We're delighted to republish this piece by Captain Rick Wester, Commandant of Cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and a SEED leader. This article originally appeared in the October/November 2018 issue of The Bulletin, the magazine of the United States Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association.
By CAPT Rick Wester ’93, Commandant of Cadets, USCGA
To foster a more inclusive environment to better prepare cadets as future leaders of our diverse Coast Guard men and women, the Academy’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion (OID) recently coordinated the attendance of Dr. Kurt Colella ’81, Dean of Academics; Mr. Dan Rose, Associate Athletic Director; and myself, Commandant of Cadets, at a recent ‘SEED’ senior leaders week. SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) is an intensive, 7-day, peer-led residential workshop during which we joined 65 education professionals to be immersed in diversity topics, exercises and self-reflection, preparing us to return to the Academy to host our own SEED seminars.
The three of us agreed that the workshop, the third session during SEED’s 32nd year and held at the University of Washington, was truly a life-changing experience.
Author CAPT Wester at a recent SEED facilitation at the Academy, writes that attending the week-long workshop was “truly a life-changing experience.”
After watching a video about one individual’s life experience and being asked to summarize how I felt about it, I remarked that I had learned more during those 10 minutes than any other 10 minute period in my life. SEED introduced me to not only things I didn’t know, but also things I didn’t know I didn’t know, such as the hurdles others face because of who they are. The experience made me aware of these and other ‘blind spots’ which is so important given my role in preparing our 1000+ cadets as the future leaders of our Service. The insights I gained are also vital for me personally since I have three children of color, and I want them to be fully aware of hurdles in life that they will likely face that I have not personally experienced.
The magic of SEED is that no one specifically told me about my blind spots, but rather I realized them on my own by taking part in difficult conversations and sometimes awkward and uncomfortable exercises with my SEED peers. The experience underscored for me that we all have a personal journey of self-reflection we need to take, to explore latent biases and our blind spots, to truly become equity-minded and to lead cultural change.
Of course, our attending SEED wasn’t just about us but it was also about the rest of the Academy, and upon our return, we started the process to ‘propagate the SEED’ throughout the workforce.
“Since our SEED week, I’m focused on implementing more inclusive listening and speaking techniques in meetings, encouraging equity-minded pedagogy in our classrooms, and am fully energized by hosting our own seminars,” said Colella. “I have a renewed and inspired view of the value of personal stories, including greater awareness of my own, and their value in building community, especially in our developmental CGA environment.”
The three of us now facilitate a group of 32 staff and faculty who volunteered to participate in our initial seminars at the Academy, with the same group meeting every few weeks. We will soon be initiating a cadet seminar as well, and both will run in parallel until May 2019, with conversations and exercises becoming increasingly more challenging along the way. These seminars are one example of how the Academy is working to close the gaps identified by the Vital Signs Report [see article on page 38].
The three faculty members who attended a week-long SEED workshop “now facilitate a group of 32 staff and faculty who volunteered to participate in our initial seminars at the Academy, with the same group meeting every few weeks,” shares the author. Photos by PA3 Nicole Foguth.
During the seminars, participants engage in various interactive exercises and conversations to connect their own personal experiences to their workplace, helping to prepare them to identify inequities and create an inclusive environment going forward. Supportive discussions are often deeply personal and sometimes emotional, but the SEED process is designed to be supportive, respectful, challenging, interesting, growth-inducing, and transformative. Ideally, cadets, staff and faculty seminars would be mixed, but each group has starkly different availability.
Next year, the three of us plan to host our own seminar groups, assisted by volunteers who have completed either our cadet or faculty seminars. In addition, OID will likely be sending additional senior leaders to SEED. Just as a seed may take some time to germinate and sprout, our seminars will eventually expand and extend throughout the entire Academy community.
“The three of us represent teaching, coaching and training programs at the Academy, and SEED is fully applicable to all,” said Rose. “The three of us senior leaders personally facilitating the Academy seminars underscores how committed we are here to equity-mindedness and inclusion.”
More information on SEED is available at nationalseedproject.org
CAPT Rick Wester is a ’93 USCGA graduate and took over as Commandant of Cadets this past summer. He previously served as Commander, Sector Hampton Roads.