Community Spotlight

In this section, we highlight the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee; the Nuremberg Trials Interpreters Exhibit; and the experience from a Restorative Practices training at MIDD, Vermont.

The members of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee introduce themselves. The committee is relatively new having met for its inaugural meeting at the beginning of this semester. Since then we met two more times and have a sense of the overall challenges for us on this campus. Over the summer, the committee plans on working on various matters including defining its role and objectives. I asked the members to introduce themselves to all of you in the context of their work in this committee, and we hope this gives you a sense of how committed and sincere this group is about furthering racial equity on our campus.

We have also included in this section some details of the excellent and poignant Nuremberg Trials Interpreters Exhibit. Congratulations to Jacolyn Harmer, Barbara Burke and others in bringing the exhibit to our campus. Barbara Burke has a brief report.

Last but not least, Melissa Sorenson, reflects on the Restorative Practices training she participated in MIDD, Vermont. Melissa raises some critical questions about why relationship building is not considered “real” work. Indeed, why?

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee Member Introductions

Sabino Morera
Assistant Professor, Spanish and Latin American Studies, GSTILE

MIIS is diverse by nature. Its student body consists of 30% of international students, which brings in multiple races, nationalities, religions, languages, and cultures, so a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion is essential in our school. There are also international faculty who bring in their worldviews into the classroom. Students and faculty need to navigate the various multicultural settings where true intercultural communication happens all the time.  Being from Costa Rica, I bring a set of values and beliefs from a collectivist society that allows me to view the culture at MIIS and the United States through a diverse, critical lens as a way of learning across North and South cultures. As a Central American migrant, I also identify with the opportunities and challenges encountered in the United States. I hope to learn from the diverse community at the Institute and to contribute to raise awareness about racial, gender and equity issues from an international and comparative perspective. I also want to contribute to develop safe and brave spaces where we can all reflect on our differences and similarities. My hope is that we can focus on convergence, not divergence as a way of promoting not just tolerance but peaceful coexistence.

Eva Gudbergsdottir
Associate Director of Communications

Education is an extremely personal journey and there is nothing more important than making sure that we create and maintain a diverse, respectful and warm community where students, faculty and staff have the chance to thrive and grow as individuals. As an alumna of the Institute and staff member for close to ten years I care deeply about the Institute and the people who make up our community. I know what it is like to be an international student here and how hard it can be to navigate both living in the United States and an educational system different from my own.

Grace O’Dell
Career and Academic Advisor: Education Management and Joint IEM/MPA  

Grace O’Dell brings nine years of experience at MIIS to the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee, including time spent in the classroom and in CACS.  Through project work, she has collaborated with almost every department on campus and approaches every interaction as an opportunity to learn. She is excited to join this group of dedicated and informed colleagues as they work to bring more voices to the proverbial table, educate themselves and others on the meaning(s) of diversity, and ultimately, help ensure that MIIS is positioned well to support our diverse faculty, staff, and student bodies.

Pablo Oliva
Associate Professor; Program Coordinator, Spanish Language Studies, GSTILE

It is essential and necessary to focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at MIIS because it is always great to know that there is a safe place where anyone (students, faculty, staff) can go to in order to speak, share views and experiences, and be connected with a fantastic group of people who share the same interests. I bring a vast knowledge of Latin American perspectives on identity, an awareness of social problems, gender diversity and LGBTQ rights.

I hope that our work brings more awareness and attention to the students in the MIIS community. It is vital for our campus to be identified as a nondiscriminatory environment and a safe place for our students and staff, because this would create a sense of belonging among our underrepresented groups of people on campus. It would also be an open invitation for more people to join, strengthen and support our diversity efforts.

Dollie Pope
Advancement Coordinator

In order for us to be consistent with the character of this place, and to fulfill our mission of training MIIS students to be world class leaders, it is imperative for us to address the historical systemic stereotypes and biases, which continues to negatively impact society on a global level.

Being an 18-year veteran staff member here at MIIS, I have and will continue to advocate for the array of diverse and marginalized individuals in our community. Working alongside my colleagues to ensure we as a whole to the best of our ability, provide a brave, safe space and a level playing field for all.

