Walking on Eggshells

“Creating environments that promote justice and healing while fostering an emerging culture of respect and belonging.”  www.world-trust.org

There is a great deal of good news to share—from a terrific family weekend with over 400 guests on campus, to the first-ever swim meet held in our  pool between Loyola and LSU.  Yes, the SEC was in the house and it was a wonderful way to launch a brand new sport!  Students are past mid-terms, and from my window I can see them studying on the quad.  It is a beautiful afternoon, with a slight cool breeze; we are well on our way through October and on to the holidays.  Amidst all of the joys of being a part of an academic community, I have had a hard time writing this month’s blog post.  In late summer, I hit “writer’s block” hard; the national news regarding race in America overwhelmed me. There was so much I wanted to say, but when the heart is full, often words seem empty.

More than a week ago, I invited African-American Student Affairs staff members to join me for a conversation.  I admit I felt vulnerable sending the invite out.  I hoped that my invitation was read as intended; it was a risk I needed to take, and my team needed to know they have my support.

The invitations simply said, “The news continues to unfold day by day, with one senseless African-American death after another.  I do not pretend to know how you feel, and I want to acknowledge that there are stresses that face each of you, that do not face me.  The work you are doing day-in and day-out for our Loyola community, during what seems to be a siege on African-American civil rights, is remarkable and too, must be exhausting and draining.  Thank you, on behalf of all of us in Student Affairs, for all that you are doing during these difficult times.  It has not gone unnoticed, and in part, although I have no clear answers I do want to reach out and offer a space and support.”  

We sat together, minute by minute, gaining courage to tell our truths and stories.  We acknowledged that by and large it’s hard to have authentic, difficult conversations about race. Together we acknowledged the fear of being misunderstood, later quoted out of context, and at the worst labeled. When uncomfortable conversations arise, often we walk on eggshells around issues. “Make nice”, my mom would often say at the dinner table as my dad and I talked politics, “we don’t want to break any eggs.”  When this happens, the moment to lean into understanding is lost. We need to learn to stay in the process of deep listening, reflection, and response.  We need to risk breaking eggs.

My take away from our 90-minute conversation was the goodwill shared in the room. We decided when an “eggshell” moment happened that it would be an opportunity for us to dive deeper into our stories, experiences and truths.  We agreed to keep replicating that goodwill, step by step.  There were tears, laughter, and lots of sharing -- and we made two agreements:  no more silence when we are hurting and no more walking on eggshells.

In our families and offices, in classrooms, playing fields and residence halls, we often face crucial and difficult conversations. I encourage us to recognize our own discomfort and resist the urge to smooth over what is difficult. We can draw strength from I Corinthians 16:13-14: “Be brave, be strong, and let everything you do be done in love.”  Lean in…have the conversation that matters.