scholarly framework for understanding social interaction. The face is defined by Goffman as, “the positive social value a person effectively claims for himself by the line others assume he has taken during a particular contact.”[i]  He considers a line to be a pattern of verbal and nonverbal acts by which someone expresses their view of a situation or of another person.

Activist communities, anti-racism work and developing one’s own understanding of “allyship” are better understood in the context of face work.  In everyday life as well as in activist communities, we rely heavily on the dance of risk and reward as people strive to maintain face, mend faux pas and navigate the missteps of themselves and others.[ii]   And there will always be plenty of faux pas and missteps in the pursuit of anti-racism and “allyship.”[iii]

Activist communities are messy. There is just as much division among like-minded people working towards a common goal as there is between people who consider themselves to be enemies. This internal division—call it family feuding if you will—has been strikingly played out in current activist communities in Pittsburgh. Mainstream white liberal feminists and radical black feminists, who are working in similar spheres, are also at each other’s throats.  This intense dialogue surrounding inclusion and white feminism is making national news.

But let’s back up for a second because context is key…

Pittsburgh, my city of origin, has been going through a series of shifts.  To this day, family and friends who recall the days of steel mills and smog are surprised to see clear blue skies, a crisp skyline, bright bridges and a relatively healthy trio of rivers.  In recent years it has made it onto lists like, “Most Livable City,” “Next Portland,” or “Hottest Cities of the Future.”  It is true that art in all its various forms is blossoming in Pittsburgh. Additionally, breweries, bookstores and bike lanes are popping up all over the place. It has attracted a lot of attention. However, along with its influx of quaint coffee shops, hole-in-the-wall art galleries, boutiques, yoga studios, and health food stores come the hipsters. Yes, a particular breed of quirky, unique, white “gentrifiers.” Construction has turned previously rundown neighborhoods into places non-natives now describe as “charming.” Poor Pittsburghers are being displaced as hipsters swarm these neighborhoods. More specifically, poor, black Pittsburghers are being displaced under the guise of progress and citywide improvement.

Now, if there is a store that embodies wealthy, white liberals, it is Whole Foods.  Black communities in Pittsburgh have been fighting the construction of a second Whole Foods in their neighborhood that would destroy the homes of countless community members. Even more insulting is the fact that a second, mega Whole Foods is only a number of blocks away from this new construction site.  The gentrification debate, sparked by the removal of a beloved community mural, has brought a new level of consciousness and involvement of people in the city. As a city, we have had to confront issues surrounding racism, gentrification and the need for intersectionality in our activism.mural-pittsburgh-east-liberty-lend-me-your-ears-monahan-sprout-fund-1

On January 21st, the day of the National Women’s March on Washington, Pittsburgh hosted two marches.  One considered itself to be a “sister-march,” offshoot or derivative of the National Women’s March.  It had permits and was organized by predominantly white women. The second march had a Facebook page entitled, “Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional.” and was organized by black women who highlighted inclusion and accessibility in their efforts.  This march was clear in stating that it was, “a hollaback march to the one in D.C.” and not the gendered “sister march.”  It began in East Liberty, the site of the new Whole Foods and recent hipster havoc.

This “hollaback march” was born out of deep historical problems within feminism that we see even to this day.  It came initially from a lack of accountability, lack of inclusion and lack of diversity among the organizer of the “sister march.”  According to black leadership, when they pointed out flaws in the “sister march,” they were snubbed and pushed aside by white leadership.  This lit an angry and impassioned fire among the group of black women.  White women organizers who tried to approach them or mend the relationship were met with outrage and insults.  There was no longer any way for white women to pretend that they hadn’t screwed up. I was able to witnessed the event page of the “hollaback march” go from exclusively a celebration of the black women and femmes who had been snubbed, to something that was meant for every person who believes in intersectionality.  It took some time for the page to evolve into something that could counteract and point out the deficiencies of the “sister march.” They were able to do it, but first they had to re-construct their face.  By softening their message and re-establishing a line with the greater activist community, they were able to communicate in a way that people related to. Their language had previously excluded, constrained and pigeonholed people. They had to revise their page multiple times in order to be inclusive and approachable.  As soon as they pulled back, reassessed and rewrote their mission statement they had regained the trust and respect of black allies and white allies alike, while still being able to center and celebrate black womanhood.  In a matter of days their march grew to be a force to be reckoned with.

