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The SJP Experience: Making Diversity More Accessible

Stories | 03.02.20

At Adler University, first-year students work with community organizations as intern advocates to help advance social justice. At the end of each year, students present on what they have experienced and learned through their Social Justice Practicum (SJP) at campus-wide events—and here on our University blog.

Jessica Thompson, an Online Campus student in the Master of Arts in Industrial and Organizational Psychology program, is completing her SJP at Next Step Ministries, Inc., an organization in Woodstock, Georgia that offers day programs for people with developmental delays. Thompson is serving as an organizational development manager, supporting efforts to build a talent management strategy, standardize processes, and develop policies. She shared her experiences with us:

It’s been an incredible experience to work at Next Step, and I am so honored by the work this organization is leading. I am grateful to have the opportunity to focus my strengths and skill-set on developing, supporting, and engaging the team dedicated to impacting the lives of this community.

During my first few weeks, I spent time with the staff, getting a feel for the culture, current processes, and protocols. I surveyed the staff’s engagement levels and unpacked the results during a full-day workshop, where I facilitated an exercise that took participants through a personal deep dive into the mission and vision of Next Step. I have also built an onboarding program that uses a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed) model, which is a tool used for identifying roles and responsibilities so that participants are supported during onboarding.

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet the Board Chair during the all-day training, and he and the Executive Director asked me to attend the Board retreat to offer insight and feedback into the strategic plan update. During the meeting, we discussed Board development and policies. I am a black woman who is racially conscious, and I am very much aware that I was sitting in a board meeting surrounded by older white men. When the topic of board recruitment and succession planning came up, I looked around and noticed that two additional attendees were also invited as potential prospective board members who are also older white men, which bothered me.

Thinking about Adler University’s mission, I asked myself, am I too comfortable? I knew the answer immediately, and at that moment I raised my hand. I asked them to look around the table and ask themselves what impression and message the demographics of the table said about whose voice important. What message might that send to the other groups who aren’t represented? I am so passionate about diversity and inclusion work and this practicum has reinforced and enlightened my position on it. The Board members were very receptive to my feedback, and I am working on drafting policies around succession planning pipelines as well as nonprofit social responsibility.

I am more impacted by this experience than I ever anticipated. While I have been passionate about diversity and inclusion work for a long time, this experience has given me a purview into a lens impacting communities with disabilities that I had never experienced before.

My SJP experience even inspired me to propose a poster presentation for the upcoming North American Society of Adlerian Psychology. I am so excited to have the opportunity to discuss an “Adlerian Approach to the Impact of Bias on Social Connectedness Affecting Individuals with Disabilities.” I believe everyone should have the opportunity to live a fulfilling life without having to combat societal challenges created by systemic barriers and processes formatted by the mold of a dominant culture.

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