Steven Jones Talks Diversity Strategy

On Wednesday, Nov. 30, SUNY New Paltz’s Office of Compliance and Campus Climate held a lecture hosted by organizational psychologist Dr. Steven Jones, Ph.D., CEO of Jones & Associates Consulting, on the strategic implementation of the school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan. The lecture was held in Lecture Center room 100 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and focused on the manners in which unconscious bias can affect people’s behavior in the world.

Unconscious biases, Jones argued, are unavoidable and, under certain conditions—what Jones referred to as the “S.T.U.F.F. of Biased Thinking”—manifest themselves on the surface. These conditions, the acronym for which stands for “Stress, Time Constraints, Uncertainty, Fear, and Fatigue,” are more likely to cause below-the-surface bias to bubble up.

“People think that just because we have elected an African-American president, for not one but two terms, we have moved beyond conscious bias, so much so that this whole field of unconscious bias emerged,” Jones said. “And now, this last election, if anyone was still wondering whether we’re in a post-racial society, I think that question is pretty clear.”

Jones built his argument on a dichotomy of “cultural quicksand” versus “inclusive excellence.” Cultural quicksand is an environment marked by an aversion to conflict and a lack of proper feedback towards opposing viewpoints, whereas inclusive excellence hinges on collaboration and communication.

“[Inclusive excellence] is the alternative to [cultural quicksand], and it’s really about healthy dialogue, collaboration, clear expectations, increasing inclusive leadership skills, and [those are] some of the best practices that will create a campus culture where the DNI strategy can thrive and have the impact we desire,” Jones said.

Jones also referenced the “dance floor and balcony” theory of leadership by Harvard University’s Dr. Ronald Heifetz. The dance floor, Heifetz posited, is where change is affected and problems are solved. The balcony is where the person in question looks down at the larger patterns of their life and gains perspective. Ultimately, however, one needs to return to the dance floor for any change to occur.

Jones finished the lecture by discussing the four lanes through which people can discuss the presidential election: discussion of the political process, discussion of behaviors that demonstrate bigotry (and how they might contribute to what Jones referred to as “isms”—racism, sexism, etc.), discussion of institutionalized oppression (the “isms” themselves), and discussion of proper institutionalized education, accountability and leadership.

Above all, Jones stressed digging below the surface to understand alternate viewpoints, which he related to icebergs floating in the ocean.

“About 90 percent [of the iceberg is] below [the water], 10 percent above,” Jones said. “If two icebergs are going to collide, which parts are going to hit first? So when we do this work, it’s going to be important that we not stay at the surface level when talking about understanding differences and similarities. It’s important to have conversations about understanding one another below the water lines.”