What we are seeing currently, following this march, is the fallout and hurt from white women invested in mainstream avenues of resistance.  Black women in Pittsburgh do not trust in the law or the police or even politicians to save them. White women in Pittsburgh are very invested in challenging, but also in depending on, their politicians and police officers to protect marches.  Many white women have approached black women in an attempt to save face, begging to know what was wrong with the “sister march.”  They have attempted time and time again to reconstruct their face or re-establish a line of communication, but they continue to mess up, even in their attempts to re-establish themselves as “good white people.”  Because the concept of self is embedded in community and our relation to others, it is impossible to heal one’s image or concept of self without working through our role or place within our communities or cities.  Until white women understand the intersections and connections that construct identity, they will continue to ignore, be overwhelmed by and not learn from the judgment and social pressure from black leadership.[iv]

We have seen blunders on both sides as Pittsburgh tries to reconcile or heal before it is ready.  As humans, we are in a constant struggle to understand the lines that connect and divide us and understand how we see one another, how we operate in certain contexts and within certain discourses.  Until we start to see our own transgressions we will have to struggle with the idea of having lost face. White women need to be humble and listen. Instead of scrambling to reconstruct themselves or convince people that they aren’t ignorant or aren’t privileged, perhaps white women would do better to fess up.  A simple and genuine apology could go a long way and is a good place to start.

[i] Tiryakian, Edward A., and Erving Goffman. “Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior.” American Sociological Review 33, no. 3 (1968): 462. doi:10.2307/2091926.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Gergen, Kenneth J. “61. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life.” Essays and Reviews, 2016. doi:10.1515/9781400848393-062.

“You are so nice.” Emotional Intelligence in Our Professional Lives

by Kati Csoman, Dean of International Programs

I often hear this from people, which may seem like a compliment at first.  However, my experience is that “You are so nice!” is sometimes a veiled assertion about my abilities as a woman in a position of leadership.  “So nice” is code language for the perception that I may not possess the wherewithal to make tough decisions or to have difficult conversations.

Throughout our lives, many women are socialized to be nuanced and respectful in our interactions with others.  We are often expected to be indirect in our speech so as to not appear to be too forceful, too opinionated or too discomforting.  We are taught to play nice.  But being genuinely nice is not a gender-specific attribute, nor should it be perceived as coming from a place of weakness.  My idea of the concept of being nice is that one is authentic and strives in all interactions to understand the authenticity of others.   Simply put, know who you are and how it is that you can interact with others as they are.

Practicing emotional intelligence in the workplace appears to be vastly undervalued.  Too often, the inability to engage in honest conversation acknowledging someone else’s feelings or perceptions is misappropriated under the guise of “professionalism.”  It does not make us less effective in our work if we acknowledge the humanity of someone else.

Image result for mr rogers senateThe most influential practitioner of emotional intelligence was Mr. Fred Rogers, the renowned and respected child psychologist and famed television host of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.”  And one of the best examples of Mr. Rogers in action was his ability within six minutes to recover $20 million dollars in funding for public television at a U.S. Senate hearing in 1969:

Among the many profound ideas that Mr. Rogers expressed in his testimony was the idea that “feelings are mentionable and manageable.”  Emotional intelligence requires great discipline as we overcome our own egos to become deeply introspective and to be in control of our thoughts, feelings and reactions as we interact with others.  You can be steadfast in your convictions.  You can be persistent in achieving your goals.  At the same time, you can acknowledge someone else’s opinions or way of wanting to do something.

Too often, strength is perceived as loudness and forcefulness.  Strength can also be expressed through calm and measured action and interaction.  I believe deeply that if we could engage in more open dialogue in professional settings about how we feel about behavior, actions, and decisions, we might more readily address interpersonal conflicts that are often at the root of ineffective relationships in the workplace.  It is naïve to think that emotional intelligence should and can be dismissed from our professional lives.  We are human.

“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has–or ever will have–something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.” (The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember)


Career, by Accident

By Lorri Panaia Shideler

Lorri Panaia Shideler is Director of Conferences and Events for Juniata.

I often am asked, “how did you get into this business?” and honestly, the answer is by accident!

Did I go to school to do this? Um, no.  Was this ever in my “life plan?” Definitely no.  I really didn’t know what an Event Planner did, nor did I even remotely think I would be doing this as a career, ever.  I was going to be an International Buyer.