Nuremberg Trials Interpreters Exhibit
By Barbara L Burke

From May 1 – 15, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies hosted an exhibit honoring the interpreters at the Nuremberg Trials, who were pioneers in today’s simultaneous interpretation field.  Attendees were invited to wander through the exhibit and read the poignant stories of the interpreters and the important work they did following one of the darkest times in history and the ultimate example of hatred and genocide.  Many of the interpreters had been involved in WWII and some lost family members in the German concentration camps. Yet, they had the courage to sit in the Nuremberg courtroom day in and day out over many months, interpreting the never-ending recital of horrors, to assure that justice was done for the thousands of Jews and others who lost their lives in the “Final Solution”.  As part of the exhibit, MIIS Professor Bill Weber presented remarks on Thursday, May 9 on“Simultaneous Interpretation: Past and Present”, recounting many stories of the interpreters from the  Nuremberg that he had worked with over his more than 50 years of experience as a freelance conference interpreter.

Why Restorative Practices?
By Melissa Sorenson

In November 2018 I was invited to participate in a three-day training on restorative practices held at Middlebury College. I had never heard of restorative practices before the training, and, to be honest, I was a little skeptical about how relevant the training would feel in a professional context.

Restorative practices is defined by the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) as “an emerging social science that studies how to strengthen relationships between individuals as well as social connections within communities.”

To be clear, those topics are right up my alley, but I was surprised I was being invited to dedicate three days to learning about social connections for my job. I don’t think anyone would deny the importance of community, but is there actually supposed to be room in everyone’s job descriptions for this work? Should relationship-building be viewed as a critical component of our jobs?

The restorative practices training convinced me that the answer to those questions should be “yes.” In fact, for a community to successfully navigate change, overcome challenges, and demonstrate a value for diversity and inclusion, those answers need to be yes. By day three I had gone from skepticism to an overwhelming sense of certainty that I had found a critical missing piece at the foundation of my work.

In brief, the framework behind restorative practices encourages thoughtfully facilitating opportunities where all voices can be heard, doing things with people (rather than to or for them), creating opportunities to acknowledge and voice feelings, recognizing and navigating our experiences of shame, using fair processes to engage and build trust, and making intentional spaces for difficult conversations.

The more I learned about restorative practices, the more I realized that it had a lot in common with activities I found meaningful, but often felt like I had to hide or minimize because they weren’t real work. For example, I enjoy organizing informal lunches to bring colleagues together on campus, but I let them drop whenever I get busy with my real work. I appreciate processing the emotional impact of issues during meetings, but if we don’t hurry to focus on action items I’ll probably worry that we didn’t do the real work. Discovering these contradictions surprised me. Despite the deep value I have for relationships, I have never considered them an explicit part of my job. In fact, I have facilitated countless sessions on a tool that examines the balance between being task-focused and relationship-focused, and I have always defended my place on the extreme relationship-focused side by qualifying it with “don’t worry, I still get work done!” I’ve been missing the point.

Developing relationships is real work, and if we don’t acknowledge this as a very real part of our jobs, we ultimately run the risk of weakening our community and organization by putting our well-intentioned efforts elsewhere.

Since beginning my work in organizational development over four years ago, I have spent countless hours researching and learning about the factors that contribute to organizational health and wellbeing. Initially I was drawn to the safety of hard skills like classic leadership habits and concrete managerial practices. These often seemed easier to grasp, and offered clear value when planning a training or workshop.

Only recently have I allowed my research to venture into the much more intangible factors like vulnerability, trust, relationships, and belonging at work. The research overwhelmingly underscores the importance of these factors, yet they are much more difficult to systematically improve.

This is why restorative practices feels like the missing piece. The framework offers a roadmap for finding a way forward in practicing vulnerability, building trust, developing relationships, and creating a sense of belonging. The beauty of this challenging work is that our mere participation starts the positive cycle. Our willingness to engage and be vulnerable helps build trust, trust creates the foundation for relationships, and relationships form the core of community and belonging.

I’m excited our organization is engaged in this initiative, and I hope you will join me in the real work of helping our community thrive.