As our country moves back and forth through COVID-19 restrictions, we’re able to physically interact with others to a greater and lesser degrees than we have in months. Each phase of re-opening coincides with an increasing amount of physical vulnerability and risk. This is happening at the same time as much racial pain and divisiveness, presenting a unique opportunity for Americans.
As we come in and out of physical quarantine in phases, we can also do so emotionally and intellectually, opening ourselves up to the experiences of people who are different from us.
As university professors, we prepare teachers and school administrators to work effectively with people of all backgrounds. Through a step-by-step approach, educators can better interact with students and families, whose lives differ greatly from their own.
As we phase into and out of physical contact with others, these same steps apply for us to phase into emotional and intellectual contact as well: Learn. Engage. Act.
First, we can learn about people who are different from us. We can inform ourselves through reading books, watching movies, and listening to podcasts by and about those whose experiences contrast with ours.
It’s especially important to learn directly from varied voices of each community you’re seeking to understand. Want to appreciate more of the Black experience? Learn from many Black voices. Want to understand the experiences of immigrants? Inform yourselves from immigrant voices from many walks of life.
While essential, this first phase is the most cautious and assumes the least amount of risk.
As part of the next phase of opening up, we invite you to engage in greater degree with others who are different from you and are already part of your daily life. As you do this, take the primary stance of listening. Others are experts in their own experiences and having been developing this expertise their entire lives. Listen to their questions and their emotions. Consider how you can be respectful and listen even more.
At this point, you’ve moved through two phases of leaving your quarantined life behind. But it’s still not enough.
Finally, we need to act on our learning and engagement. Like the latter phases of physical re-opening, this requires the most risk. We suggest developing authentic relationships with co-workers and community members who are different from you. Relationships with others might also compel you to de-quarantine your life to a greater degree by seeking out specific action steps.
Certainly, the stages of learn, engage and act do not provide a quick fix to our social problems. As we know through our work with teachers, this is a long-term process.
So, as we come out of physical quarantine, let’s phase into emotional and intellectual contact with people different from us. Then, we might discover that our nation’s greatest strength is compassion and action for others.
Alexandra Babino and Mandy Stewart