Well, guess what?  Reality set in before that was ever going to happen!  So I’m an Event Planner, and have been for most of my career.  An Event Planner (now that I know what one does) is responsible for planning all aspects of events.  From audio-visual needs to room set-up to food and beverage needs, we handle it all.  And events can encompass anything from a meeting to a black tie gala and everything in between.  And yes, while it may not have been my “plan,” I wouldn’t change how things occurred because I I’m happy with where I am.

I will say that I am here because of two pieces of advice I received, and followed, early on.  Those two pieces of advice are:

  • be open to new opportunities, and
  • remember the most important thing you have is your reputation.

These two nuggets helped shape how I approached things when things just didn’t quite go as I had “planned.”  These two gems of advice helped me see that there were other doors to walk through when the one I wanted was closed.  (Let’s be honest, it was slammed, locked and dead bolted.) So,  I had two choices: continue to wait and wait to see if that door would be cracked, or suck it up, put on my big girl panties and re-evaluate. Thankfully, I re-evaluated, otherwise I’d still be sitting by that door that was never going to open.

That’s where the first nugget of advice came to assist me with what I needed to do.  I happened to be working at Walt Disney World at the time, in the theme parks division, so I took a crazy leap that my parents (among others) thought was nuts.  I moved into the resort division of the company!  How is this crazy, well, it’s crazy because I went from selling t-shirts and souvenirs to assisting people with planning their entire stays!  Granted, did I move into the resort division and immediately become a VP, GM, or a Manager?  Um, no.  I was a front desk agent.

Talk about a reality check! I was scared to death, knew no one, and didn’t even know what a front desk agent did.  But I quickly learned that the basic qualities I had already learned transferred into my new role, thank goodness.  Some of those were smiling (A LOT), being courteous, listening and being organized, to name a few.  I did have to learn how to balance a register, which was tough for this non-math person, and also how to plan itineraries, but I quickly figured out this was more figuring out who to call to assist, and that a 5:00 a.m. shift comes quite early!  But, I jumped in, learned the ropes and discovered I actually liked the resort side of things better than the theme park side.  Score one for the non-International Buyer!

Now, here’s where the second advice nugget helped me get to be where I am today.  I was minding my business, doing my thing, when I was approached by a manager about a new endeavor that was beginning and she wanted me to be a part of it.  Who, me, what, why?  She liked the fact that I wasn’t afraid of a challenge, that I rolled up my sleeves, and was a great team member.

The new endeavor was a Conference Services position, also known as Event Planner.  Seriously, me, someone with no experience as an Event Planner?  I didn’t even know what that was!  But, I reverted back to the first nugget and opened myself to this new endeavor.  I will never forget my first event I had to plan, on my own!  It was an internal meeting for our front office staff, and I think I broke out into hives for a week prior because, as planners soon learn, these events are sometimes a “make or break” situation for the other planner, the person on the other side of the desk.  Did it go perfectly?  I wish I could say so, but something I learned early on is that events rarely do go perfectly.  I really wish I could have known that in advance, but my mentor told me later that it was part of the learning process.  She was right, and granted, it was nothing catastrophic (the coffee wasn’t ready on time), but to me the world was ending.  The learning here was how to react “in the moment.”  So, I kept my cool, (while sweating through my suit jacket,) apologized for the misstep and asked what I could do to make things better. Much to my surprise, the world didn’t end, my event still was successful, and here I am today continuing to try and “make the magic!”

Back to how this started: this manager and I had never worked together, so how did she know this would be a right fit for me?  Reputation.  Unbeknownst to me, she had approached my managers and co-workers.  I hate to say it, but it’s true: people talk, and people watch.  Hence, why reputation is so important.  It is often the only information people have about you. Whether at work, or at school, or hanging out with friends, your reputation follows you!  Always.

Women in the work force, I’m sorry to say, do have it tougher than our male counterparts.  People may disagree with this statement, but I believe it, to my core.  My advice on reputation to anyone entering the work force, especially women, would be to be sure you have a strong work ethic, meaning you are willing to put in the time and effort to do a good, scratch that, great job!  Also, be tough when needed, but not just tough to be tough, there is a difference.  Seeking to understand is much more beneficial in the long run, for both you and the others involved.

Be careful, and heed the advice.  Trust me, I knew it, but I didn’t want to believe it.  Both pieces of advice were given to me by my father, believe it or not, when I was in High School.  How on earth is he ALWAYS right?  That’s a whole different story, but he is.  Still, to this day.  He. Is. Always. Right.

I hope you’re proud of me, Dad!